April 5–12, 2001
photo: Michael LeGrand
The Kitchen Confidential guy hangs at the Blue Angel.
You’ve sold a million copies of your book. Brad Pitt may play you in the movie. You have a cult of personality growing around you like weeds. Now what?
It’s the Sunday finale of Philly’s Book and the Cook Fair. A slight drizzle lends the outside of the Blue Angel a gaslit glistening mistiness. Inside, a darker presence roams throughout, peering, smiling, smurking. That would be Anthony Bourdain, the renowned author-turned-chef-turned-author whose Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly (Bloomsbury) has become a smash, not only amongst the old guard culinary cognoscenti but to new foodies everywhere. For them, the lanky Bourdain — dressed tonight in a taut leather blazer and gray wool top — is a god, a literate self-admitted scumbag/chef whose blunt Kinky Friedman-esque character assessments are as tasty as the crispy skate and oxtail daube he’s planned with the Blue Angel. Like a chef opening his walk-in, Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential (and in parts its savage, funny follow-up Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical ) is able to see immediately the flaws and strengths of his industry, mixing loyalties and loathing as quick as a whisk. Bourdain has traveled the world over as part of a book project and accompanying TV Food Network show A Cook’s Tour for which Philly is another stop.
"The idea is simply me — a guy who’s spent most of his life in a New York City kitchen — careening around the world looking for culinary kicks, great meals, thrills and adventure, both in fine restaurants and private homes," says Bourdain, who lists as high points eating live, palpitating cobra hearts and avoiding landmines and checkpoints ("narrowly") in Khmer Rouge-controlled NW Cambodia.
"There has never been anything like it on TVFN, I can promise you: automatic weapons, moonshine, real danger, bare-knuckle fighting in a mob-run nightclub in Russia and lots of incredible and exotic food."
Tonight is calmer than the Mekong. Rather than chew whippet heads, Bourdain saunters from table to table, signing books, being ogled by two cateye-glassed lovelies in black cocktail dresses. When he’s asked to step into the kitchen for a photo, he obliges quickly. "I’m there."
The success of KC confounds and delights him, for he is in love with the biz and dedicated to the folks within it. "All I wanted to do was accurately capture my own voice, slightly looped after a busy Saturday night in the kitchen, speaking as if to my crew. I wanted it to reflect the sort of over-testosteroned, tunnel-vision paranoia, pride and pain of a busy chef/line cook. That’s all."
While he jokes that he’s never had so many free meals and free drinks ("The best part of this whole trip has been all the chefs and cooks who’ve come to commisserate, share stories, take me out and get me hammered."), the whole idea of him now — the "celebrity chef" — amuses him greatly.
"Is there any other profession less suited to be thrust into the spotlight? Most of us got in the business because we’re misfits with poor communication skills and unlovely personal habits. But why not ride the wave. Even my fry cook is thinking about getting a publicist."