For GQ, Drew Magary talked to the family, friends, and coworkers of Anthony Bourdain for this piece on the life of the late chef/traveler/writer/explorer/whatever. Here’s how he got his big writing break, which led to so much else:
David Remnick (editor in chief, ‘The New Yorker’): My wife came home one day, and she said, “Look. There’s a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work,” which seemed…adorable, right? A mother’s ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, “I’d like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that’s okay.” That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don’t know if there’s any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.
Prior to becoming the best-ever host of a travel show, he’d actually traveled very little internationally (only France and Japan) and his first go of it wasn’t successful:
Tenaglia: Japan was a fucking disaster.
Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.
Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, “Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries.”
Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I’m gonna double dip here. I’m going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I’m going to write articles.
Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, “We are so screwed.”
But it turns out this inexperienced traveler & newbie TV host was the exact right person for the job.
He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, “Holy crap, I’m actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to.” You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.
My only complaint about this piece is the length…I would have happily read on for hours.
Tags: Anthony Bourdain Drew Magary food interviews travel
Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I’ll never forget laughing my ass off because he was obsessed with my dog, who’s a small dachshund. He’d always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.