Meet Culinary Bad Boy: Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain is not your typical celebrity chef. Described as “culinary bad boy,” he is the Chef-at-large at New York’s famed bistro, Les Halles, and is also an accomplished author, having written three crime novels, a cookbook, and several bestsellers. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, is Bourdain’s candid, hysterical and sometimes shocking portrait of life in restaurant kitchens that has been translated into over 28 languages.

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Bourdain was born in 1956 in New York City. He grew up in New Jersey in a house full of books and movies. Bourdain’s father was a hotshot at Colombia Records, and his mother was a copyeditor at New York Times. Bourdain was a rebellious and bitter child. Growing up in the 60’s, he developed an impeccable taste for rock’n’roll by the age of 10. Hanging out with hippie chicks in San Francisco, he experimented with every drug he could get his hands on.

In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain reflects that his love of food was kindled in France, when he tried his first oyster on an oyster fisherman’s boat while on a family vacation. Bourdain graduated from the Dwight-Englewood School in 1973, and went on to attend Vassar College, but dropped out after two years. At the same time, Bourdain worked in Provincetown, Massachusetts seafood restaurants, which he writes sparked his decision to pursue cooking as a career.

Bourdain went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. From there, he went on to various restaurant positions, eventually running various restaurant kitchens in New York City—including the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and Sullivan’s. His positions ultimately led to the position of executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles. He remained as executive chef for many years.

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Bourdain gained immediate popularity from his 2000 New York Times bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, an outgrowth of his article in The New Yorker called “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.”

Bourdain wrote two more New York Times bestselling nonfiction books: A Cook’s Tour, an account of his food and travel exploits across the world, and The Nasty Bits, another collection of essays mainly centered on food. Bourdain’s additional books include Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, the culinary mysteries Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, a hypothetical historical investigation Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, and No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. His latest book published in 2010, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, is the sequel to Kitchen Confidential. 

The acclaim surrounding Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential, led to an offer by Food Network to host his own food and world-travel show, A Cook’s Tour, which premiered in January 2002. In July 2005, he premiered a new, somewhat similar television series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. As a further result of the popularity of Kitchen Confidential, the Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential aired in 2005, in which the character “Jack Bourdain” is based loosely on the biography and persona of Anthony Bourdain. 

His shows highlight him consuming exotic local specialty dishes. Bourdain has eaten sheep testicles in Morocco, ant eggs in Puebla, Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of a traditional Inuit seal hunt, and a whole cobra—beating heart, blood, bile, and meat—in Vietnam. According to Bourdain, the most disgusting thing he has ever eaten is a Chicken McNugget, though he has also declared that the unwashed warthog rectum he ate in Namibia and the fermented shark he ate in Iceland are among “the worst meals of [his] life.”

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