Did anyone see it coming? Did Anthony Bourdain himself? How did a man who made his name with a book that largely glamourised the swinging-dick bro culture of professional kitchens—a book whose cover showed him and a couple of other dudes wielding long, sharp, rather phallic-looking knives—come to be a much sought-after interview subject on everything from the Trump presidency to the Weinstein scandal? How did he come to be treated as a public intellectual?
At least part of the answer is that Bourdain has always been a smarter, more moral and self-interrogating individual than he’s been given credit for. It’s simply taken us a while—too long, really, given the evidence of his work—to notice. This is partly down to who the man is, or presents himself as, in his work: rakish, devil-may-care, cool. He swears, he drinks, he smokes. (He also churns out work at a rate that no real hard-living alcoholic could match, which should have tipped us off.)
But the number of people who read Kitchen Confidential and still somehow manage to persuade themselves that it’s a paean to curse words and being a jerk is finally beginning to dwindle. Any serious engagement with Bourdain’s output—including Kitchen Confidential, which actually condemns the lifestyle it describes, however subtly—leaves one wondering how that number could have been so high in the first place.