An Open Letter to Anthony Bourdain

An Open Letter to Anthony Bourdain

 

Hey Tony,

 It's been eleven days since you left us. In those days, we've all been busy cooking, grieving and trying to quantify your decision. Volumes of essays, reflections and personal experiences of mental illness and depression have been written over these ten days, all by authors far more qualified to speak on the subjects than myself.  The outpouring of memorial photos and tributes to your life on social media alone has been unlike anything I've seen before, so much so I had to take a few days off from it all and try to process our relationship. I keep going back to how we started. We never met in real life, maybe I should have started by saying that?  It doesn't matter. I met you for the first time at Border's Book Store on Powell Street in San Francisco. It was either late 99 or early 00. I was the Chef de Cuisine of the Hyatt on Union Square and although I worked a lot, I allowed myself the luxury of going to the newsstand at Borders for a couple hours twice a week to read all the new magazines and quietly loiter in a public, air-conditioned place. It was kind of like the internet before the internet. And that's very much how I remember meeting you - organically. It was like fate brought us together on a crash course of destiny. I remember like yesterday seeing the small display of 'Kitchen Confidential' books and immediately picking it up because I loved the title and because I distinctly thought, "Who the f#*k is this pirate-looking mother f#*@'er?!"   

To say that Kitchen Confidential had a profound effect on me would be a serious understatement. It was as if you were speaking directly to me, to my inner-cook, my soul. For the first time I felt that I wasn't alone. The truths of our industry, as absurd as they were, needed to be told to the world and you became our spokesperson overnight. And remarkably you ran with it. After literally devouring Kitchen Confidential, my now dog-eared first edition, I lent it to every cook I knew and unbelievably it was returned every time! It was my personal duty as a cook to share your writing with my people, our people. I was so thrilled to discover (pre-internet days when you had to research topics like Magnum P.I.) a copy of your first novel, Bone in the Throat, at Green Apple Book Store on Clement Street in the Richmond District of San Francisco, I couldn't believe my luck! I may have been the only person that bought that one Tony and after reading it - I got to say it was a little rough but I could see the work in progress! Just like cooking - or for that matter anything in life you want to get good at - you need to do it, a lot. That's why I was so proud of you and excited for all of us when you went to the "dark side" and started your Food Network work and dropped 'A Cook's Tour' in 2001. None of us cared that you absolutely buried celebrity chefdom & all things Food Network in Kitchen Confidential only to join their ranks a short time later. No, all we cared about was you getting the platform you needed to give us more content, the real deal told by a guy who was never pretentious in an industry built on pretension.   

That book sat on my shelf in the Chef's office for over a year until the spring 2002. In my twenty-seven years of professional cooking I have only taken one vacation. Some friends and I through our employee discounts at Hyatt booked a 9 day vacation in Hawaii, staying three days and two nights at each property on the islands. This was finally my chance to jump into this thing undisturbed and I want to sincerely thank you for making my only vacation a great one! While my friends were busy doing island-things, you and I spent the afternoons together - getting to know each other better, drinking beers and smoking cigarettes on the beach. Shortly after getting back to Vancouver, (I was the Chef of the Hyatt there at the time) you came to town, Barbra Jo's Books for Cooks I believe. Of course I had to work that night so I couldn't be there and I regretted that but not too much because I honestly felt we'd get together another time down the road. I don't know if you remember but you went out on the town with the local chefs, a few of them my friends, and left a permanent impression on everyone as a genuine guy, a cook's cook.

Over the next ten years we kind of fell out of touch with each other. As your star grew I continued on my little path as a hotel Chef. With each new city or promotion I "moved-up" in the world of hospitality while my free time was diminished to memory. I stopped reading as much as I used to and cut cable and network television out of my life during this period - I viewed them as distractions - and our relationship became strained because of it. It became that I only occasionally saw you eating an iguana over an open fire here or declaring 'Au Pied de Cochon' Canada's best restaurant there. No, our relationship like many devolved to only spending time together on the internet on this new social media thing - but that all changed in 2012 when I moved to New York City. My wife and I spent the first day in our new apartment on 27th and Lexington walking the neighborhood zigzagging from 3rd up to Park Ave and back assessing our new dining options and infrastructure when we made the most astounding discovery, Les Halles - your former restaurant was literally right around the corner from our apartment! In the three years we would live there we ate at your old spot more times than any other restaurant in New York. Was it out of convenience or possibly my own selfish taste for unpretentious French bistros? Not really. It was because it reminded me how much I cared for you and just how much I'd missed you over the last ten years. Tim, your old server, treated us like kings every time we were there, and it was a lot, not because he was looking for a tip but because we were restaurant people, we were cooks and he fucking knew it and never missed an opportunity to tell us a great story about you. In fact, one time we were sitting outside at my favorite 2 top having lunch when we missed you only by a few minutes. I was, again, a little disappointed but not too much because, again, I figured we'd just catch up another time and maybe have a drink or two, I was certain of it.

Tony, before I continue, I want to make something very clear to you; your fans around the world love you very much, they always have and always will but we're hurting man. I learned early on to try and find good in any situation no matter how dire it is and that's helped me cope with loss in my life. If there is a silver lining that can be attached to your decision - and it's the only one I can come-up with - is that what's happened here has brought more attention to the subject of depression, post traumatic stress and suicide than there has ever been. If there are people in need out there that now know they are not alone, if there is assistance where there wasn't any before or if we can be more empathetic as a society there will be good that comes from this. All that said - I can’t lie to you Tony, I was mad as hell about what you did and the morning I found out I shared that anger with a few friends before realizing how selfish I was being. None of this is about me, it's about you and all the people that love you around the world that are struggling like hell with the decision you made.

I would like to share something with you about myself. I still don't talk about it much. I lost my mother in an automobile accident when I was 16. She was driving home in the rain one night and her car was washed off a flooded bridge. She was found drown in the vehicle a quarter mile from our house. Because there were trace levels of alcohol in her blood stream the insurance policy was void and I was left totally alone. Needless to say my life spiraled into a dark place that only cooking eventually brought me out of. Becoming a Chef gave me something to lose myself in, something to carry on with not just for myself but for her. I learned that dealing with traumatic loss, especially without closure, can either define or destroy you. I made a conscious decision to honor my mother’s memory by busting my ass and doing anything and everything I can to allow her to live through me and my successes whatever those may be.

It's really fucking hard being young and all alone, man. I never had anyone explain any of this to me, I never really had anyone period but I made it through somehow and I know a lot of others that can say the same and many more that can’t. What I started with TrueCooks - it would never exist without the groundwork you laid in Kitchen Confidential nearly twenty years ago now. You gave us cooks a voice, an honest voice, that quite frankly said "WE ARE NOT ANIMALS. WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS!"  and that's something that the general dining public needed to know and still needs to be routinely reminded. I know it's impossible to be everything for everybody but you were damn close man. I know you know but I'll say this anyway - there are hundreds of thousands of cooks all over the world that intend on honoring your memory and that you will truly live forever. And, I know we'll still get together for those drinks one day - but please do me a one­­ favor until then? Have one with my mom and keep her company till I get there.

Your Friend,
Chad