I first bump into Anthony Bourdain when I stumble into the media room at the Sydney Writers' Festival to find a power point for my laptop. After a quick scan, I can't see anyone else and start pulling out electrical cords and USB sticks.
Then I realise that someone is lying on the sofa. He rises slowly, facing expectantly toward me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that he's tall. The next thing I realise is that he's Anthony Bourdain. He's been waiting for a journalist who has arranged to interview him there ... but that journalist wasn't me.
I say hello and - for a brief moment - consider gazumping a fellow journo to steal Anthony away for a chat. After all, Anthony's probably jetlagged and may not notice that I'm Valerie from the Sydney Writers' Centre and not Scott from The Sydney Morning Herald.
While concocting this plan, his (real) interviewer arrives. So, alas, I do not have a private chat with this chef-turned-author-turned-television-presenter. Instead, this is a review of his lively session in conversation with food writer Jill Dupleix at the Sydney Writers' Festival.
In case you've been living under a rock, Anthony Bourdain shot to fame and celebrity 10 years ago after the release of his best-selling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
, an expose of life in the culinary world.
Bourdain says: "When I wrote Kitchen Confidential
, I was a broke, stressed out 44 year old, not working for a very famous restaurant. I was the guy standing next to the deep fryer ... I was a frightened, angry, desperate character and had seen nothing of the world outside of kitchens. Almost overnight, my life changed dramatically."
Chef or Satan?
Dupleix introduced Bourdain by reading the biography that appears on Urban Dictionary: "Anthony Bourdain is an author, chef, and television host. This is ironic because he is also Satan. He is one of the baddest motherf**kers to grace television. His books are well written, conscious, and can be quite humorous. His restaurant, Les Halles, serves amazing French cuisine and is located in New York. He has/had two television shows. The first being A Cook's Tour
on the Food Network. The second show, No Reservations,
being an almost exact copy, but far better and is still being aired with new seasons being filmed."
His latest book is Medium Raw
, a sequel to Kitchen Confidential
. Bourdain seems to have had a dream ride since becoming an overnight celebrity. "I've had 10 years of the best job in the world, stayed in the best hotels, am friends with the greatest chefs," he says. "I'm older. I don't know that I'm wiser. I've seen more than I ever thought I would see in the world ... And I'm a dad now. I have a four year old little girl and all the cliches about parenthood are true."
Do celebrity chefs sell out?
The phenomenon of the celebrity chef only seems to be gaining momentum and Dupleix suggested that some chefs have sold out. She says it broke her heart to see acclaimed three-star Michelin chef Marco Pierre White promoting Continental stock cubes and asked Bourdain what he thought about this sell out.
Without a hint of culinary or intellectual snobbery, Bourdain was passionate in his answer: "Why do we expect chefs to die behind the stove? Why do we hold chefs to a higher standard?"
Bourdain reminded Dupleix that Orson Welles was responsible for the great film Citizen Kane. "If Orson Welles then wants to go on and make bad movies and get paid well for it, good on him!
"Who better deserves to sell out and male a lot of money than chefs? I feel a lot better about Marco cashing in on this than Paris Hilton getting paid for anything!"
The dream run continues
It's unlikely that Bourdain will be selling out any time soon. Although he admits that he has been twice offered to participate in Dancing With The Stars
! These days, dream jobs continue to come his way.
"I find myself at a point in my career where opportunities pop up to work with people I admire," he says. A confessed fan of David Simon's hit television series The Wire, he describes it as "the greatest thing in the history of television."
So he couldn't say no when David Simon asked him to write for another series Treme. "I get a call out of the blue from David Simon," says Bourdain. "That's like being a football fan and David Beckham calls to say: 'Let's kick the ball around'. I teared up and I hyperventilated. I would have done it for free."
By Valerie Khoo
Director, Sydney Writers' Centre