The night I met Anthony Bourdain

filed09 Jun 2018 from Carmen Jenner CategoriesCities, Cultural, New York

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From drug-addled chef to successful author and TV presenter, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t only a storyteller but a story creator. He lived the stories he told not merely as an observer, but as a participant, and in doing so, he connected us to worlds many of us will never experience.

I’ve been a die-hard fan since encountering his first book Kitchen Confidential; I’ve savoured every word many times over. I was thrilled to discover he hosted an entire TV series, A Cook’s Tour giving the viewer an insight into the calibre of his compassion, grit and humour. Now I could read his words while hearing his distinct voice in surround sound, and by voice, I mean both his husky speaking voice and the succinct voice of a writer. He broke the travel reporting mould without the gloss but instead with refreshing candour.

I met him once after a presentation he gave in Brooklyn, where his intelligence was as apparent his humbleness. He knew he’d been blessed with a second chance at success. His wife arrived in the audience with her entourage. He’d always said he’d wished he’d been born into an Italian family, so he married into one instead. She had such a presence I suspected the audience watched her almost as intently as her husband on stage. And I got the feeling he was more than ok with that.

It was one of those steamy New York City nights, and the “Meet & Greet” function was held in a Brooklyn brownstone converted into a bar full of equally zealot fans. As the jazz band swooned, we alighted the stairs in trepidation to meet THE man himself. I was one of the last in the line. The temperature upstairs was sweltering, and he was clearly uncomfortable and grumpy. Nonetheless, we all persisted with the publicity circus, he as the reluctant showman and us as the expectant fans.

At last, it was my turn, and I handed him my book to sign. He glanced up at me without words. I gushed a little before asking, “So when are you going to do a show in Perth?” At last, I had his full attention and gaze, “Oh Perth, yes I have been. I decided to do a show in Sydney instead.” I don’t remember my response except that my husband was standing ready with the camera to capture this awkward moment in time.

There are thousands of stories of off-screen encounters with Anthony, some equally irreverent from what I’ve heard, which is what made his work so brilliant, and many touching. All of them influential in some way. He lived as he ate; without fear.

He appeared to have it all, which is why it’s so hard to believe he voluntarily ended his own life. Although he did appear nostalgic during his last episode in Hong Kong. How can we ever truly know; I believe there was no note.

An ambassador of food, travel, culture and let’s face it, basically the universe, he brought the world to the page and our screens. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. An incredible legacy we’re free to dip back into at will. He gave the ultimate gift.