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Review: Anthony Bourdain biography is about life, but also very much about the chef’s death


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Last October, the newest biography of American chef and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) was released in the United States, to great expectations, entitled “Down and Out In Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain”, by journalist Charles Leerhsen.

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With the huge success of his latest television series (“Parts Unknown,” a surprising CNN ratings record-breaker), Bourdain had catapulted his growing fame to the level of a worldwide celebrity. And, at the height of his fame, aged 61, he killed himself in the French countryside, where he was recording an episode of his show.

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There is something macabre about the book. It is about life, but also very much about the death of the chef. The author had access to the last movements of Bourdain’s private life, mapping his computer and cell phone, franchised by his ex-wife.

We then learn—as highlighted by the publicity leading up to the release—of his hatred of fame and fans, his heroin addiction, his injecting steroid use, the prostitute websites he visited shortly before his death, and on the same day, of the last communication with his girlfriend, the Italian actress Asia Argento, who tells him to leave her alone and mind his own business.

This courtship had been quite tumultuous, a subject for a lot of manga if the objective was to enter into the personal lives of both. Argento, less distinguished as an actress than as a figurehead of the #MeToo movement, seems possessive and suffocating for a passionate but always insecure and tortured Bourdain.

Even so, the author seems to push the issue by focusing on this love misadventure the cause of Bourdain’s suicide.

Okay, he was suffering. But at the same time, he had powerful anchors to keep him grounded—like stupendous professional and financial success, and a daughter approaching adolescence. Then the girlfriend dumps you, and you hang yourself in a hotel bathroom… I know.

Millions of people lose their jobs, their loves, their children, obviously they suffer, but killing yourself goes a long way from there. It is more likely that most of those who reach this extreme are driven by depression and psychic and chemical suffering, not just by a specific fact.

Bourdain was a troubled person, and the main interest of the book is to follow how the trajectory of this troubled figure did not impede his professional success. For those who didn’t know him closely, it may come as a surprise that he was unfriendly, irascible, lazy, rude, which is reflected in several accounts in the book.

For me, who has been with him a few times, none of this is a surprise.

The fact also revealed that his books (and series) contain inventions disguised as reality, neither. But that’s where much of its grace comes from.

After all, if it is so common to use lies and exaggerations to positively decorate the lives of chefs, in the “Chef’s Table” style, why not use the same stratagem to reveal, even if giving fictional tones, the dark side of the force?

I’ve always said (without proof…) that the book that launched him to stardom (and pulled him out of a dull career as a chef), “Kitchen Confidential”, released in 2000 and which became a bestseller thanks to shocking “revelations” about running a professional kitchen, it was full of invention and exaggeration.

But even so, I never ceased to delight and recommend the book, written with a sharp knife and spicy spices.

Incidentally, the book shows that since a very young age Bourdain loved to write, and even when he was working as a cook, he wrote detective stories. I don’t know about his mystery stories, but judging by his food and travel books, it’s obvious that he wrote very well and was a great storyteller. In addition to being a ferocious and quick on the trigger phrase.

Timid, bitter, but also rude and arrogant. From this explosive cocktail of emotions Anthony Bourdain managed to distil a work that enchanted millions around the world, and already survives its anguished creator.

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