Reviews for Bourdain

by Laurie Woolever

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A collage of remembrances creates a multifaceted portrait of the late author, chef, and TV host. Journalist Woolever, who worked as an assistant and co-author for Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018), puts together recollections from nearly 100 people—including friends, family, co-workers, ex-wives, editors, chefs—to create a candid portrait of a complicated man. Growing up, Bourdain was smart and funny but difficult. “Firmly ensconced in the bad boy persona” (per a college friend), he consumed a cornucopia of drugs, including LSD, cocaine, and heroin. After two unsuccessful years at Vassar, he went to the Culinary Institute of America and worked in many restaurant kitchens before becoming executive chef at Les Halles in Manhattan. He aspired, though, to become a successful novelist; after studying in a creative writing program, he published two novels but felt frustrated that they didn’t catapult him to fame. He achieved instant notoriety, however, with Kitchen Confidential, his uncensored view of the underside of the restaurant scene, conveyed in a style that reflected what his editor called his characteristic “provocation and macho bravado.” Friends portray Bourdain as loyal, generous, charismatic, but always “slightly detached.” As his editor noted, “he had a way of talking to you where you still felt like you were part of an audience, but you were waiting for the other people to show up.” Others, too, noticed that Bourdain always seemed to be performing, “always playing with how he looked to other people; he was very conscious of it,” according to one of his NYC kitchen colleagues. Once he took to the road as a cultural journalist, hosting shows on the Food Network, Travel Channel, and CNN, he became a recognizable celebrity. Fame, though, exacerbated tensions that ended two marriages. “So much of his life was going to beautiful places and being all alone,” a producer observed. In the end, he was undermined by persistent demons and, as Woolever notes, self-destructive “bad choices.” A chorus of candid voices creates an engaging biography. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.