Reviews for Bourdain

by Laurie Woolever

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Celebrated chef and author Anthony Bourdain (1956–2018) cuts a charismatic yet enigmatic figure in this kaleidoscopic oral history. Woolever (Appetites), Bourdain’s longtime assistant and coauthor, interviewed 91 friends, relatives, chefs, editors, publishers, and producers to chart his rise from hard-living New York chef (Bourdain and co-workers, who did heroin together, would “turn their heads and throw up into garbage cans” while working on the line, a former colleague reports) to bestselling author with his restaurant tell-all, Kitchen Confidential, and host of the culinary travel shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, and his death by suicide in 2018. Many of the recollections are retrospectively colored by Bourdain’s bleak end, and interviewees’ efforts to locate an inchoate darkness within him—“I saw in him this desire to be somehow swept away into the oblivion” says a former Parts Unknown cinematographer—yield little insight. The book does, however, succeed as a revealing account of the making of a celebrity, following Bourdain as he crafted a mediagenic persona—“he published Kitchen Confidential, and he never came off book tour,” observes an editor—that was brash, profane, articulate, empathetic, and seemingly wide open to new experiences and adoring fans, yet perpetually distanced. This fascinating mosaic doesn’t unearth Bourdain’s inner demons, but it does capture the inimitable legacy he left behind. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Oct.)

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.

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

After decades of Anthony Bourdain candidly sharing his own story, his longtime assistant Woolever (co-author, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide) has written an unfiltered study of Bourdain's life, as seen by the people closest to him (among them his producer Zamir Gotta and CNN colleague Anderson Cooper). The narrative addresses Bourdain's life from childhood on: his kitchen career as a line cook and eventually executive chef; nominal writing success with early novels; breakthrough memoir Kitchen Confidential; and early awkwardness on camera, plus the cult success of No Reservations and widespread fame of Parts Unknown. Woolever compiles the perspectives of Bourdain's friends and family about the way these professional experiences impacted him, including during his tumultuous final year. Life was rarely rosy; Bourdain could be harsh, jaded, and disengaged when things didn't go his way. But those moments coexisted with Bourdain's global compassion and incredible personal selflessness (evinced by his championing Jason Rezaian's case and supporting writers via his book imprint). Woolever offers good insight about these aspects of Bourdain and his world. VERDICT Any Anthony Bourdain fan, of which there are many, will enjoy this thoughtful tribute to an impactful cultural figure.—Zebulin Evelhoch, Deschutes P.L., OR