There have been many tributes to the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, but the most touching are undoubtedly those that have been penned by his comrades: the working cooks who understand what it's like to sacrifice so much of yourself in order to feed your passion for food.
South African chef Jessica Brodie writes a moving 'love letter' to Bourdain, who she met while working at the Edinburgh Food Studio in Scotland:
There is no glamorous chef job. It’s a horrible life born of a wonderful passion. Anyone who tells you differently isn’t actually working as a cook.
As chefs, we spend our days locked in a feverish fairy tale. We pray, let me be ready for service. Let me catch a break. Let something end the long hours, return the lost weekends, rectify the horrible pay.
Ultimately it is a prayer to keep working with food without burning out, or losing yourself, or spending your entire life in windowless tiled box with too many people and too many hot and sharp things.
He is the only person every chef would have bought a beer for. Unlike Jamie Oliver, who would get punched in his fat smug face
Anthony Bourdain was the patron saint of the better food life. The living, breathing embodiment of the dream that if you keep on working for just a while longer, you will move on and be able to keep loving food without being destroyed by it.
Cooks work like addicts desperately locked in a kitchen; they're people consumed with obsessive lust, madmen hellbent on executing a scheme, demented, delirious delinquents driven by unconditional love. We don’t care if food loves us back or what loving it costs us. We love it because we were made to love it.
Bourdain called himself a cook, renouncing the title of chef, but he is deserving of it as an emeritus title. Most people who pompously say “I’m a chef” are cooks. Cooks do the hard graft, the long hours, the inglorious grind. He spoke for all the washed up, coked out, tired but hungry people that make up so much of this wonderful, destructive world.
He was the only food person on TV who did not mess everything up with cloying sentiment and sterile sets. He is the only person every chef would have bought a beer for, even though we never have any money. Unlike Jamie Oliver, who would get punched in his fat smug face.
Chef actually translates to chief, of which there are only ever very few. Bourdain was one of them.
His is the voice of food. Like David Attenborough, his distinctive cadence, undisputed love and dedication brought weight and credibility to anything he was a part of. His was the ultimate seal of the authentic, the real. He ate the way cooks want to eat, not the way we work. He ate voraciously, like a predator, roaming the earth for ever more delicious things.
In the kitchen, sometimes someone loses the rhythm during service. It could be orders going wrong, or mise en place not being correct. It is called ‘going down’. It's awful when it happens; you're trapped in the singular hell of being out of control in a time when you need to be the master of your tiny realm. It has happened to every cook.
Usually, cooks go for beers after service and other members of your rag tag army will regale you with stories of their own disasters. “That time I served a nut allergy walnuts." "The time I destroyed four lobes of foie gras in the sous vide." "The time the gas blow torch exploded mid service.” On and on it goes, slowly transmuting the horror to laughter, to relief, to peace.
Bourdain did not believe in the afterlife. Once, in his favourite pub in Ireland he wrote on the wall “Heaven looks like this.” I wish, however hard he went down, that he is at peace now his service is over.