Michael Ruhlman / March 2008
Food Arts presents the March 2008 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer, television host, provocateur, raconteur, and journeyman cook who worked anonymously in New York City kitchens for over 20 years, living paycheck to paycheck, until he published Kitchen Confidential in 2000 at age 44 and became the heralded voice of kitchen rats and line cooks throughout the world.
In an era that glamorizes the celebrity chef, Bourdain's book drew a vivid picture of kitchen workers and the grueling, unglamorous nature of their work in compelling and wickedly funny prose. In so doing, he elevated all cooks' professional pride and visibility.
"Larger than life", says Jacques Pépin. "Anthony's Rabelaisian taste, outspoken and bold talk, and irreverent attitude have done more good for the world of food than many famous but timorous and fainthearted chefs."
The commercial success of Kitchen Confidential—whose cover photo by Courtney Grant Winston had illustrated the first article Bourdain wrote for Food Arts (July/August 1999)—helped to unleash a tell-all genre of kitchen stories from Bill Buford's work as a cook at Babbo to New York City chef Gabrielle Hamilton's eagerly awaited memoir. And it helped Bourdain, 51, to launch a career in television—first with the 22 part series A Cook's Tour on the Food Network and now with Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Travel Channel—where he proves to be as funny and entertaining as he is on the page.
"I thought Kitchen Confidential was going to be a little book," says Bourdain, who preceded its publication with two crime novels and three articles for Food Arts—including a self-examination of his sudden notoriety following his restaurant exposé for the New Yorker entitled "Don't Eat Before Reading This." "The only people I cared about reading it were chefs and cooks and restaurant people."
Now, wherever Bourdain travels—and he gets around—cooks in Shanghai, Columbia, Australia, Ireland, and beyond all but smother him with adoration and gratitude. "Cooks like to hear somebody writing about their lives in a way that hadn't been written about before and in language that's entirely familiar to them," Bourdain guesses.
A dishwasher by age 16, and a Culinary Institute of America graduate in 1978 by age 22—in between he "more or less" attended Vassar College for two years—Bourdain first worked at The Rainbow Room and then in so many kitchens he can't remember them all, battling poverty and drug addiction most of the way. He was hired as chef of the French brasserie Les Halles in New York City in 1998, published Kitchen Confidential two years later, and hasn't looked back.
Bourdain puts his fame to good use as a vocal supporter of the farmers and purveyors of foie gras and as an advocate for the immigrant workers who shoulder most of the tedious kitchen chores. "If I've done good in this world, it's that I've been vocal in my likes and dislikes," he says. "And however offensive it might be when I'm ranting hyperbolically about my dislikes, I like to think I'm persistent and loyal and effusive in my likes."