"I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional."
- Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain’s New Yorker article, Don’t Eat Before Reading This, shocked me the first time I read it. It was 1999. The food scene in South Georgia was not that exciting. My family was opening their first restaurant that summer in St. Simons Island, Georgia. My stepfather, Boz, talked about Bourdain and his writing frequently. He seemed in awe of Bourdain’s raw honesty. Bourdain seemed to say everything he couldn’t say while opening a restaurant in a resort area in the Deep South (where people didn’t talk about the underbelly of the service industry in the day to day conversation, let alone the newspaper).
From No Reservations to Parts Unknown, I was hooked. Like so many, I was inspired by his trips to foreign places, even in within our own country, exploring the history of the world on a plate. His interviewees revealed themselves without hesitation over plates of home cooked food. Bourdain made plenty of powerful revelations throughout his life but I think this quote speaks volumes.
“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.” - Anthony Bourdain
I have watched episodes of Parts Unknown over and over, with his trip to Charleston during Parts Unknown being my most revisited episode, seeing he and Sean Brock in the Waffle House is forever burned in my brain.
When our first restaurant opened, I was one of the first host’s at 14, and by the summer after my senior year of high school, I felt like a badass at the door. I was a goody-goody for a long time in school but at work, I felt like the gatekeeper to our little piece of paradise soaked with sunshine and a steady stream of stiff margaritas. I feel a sweet sense of nostalgia during that episode, as Brock and Bourdain talked about the magic of Waffle House, I can’t help but think of all the late nights I’d spent at the Waffle House growing up after a long Sunday night shift at the restaurant or an even later night out eating hash browns and waffles to recharge.
The restaurant industry is so strange, and growing up in it even stranger. My siblings and I all worked different positions in our family’s restaurant for years; I wouldn’t change my experience because it’s taught me so much about hard work and has shaped me in ways I’m still understanding.
On the flip side, working in a restaurant comes with the incredible temptation of excess and often self-medication. Sadly, the personal demons that so many people struggle with are often still suffered in silence. Seeing the news alert about Bourdain this morning and reading about Kate Spade earlier this week has my head spinning. The loss of Bourdain hit home for me because my younger sister and best friend, has struggled with her own pain for many years. Thankfully, she’s been in recovery for several. I am so thankful she indeed spoke up asking for help because I can’t imagine my life without her.
Check on each other.