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Happy birthday, Anthony Bourdain!

June 25, 2011 |  1:29 pm

Anthonybourdain_medraw Anthony Bourdain may now be best known as a TV personality. He seems equally comfortable on camera waxing intelligently about a failed attempt at a complicated French dish on "Top Chef" as he does taking that one last ill-advised drink as the dancing heats up around him after eating who-knows-what in Iceland. He's somehow simultaneously an enthusiast an a skeptic, and as such he makes for a very good television foodie avatar.

But he became that TV personality first by writing. Technically, first he was a chef, then he wrote a couple of pulpy novels, then he became a chef-memoirist. It was that book, 2000's "Kitchen Confidential," that made Bourdain a household name.

In 2009, food editor Russ Parsons put Bourdain's literary role in perspective:

In the old days, chef stories followed a pretty staid outline: childhood in sunny France, first job, first great chef, own restaurant, and after many struggles, stardom. Like Horatio Alger stories they were at once almost ritualistic in their progress and thoroughly sanitized, yet oddly comforting in their predictability.

Bourdain changed all that with his "Kitchen Confidential."

The story of a wayward chef and his exceedingly merry ways, "Kitchen Confidential" turned food publishing on its head. Not only did it bear little or no resemblance to its chef-ography predecessors, it joyously trampled on their pieties. It was full of sex and drugs, and it described a cooking career that could most charitably be described as underachieving.

Restaurant kitchens, it turned out, were hotbeds of bad behavior, more akin to high school locker rooms than the artist's ateliers we'd been led to believe they resembled. And "Kitchen Confidential" cheerfully laid it all out with an attitude that was like a food version of "Seinfeld": "No hugging, no learning."

And like the television show, it was both utterly enjoyable and outrageously successful. Professionals and amateurs alike thrilled to the inside story of what life in a professional kitchen is really like. Published in 2000, "Kitchen Confidential" has sold well over 1 million copies.

While the success of "Kitchen Confidential" led him to television, where he had success with food travel shows first on the Food Network -- for which he now has few kind words -- and now for the Travel Channel, where the new season of "No Reservations" begins July 11.

And he keeps writing -- his style is straightforward but clever, just self-deprecating enough so it feels honest, insider but sharing, more frank, sometimes, than seems wise. People can read his blog, follow him on Twitter, or get his books. His latest, "Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook" was a bestseller.

Happy birthday, Anthony Bourdain. Fifty-five is the new 30.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

 

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