Eight Bits of Advice That Summed up the Heart & Soul of Anthony Bourdain

Rohit Kumar
Jun 10, 2018 · 4 min read

In his book, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing… Encounters With Remarkable People And Their Most Valuable Advice, (2016) author Richard Reed has interviewed 62 men and women of note and asked them all the same question, “Given all that you have experienced, all that you now know and given all that you have learnt, if you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?”

It’s a great question and the answers make for fascinating reading. Respondents to the question include President Bill Clinton, actor Stephen Fry, musician Harry Belafonte, philosopher Alain de Botton, and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who passed away tragically on June 8 at age 61 in Kaysersberg, a small village in the northeast of France.

“Good advice is like a nutrient-rich broth, made from boiling down the bones of life,” says Reed, “There is something about asking people to stand behind just one nugget of wisdom that gets them to reflect harder, dig deeper and be more candid in their response.” Perhaps none more so than the response given by Anthony Bourdain, author of the restaurant petticoat-lifting book, Kitchen Confidential (2000)

Not surprisingly, Bourdain is the only one who refused to be bound by the format of the book and shared not one but eight bits of advice with the author. As the world mourns his passing (made that much more tragic by the fact that he took his own life) these eight life lessons — blunt, self-deprecating and utterly unpretentious — somehow bring out the essence of Bourdain’s own life and soul perfectly.

Here they are, in his own words:

1. Turn the f**k up on time

“I’m punctual, that is probably the most useful lesson I ever learned. It is the first evidence of your character I have: are you the sort of person who says they are going to do something and then doesn’t? Being on time is the first thing I require of my cooks. It’s the same in social relationships, do you have enough respect for me to show up on time or do you not? If not we’re probably going to have problems down the line.”

2. Working in a kitchen will straighten you out

“I was a spoiled, narcissistic, lazy, self-involved middle class kid from the suburbs. But working in a kitchen forced upon me a discipline that stopped me spinning out. I started as a dishwasher at seventeen and, it may have taken thirty years, but I learnt how to grow up and be an adult here.”

3. Be polite to waiters

‘If you’re mean or dismissive of waiters and hotel staff, you’re dead to me. And our time together is going to be very limited. Because if you’re pissy to waiters, that’s the real you: you may not be like that to me now, but you will be.”

4. Don’t work with a**holes

“If you don’t like the people you work with, you’ll end up f***ing miserable. Any accrued benefits are kind of worthless because your life will be shit. If you’re dealing with a**holes the whole time, you’ll die of a heart attack. You know the people I’m talking about. Well, don’t do business with those people. Mickey Corleone said it isn’t personal, it’s business. Bullshit: all business is personal.”

5. When you’re a cook, you can’t bullshit anyone.

“The kitchen is a world of absolutes: you either can or you cannot cook 300 eggs Benedict in a three-hour shift. You might talk about great you are all the time, but we’re going to find out. Whatever you say before or after is meaningless. But if you’re really good, they’ll bump you up. It’s like the Mafia: if you kill eight people, you get to be a made guy.”

6. If you get a lucky break, work it.

“If you’re forty-four years old like I was, and you’ve f***ed up your life in every way like I had, make sure you recognize a lucky break and when you get one, like I did with my book. Then work really hard at not f***ing it up because that’s what most people do when they get lucky. I managed to avoid that. I didn’t have a plan, I just worked hard, avoided assholes, and turned up on time.”

7. Don’t be a di*k

“If I’m at your house and you offer me something to eat I don’t particularly like, I’m going to smile and eat it. Try to be a good guest, try to be grateful, be a good guy, don’t be a di*k.”

8. Avoid hippies

“Hippies. I hate hippies and I hate their music. Bad for morale, bad work habits. And they are never on time.”

Parallels are being drawn between Bourdain’s death and Robin Williams’. Bourdain’s passing has probably had the same sort of effect on his fans that Robin Williams’ had on his. Both battled depression, both had problems with substance abuse, but both also made their world that much richer by remaining who they were and never pretending to be anyone else.

    Rohit Kumar

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    Author, freelance journalist and educator.