Bloomsbury editor-in-chief Alexandra Pringle pays tribute to the chef and writer Anthony Bourdain, who died last week at the age of 61, remembering publication of his bestselling memoir of life behind the scenes of top-end restaurants, Kitchen Confidential.
"Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential was one of the very first books I took on when I joined Bloomsbury 19 years ago. It had already been commissioned by Karen Rinaldi, publisher of the newly formed Bloomsbury US. She and her husband the writer Joel Rose were great friends of Tony’s. Tony was opening Les Halles in Tokyo and writing emails to Joel regaling him with stories. They were so brilliant that Karen rang Kim Witherspoon his agent (he had already published two crime novels) and proposed he wrote a book about being a chef that they’d figure out on his return. Tony and Karen met in a bar and Kitchen Confidential was born.
"Soon after my arrival at Bloomsbury Karen asked me to read the manuscript. I need to state here that at this point in my life I didn’t cook. I had no interest in cooking and not much in eating either. But this manuscript was enthralling. Anthony Bourdain’s fast-paced, muscular, powerful, darkly witty and often hair-raising account of his life as a chef had me turning the pages as if reading a thriller. There had been some anxiety that it would be hard to sell a memoir by an unknown American chef. But I thought that if I, with zero interest in food and cookery, were spellbound then others would be too. And so it turned out.
"Tony came over for publication. We threw a launch party that began at 10pm so all the chefs could attend. Everyone fell for him. His combination of swagger and sweetness, his sense of adventure, his ability to turn every occasion into a party made him irresistible. One year we took him on a road trip to meet booksellers around Britain. We had a ball, as did every bookseller and chef who met him.
"Tony went on to write further memoirs and also cookery books and to become a TV star. He championed food from all over the world, loved to travel and the camera loved him. Naturally he enjoyed filming in places of danger. Recently I returned from Beirut where my journalist son was living. We had spent an evening drinking whisky and eating offal with his friend Ernesto Chahoud, a Lebanese DJ from a long line of communists, who it turned out was also a friend of Tony’s. I e-mailed Tony to tell of the encounter. ‘He’s a bad man,’ was his approving reply.
"Anthony Bourdain was one of the most unique individuals on this earth. How he will be missed."
Jamie Byng, c.e.o. of Canongate, which publishes Bourdain's crime novels, has also paid tribute to the writer, saying: "He became a very dear friend as well as one of the writers I most enjoyed publishing...the idea that this remarkable spirit has been extinguished is an unbearable loss." Meanwhile Bea Carvalho, cookery buyer at Waterstones, said: "His books have been perennially popular with our customers, and his influence on the way food and restaurants are written about cannot be underestimated."