TV per­son­al­ity, au­thor and chef dis­cusses his mel­low new out­look

Anthony Bour­din- globetrotting TV host, best-sell­ing and one-time badass- is backk with his first cook­book in a decade. Af­ter years on the mar­gins, he tells SHANNON HAR­LEY he is ready to em­brace nor­mal­ity

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“T he days of drugs in the kitchen are gone. If you’re run­ning any type of good res­tau­rant, you’re not go­ing to be pleased to look over and see your pois­son­nier hoover­ing co­caine through an un­cooked penne,” Anthony Bour­dain tells me in a glassy board­room at his New York pro­duc­tion stu­dio. It’s a seis­mic shift for the 60-year-old chef, Kitchen

Con­fi­den­tial au­thor and TV per­son­al­ity, who is no­to­ri­ous for his brash, wild and provoca­tive ways both in and out of the kitchen.

Bour­dain (Tony to his friends) grew up in New Jer­sey and grad­u­ated from Amer­ica’s other CIA – the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica – be­fore his bad-boy hey­day as ex­ec­u­tive chef at Brasserie Les Halles. He was among the ’80s van­guard of chefs who rad­i­cally changed the per­cep­tion of their in­dus­try, for­ever shat­ter­ing the anonymity of cooks with an in-your-face in­dif­fer­ence that came with a side of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. These days, how­ever, Bour­dain claims to have hung up the leather jacket.

“When I met Marco Pierre White, I said, ‘Thank you Marco for mak­ing chefs f**kable. Be­fore you, no one wanted to think about what the chef looked like or what they thought’.

“But the rock star chef thing is a re­ally bad mis­nomer. Chefs are cer­tainly em­pow­ered now and peo­ple think about them as full and com­plete hu­man be­ings, but rock star, no. If any of us could play bass,we’d be play­ing lead gui­tar like Ste­vie Ray Vaughan.”

Celebrity chefs, he adds, have too much at stake for shenani­gans. “If you’re on MasterChef, chances are you’re not up all night with a room full of hook­ers and co­caine.”

In his drawl that’s part NYC cab driver, part

Se­same Street nar­ra­tor, Bour­dain de­scribes how, af­ter 30 years of cooking, he has changed along with the in­dus­try.

“Ut­ter con­tempt” for the world be­yond the kitchen doors (es­pe­cially if you were one of the “a**holes” who or­dered a well-done steak or slipped him a bag of co­caine at a book sign­ing) gave way to a yearn­ing for that very life, where peo­ple had week­ends off, health in­sur­ance, fam­i­lies and a lawn to mow. Nor­mal had an ex­otic glow and the chef found him­self like a kid with his nose pressed up against the glass.

In his lat­est cook­book, Ap­petites, Bour­dain has landed in this fetishised territory with recipes that he says rep­re­sent nor­mal. From the cover il­lus­tra­tion by Ralph Stead­man, fa­mous for his work with coun­ter­cul­ture icon Hunter S Thomp­son, to the edgy im­agery within, the chef’s brand of nor­mal bears his unique stamp.

The book is a gritty, ir­rev­er­ent stew where you will find a help­less body in a gimp suit next to a recipe for liver sand­wich, Korean noo­dle soup spilling from an army hel­met, and the au­thor eat­ing on a loo (with the lid down, thank­fully).

There are ju­jitsu prac­tion­ers hold­ing chunks of raw meat in their ban­daged hands, and vi­gnettes of lipstick-stained cig­a­rette butts in take­away con­tain­ers. Mean­while, close pal and Miche­lin­starred chef Eric Ripert is pic­tured in­hal­ing a mouth­ful of spaghetti in one chap­ter, and with sausage gravy drib­bling from his mouth in another.

When I ask him who cooks at home, Bour­dain says, “If you tell me I’m cooking for 500 peo­ple in a ban­quet sit­u­a­tion, I could do that stand­ing on my head cold-blooded. But 10 peo­ple com­ing over for din­ner, I’m a ner­vous wreck be­cause now I care about the peo­ple.”

This fo­cus on cooking with care is a new de­vel­op­ment for the chef who be­came a fa­ther at 50, a milestone that he says brought huge change and re­lief.

“Any no­tion of cool goes out the win­dow when you’re a fa­ther. Sud­denly there is some­one more important in this world than me and I am no longer the star of this pic­ture.When I’m home and not work­ing, I let my 9-year-old daugh­ter Ari­ane make ev­ery ma­jor de­ci­sion for the en­tire month.”

Af­ter 35 episodes of A Cook’s Tour, nine sea­sons of No Reser­va­tions, 20 episodes of The Lay­over and eight sea­sons of his cur­rent se­ries, Emmy award-win­ning Parts Un­known, Bour­dain has more stamps in his pass­port than most, but he ex­plains the side-ef­fect of this well-inked life on the road is that he can be “a hard per­son to live with”.

He re­cently sep­a­rated from his wife of nine years, mixed mar­tial artist Ot­tavia Bu­sia, ad­mit­ting: “I’m al­ways mov­ing,250 days a year.The care,feed­ing and main­te­nance of re­la­tion­ships is not some­thing I’m too good at.”

Bour­dain tells me that the things that con­tinue to thrill him, that make his heart race and re­mind him that there is light and magic and beauty in this world, are in fact al­ways the sim­ple things – a work­ing class pasta out of a chipped bowl with some cheap wine in the weeds of Italy, a bowl of noo­dles in Viet­nam that cost him a dol­lar, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a new city in vivid flashes and smells from a mo­tor­bike.

“I’m hap­pi­est when I’m on a scooter, by my­self, in a coun­try not my own,” he says and I sus­pect he may have binned the term rock star chef, but that the leather jacket hasn’t been hung up for­ever just yet. Ap­petites by Anthony Bour­dain, Blooms­bury, $49.99, out now.

“Sud­denly there is some­one more important in this world than me and I am no longer the star”

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