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For Gainesville chefs Peter Brandes
and Stephen Callari, the late Anthony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential”
was a reflection of their hard work in the kitchen.
The book, published in 2000, was a firsthand, behind-the-scenes account of the culinary industry. Bourdain, who also hosted the CNN show “Parts Unknown,” was found dead in a hotel room in France on Friday, June 8. CNN has called the death a suicide. Bourdain was 61.
Brandes, the chef at Scott’s Downtown on Bradford Street, said Bourdain informed the public about what was happening in restaurant kitchens, a space many people never see.
“He let the rest of America know what goes on sometimes behind these walls,” Brandes said. “I’ve always said that chefs don’t belong in the front of the house, and what stays behind the walls is kind of like Vegas.”
Bourdain’s death came three days after fashion designer Kate Spade killed herself in her Park Avenue apartment in New York. Spade’s husband and business partner said the 55-year-old business mogul had suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.
In a 2008 interview with the Associated Press, Bourdain had said his daughter’s birth had changed his outlook on life.
“I feel obliged to at least do the best I can and not do anything really stupidly self-destructive if I can avoid it,” he said.
Callari, the executive chef at Novella’s on Washington Street, said “Kitchen Confidential” was published at a time when people started paying more attention to what was on their plates and the origins of their food. The Food Network was also gaining popularity at the time, and Callari said some diners did not have an accurate view of what it takes to be a professional chef.
“There was the impression that it was guys coming out in white coats and aprons and that French guy and everything’s really pretty,” Callari said. “Not that it’s not, but it’s much tougher … It’s very grueling, the hours involved, and it takes a very specific kind of person to do it.”
Callari said Bourdain helped motivate people to become chefs or become more devoted to cooking.
“When I read the book, I was really young and had just got in the business. It definitely gave a lot of validation. … I think it inspired a lot of people who hadn’t cooked to go cook,” he said. “After that book came out, there were a lot of people deciding to be chefs.”
However, Callari said some of the grittier details in the book may have led some readers or diners to look down on the industry. Brandes also said the book may have given people a negative impression of restaurant kitchens, but it reminded him of restaurants he had worked at in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I looked at this one restaurant I had worked at, and the waiters or the busboys would go into the coolers to get stoned or all sorts of different things back then,” Brandes said.
Callari said Bourdain inspired many chefs by bridging the gap between chefs and the people who eat the food they work so hard to make.
“He was like Rocky Balboa. He was the people’s champ,” Callari said. “He was a very articulate guy, he was very smart. … he brought professional cooking to the mainstream.”
Reporter Nick Bowman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.