A chef’s characterisation was absorbed long before I started my own restaurant. I grew up listening to heroic stories of my granddad who was a great cook in our village. Though I was not lucky enough to watch him cook, I knew he was a tough cookie.
What transpires in a kitchen has mostly been censored within the underbelly of a dominating chef and his prudently manipulated assistants, who follow the kitchen boss to safeguard their jobs and cooking career. In May 2000, there was a book called Kitchen Confidential written by a lesser-known chef from New York called Anthony Bourdain. He shook the restaurant world by storm with his fearless revelations based on true stories from a commercial kitchen. Obviously, the book was a bestseller.
What followed was a successful TV series. Bourdain’s travel programmes on world cuisine took off exceptionally well and his shows were blessed with presence of people such as Barrack Obama and Ferran Adria. His towering figure, unique voice and flowing narrating skills were a welcome change and people got addicted to this new style and the star himself.
A Facebook request from his film crew got me connected with Mr Bourdain before he started his India tour in 2010. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that I was getting the opportunity to meet someone I admired. Three weeks later, we sat with their team in Kochi. Pushing the cloud of smoke, the giant figure of the world’s most celebrated chef entered our discussion table and sat quietly to listen to our ideas for the shoot. The most remarkable thing about Bourdain was his quality of paying attention to everyone, and his daring habit of saying yes to anything, be it eating a new dish or exploring anything related to food.
We agreed to film differently from their usual style and creep into the traditions around food, and lifestyle of rural people to understand the history of authentic Indian cuisine as practiced in villages.
In addition to long conversations on food, we shared our experiences and missions, captured the life of a simple village by eating in a tea shop, taking part in temple festival, observing the art of making bronze vessels, enjoying classical Indian dance and finally relishing a delicious homemade meal.
During the three-day schedule, Bourdain patiently followed instructions as he walked through long narrow pathways, stood with a crowd in extremely hot, humid temple next to a decorated elephant, dressed like an Indian, sat on the floor and ate with us on banana leaf with his hands. By the time we completed filming, we shared so much of each other’s life, his fascination for big banquet cooking as opposed to our devotion to the holistic art of home cooking. Amid all this, we discovered an amazing synergy for better future of food industry.
On June 8, we woke up to hear the sad death of 61-year-old Bourdain in a hotel room in Paris, while filming his latest TV series called Parts Unknown for CNN. It was unbelievable and more than devastating for millions of his fans and our industry. I remember his words “restless mind and curiosity to understand this world keeps me going”. There were definite signs of sadness in his emotion as he narrated his life. Bourdain had an unparallel growth from a chef to becoming a great writer, an amazing TV presenter with his storytelling and then a friend to so many in the world. He climbed all these steps without any futuristic thinking.
Being fearless is not easy, like Bourdain said, “I almost died twice by trying some strange street food”. But nothing stopped him being himself and he kept going smartly until the last moment. It may take a long time to replace that cool global chef. The author runs the London-based Rasa chain of restaurants