Culinary icon Anthony Bourdain, 53, was born in New York and raised in New Jersey. Bourdain worked in seafood restaurants in Provincetown during college before embarking on the career that made him famous, including his run as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles. His 2000 tell-all and international bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, sees a follow-up this month in Medium Raw. Other works include his travel diary, A Cook’s Tour, three crime novels and a collection of essays. In his spare time, he hosts the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, in which he circumnavigates the globe. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Ottavia, and their daughter, Ariane.
Jonathan Soroff: Best restaurant you’ve ever eaten in?
Anthony Bourdain: The finest white-tablecloth restaurant meal I ever had was at French Laundry in Napa Valley.
What’s always in your refrigerator at home? It’s all about my daughter, who’s three, so I’d say milk, organic cheese singles and… I don’t know what… mustard. I always wanted to do a coffee-table book: Refrigerators of Famous Chefs, because I always suspected they were much like mine. Maybe a bottle of vodka, a can of stolen caviar and Chinese takeout from two weeks ago.
Grossest thing about restaurant kitchens? These days, things are pretty good. People aren’t f***ing on the cutting board anymore or doing rails through uncooked penne like they used to. That sort of thing would be frowned upon.
Did Kitchen Confidential change things? No. By the time that book came out, the prestige of chefs had really risen a lot. It wasn’t a dead-end job anymore. So things are much better now in terms of sanitation and work habits than probably at any time in history. To some extent, I’m sentimental about the bad old days. I hated the open kitchen. That was a terrible development. You couldn’t scratch your balls anymore.
Fakest thing about TV chefs or cooking shows? Same thing that’s fake about every other show. On one hand, you’ve got people like Gordon Ramsay making schtick out of it. I don’t think he really expects any of those idiots to perform well in any kind of professional situation, so I don’t see what he’s cursing so much for. He wouldn’t hire any of these morons at any of his restaurants. On the other extreme, you have people who are watching every word that comes out of their mouths.
Aren’t rats and cockroaches inevitable in a city? Not rats. You do not want rats. That’s a serious problem. Cockroaches? That’s an ongoing war.
Biggest cooking mistake you ever made? Trying to bake. Tragicomedy will ensue any time I try to bake. I tried to make two wedding cakes, and both times were apocalyptic disasters.
How do you know when everything’s going wrong in a restaurant kitchen? It gets very, very quiet. You’re flirting with disaster when everyone’s screaming, but it’s too late when there’s total silence.
At home, do you ever use packaged brands? No. I’m a big from-scratch guy, and how hard is it to make rice? That’s not snobbery. I’m lucky enough to know how to cook, and I like doing it.
Ratatouille: best movie ever made? No. Best movie ever made on the subject of food, though, for sure.
McDonald’s or Burger King? That’s like choosing between scabies and chlamydia.
Holiday meal you most like preparing? Thanksgiving. The standard turkey and stuffing, with all the trimmings—brussels sprouts, pan gravy, cranberry sauce.
Anything you hate to cook? Eggs Benedict. No matter how degraded and debauched I ever got in my life, I could always get a job cooking brunch. The smell of eggs Benedict is the smell of my most humiliating moments.
Favorite ethnic cuisine? I love Japanese food. I could eat sushi every day for the rest of my life.
Most important thing if you’re cooking at home? Try not to hack your finger off. Try not to pour hot liquids on genitals. That sort of thing.
Your take on the celebrity chef phenomenon? Even at its dumbest, it’s good for the world.
Who’s better for society: even the silliest celebrity chef or Kim Kardashian? Chefs, even the worst ones, cook. Stuck on a lifeboat, you’d probably rather have Gordon Ramsay with you than Snooki.
Grossest thing you ever ate? Fermented shark in Iceland. That was pretty nasty. The business end of a warthog in Namibia was not so great. And, hmmm. Ever had a Cinnabon? They’re pretty nasty.
Do food critics have too much power? As long as they’re an honest broker of opinion, it’s OK. They should really try hard. But they’re less powerful every day with the advent of food bloggers, etc. The only critic I know with the power to open or close a restaurant is The New York Times.
If food is the way to a man’s heart, how do you get into his wallet? Alcohol. I don’t believe in the aphrodisiac power of food. I believe in the unholy power of alcohol. Any waiter knows that once the fat cats are liquored up and high-fiving each other, that’s the time to suggest a nice glass of cognac or Calvados to jack their check up. Or the whole bottle-service phenomenon. It’s the cornerstone of the douchebag economy.
Similarities between writing and cooking? Writing is a helluva lot easier. You’re sitting down. You stop and start when you want. You’re not in a submarine-sized space in 110-degree heat, working your ass off.
Anything you’d never cook? I probably wouldn’t make sushi. I’m not so arrogant as to think, that in the limited time left to me, I could learn to make even adequate sushi. Seven years just to learn how to do rice?
If I showed up at your house unannounced, what would you cook for me? I’d call out for pizza. Or I’d whip up a puttanesca, which was invented for exactly that unexpected visitor situation. Anchovies, capers, Italian plum tomatoes and pasta. That’s what you’d get. ◆
Photograph: Clay Patrick McBride; grooming: Losi/The Wall Group; styling: Noria Morales; shirt: Rogan