“The Death of an Idol: How meeting Anthony Bourdain changed me forever.” As I wrote this I was standing, well leaning against a vertical beam on the Nicollet Mall Lite-Rail station in Minneapolis, MN. I’d been drinking heavily for several hours and my muscles felt loose and warm. But despite all the Bourbon and Red Wine I didn’t feel stupidly drunk. Just a little mad and a lot stupid. I wish that I had a nice little tale to tell you here about my interaction with Anthony Bourdain. How we chatted about meat, drugs, women, and drink. And then ran off into the city to drink and become besties. But that experience just wasn’t in the cards for me. No matter how much I wanted it to be.
Bourdain was on tour. Most of the shows he was doing were with his friend Eric Ripert, someone that I like nearly as much as Bourdain. I used to watch his cooking show, Avec Eric, on Public television. Ripert cooks amazingly delicious food. But for some reason in Minnesota, Bourdain chose to do a show with Andrew Zimmern. A New York chef who has made Minnesota his second home after going to Hazelden. Which is great and everything but he’s no freaking Eric Ripert. Anyway, I wasn’t going to let this stop me from going. So I decided to buy a ticket during the presale. It was going to be like 80 dollars or something, but when I saw that there was a VIP package for 180 dollars more I decided that I would go for it. Put it on the old Credit Card right? At the time there was no information about what the VIP package included, but I assumed that since it was for “Very Important People” that it would be: A.) Exclusive and B.) Personal. So I said “Fuck it, I’m doing it!” The show was more than five months away but I was excited about it almost everyday. Just how excited you may ask? Well, I’m slightly ashamed to admit it but I had dreams about how Bourdain and I were going to hang out and become friends. I’m not talking about daydreams here folks, although I had plenty of those too. I’m talking about full-on asleep in bed dreams. It was awesome. I talked about it occasionally at work and everyone was pretty jealous of me. I’m not sure why. They could have easily bought their own way in. I make no more money than they do. The fact that I paid so much for this “opportunity” didn’t really bother me until I saw just how many others there were. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The day of the show I was off from work at 2 so I decided to go home and take a nap. Which didn’t happen. So I had a shower and a whiskey instead. Then I drove my car to the Fort Snelling Lite-Rail station. I rode the train listening to Bourdain read Kitchen Confidential. I had been listening to the book on tape for a couple days in preparation. Listening to him read that book reminded me of why I liked him in the first place. Back when I first read Kitchen Confidential I was working in a kitchen, feeding 200+ people 3 culturally authentic squares a day. In some ways he made me proud of the fact that I worked in a kitchen, hell, proud that I ran a kitchen. Even though my experiences in the kitchen were vastly different than that of a New York City Chef, I could still relate. The fact that I related to this guy in so many ways was the main reason I’d followed him so closely over the years. Except for the couple years I was doing hard drugs. Which seems odd now. But after watching his shows and reading his books I’d come to expect that meeting him would in some way change us both.
The show was pretty entertaining, apart from Zimmern’s stupid gay jokes regarding Ripert and Bourdain and the fact that Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl was on stage for some annoying reason. After the show the “very important people” were instructed to stay in their seats. Finally the show was over and I get to meet 1 of only 2 of my remaining living idols. (Woody Allen, you better not fucking die anytime soon) As I sat there watching the droves of people flow out like a giant reeking river of humanity. I started to notice that there were a good deal of people still sitting down. “What the hell do these people think they are doing?” I thought to myself. “Surely there can’t be this many VIP’s?” Then I saw it. VIP lanyards were hanging from their stupid necks. “There must 400 people still here? How are Bourdain and I gonna have a chance to become best friends with all these people getting in the way?” I said to my temporary friend sitting to the left of me. I think her name was Blah blah blah entitled the III. I can’t remember exactly. Some people sitting behind me decided to skip the VIP meet and greet because of all the people. Wow, must be nice to not care about several hundred dollars and still somehow be a shitty tipper. “She didn’t bring a refill of guac with-in seconds of me finishing this massive bowl? I’m not tipping her.” I imagine all sorts of scenarios for the strange collection of people left in this room. I find the strangest people to be the old guys wearing the shiny metallic printed graphic tees, weird jeans, fancy dress shoes, full-body tans, and fucked up glasses. And there are a lot of them in this room.
As we are invited on stage I see that Bourdain and Zimmern are sitting at a table signing shit for people. “What is this a freaking Barnes and Noble book signing?” I skip the signing line, which was already so long that the end almost went off stage left, and headed for the bar. The line for which was much shorter. Idiots. So I stood off to the side and started drinking wine. Then I was approached by a young woman and her boyfriend. At first she thought I was part of the stage crew because I was wearing all black. But I told her that’s just the way I dress. There names were Hans and Liz. Hans was a metal worker/artist he had in fact made the cleaver that had been presented to Bourdain by Zimmern at the end of the show. I told Hans that I cut up meat for a living and that I may be interested in working with him on a project. We talked for a few more minutes before a very pretty woman with curly hair came up to us and started talking to Hans. She then introduced herself as Zimmern’s wife Reisha and then she asked my name. She was very nice and we had a very easy polite conversation for several minutes. After she took Hans and Liz away to meet Bourdain I realized that I may have sold her meat at Whole Foods. Finally after refilling my glasses, double-fisting by this point, I decided to get in line to meet him. I must say that I had thought of many things to say to him but seconds before I shook his hand I spilled wine on myself. Fuck. I only had enough composure to say hello, my name is Nils and I’m a Butcher. I shook Bourdain’s hand and Zimmern said “Where at?” To which I replied “Whole Foods in Minnetonka.” We then chatted briefly about how he used to shop at the St. Paul store. Blah blah blah what was I doing? I’m meant to talk to Bourdain. He looked so incredibly unhappy. He had nothing left to offer people that day. That was the mistake of waiting until the end. I get that trying to be real with 350 people is hard, it’s practically impossible. But I just wanted to be his new best friend, is that too much to ask for 265 dollars? So I got my photo taken and I walked out of there.
If meeting Bourdain had happened to me the way that I had envisioned it, I’m not sure that it would have made much of a difference. In my mind he would, after a few witty remarks from me, think I was cool and want to hang out. But how could I possibly get more than one word with him in this scenario? If that night has taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to have to earn my chance at getting Bourdain’s respect with actions. Because that’s what I’m really after, although I can imagine being his friend would be pretty rewarding. I’d have to be a fool to think this little neglected incomplete website of mine could impress someone as accomplished as him. Not yet anyway.
So is Bourdain still and Idol to me? Simply yes. He writes like I think and he lives like I want.