The lost books of Bourdain

Three years ago, the world lost an example of the American dream. A bottom level chef, dope addict, and workaholic wrote a book that transformed his life and the life of others. Kitchen Confidential boosted Bourdain from a kitchen to television. There were books that came before and after but none of them were as successful as his culinary opus. For some reason his path did not take him into the literary world as he inspired to do, instead he ended up on television throwing insults at Rachel Ray and Emeril Lagasse. That trip didn’t appear to have an ending and somewhere along the way there was the idea for Bourdain to help others become published. An Anthony Bourdain Book became a subdivision of Ecco publishing, the company that published Kitchen Confidential. Every year after 2011, Bourdain picked books, some of them by people he knew, and they were published with his Oprah like stamp on the cover. For seven years this trend continued until Bourdain’s death in 2018. I have come across these books over the years and I have enjoyed every single one. I became curious, how many of these were published? Are there more on the way? Is there a list of all the Bourdain books with his stamp of approval? Sadly, Ecco stopped the publication of Bourdain books in 2018. The last books that Bourdain picked that year were the last to be published with that stamp of approval. The other questions took my down a Google rabbit hole that left me in a world of disappointment. Ecco didn’t have a list of books they had published, only listing items that were still available or still in print. Amazon doesn’t have a category for Anthony Bourdain books although they carry many of the titles I found. eBay was hit or miss with the deciding factor being how the seller listed the item. Even Wikipedia, while it had a listing for Ecco and their subdivision, did not have a list of books that Bourdain published.

The following is the list that I have been able to put together so far:

You’re Better Than Me by Bonnie McFarlane

Pain Don’t Hurt by Mark Miller

Start the Fire by Jeremiah Tower

WD50 by Wylie Dufresne

The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn

We Fed an Island by Jose Andres

The Mission Chinese Cookbook by Danny Bowien

Prisoner by Jason Rezaian

Vegetables Unleashed by Jose Andres

Grand Forks by Marilyn Hagerty

L.A. Son by Roy Choi

They call me Supermensch by Shep Gordon

Eating Korea by Graham Holliday

Eating Vietnam by Graham Holliday

Rice Noodle Fish by Matt Goulding

Grape Olive Pig by Matt Goulding

Pasta Pane Vino by Matt Goulding

Hawker Fare by James Syhabout

Adios, Mother Fucker by Michael Ruffino

Stealing Green Mangoes by Sunil Dutta

The publisher stated that the Bourdain portion of the company would publish 3-4 titles per year. There are 20 titles listed here and I’m not sure if they are all of the books published. I have a feeling there might be some missing. After this, there is the question of the introductions Bourdain wrote for other authors, books that Bourdain edited like the 2008 Best of Travel Writing, and the documentaries that Bourdain created like Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. Besides No Reservations and Parts Unknown Bourdain did a lot of projects on the side and some of which were released after his death. To stay on track here let’s focus on the books that Bourdain thought were worthy of being published.

I don’t know if this is a complete list or not. If there is anything missing, please comment on this post so that I can add and edit anything that had been forgotten. For one reason or another Bourdain thought these books were important and while some became popular for obvious reasons there are some that were forgotten the moment they hit the shelves. I find it interesting that Eating Korea appeared to have sold well and was an enjoyable read. However, Eating Vietnam was forgotten and I didn’t even know about it until I started doing this project. Even Goodreads appeared to have dropped the ball on that one.

Where should I go after this? Documentaries? Obscure writings that Bourdain contributed to? Let me know. In the meantime, I have some reading to do.

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Old Town Ale House

It wasn’t difficult to find. The ale house is across the street from Second City and while it is small it stands out with its unique appearance and classic exterior towered by modern yuppie crap. I first heard of the Old Town Ale House on Parts Unknown, the popular show hosted by the late Anthony Bourdain. It was in the last full season of the show that Bourdain visited the Ale house, surrounded by the artwork and eclectic décor. The furniture is a simple and well-worn design. The wood had been rubbed down to the imprint of thousands of people in these seats over the years, the wooden bar has a feeling of love with the scratches and dents smooth over the years.
The one bar I have been to that reminded me of the Ale house was the Dune Saloon in Grande Marais Michigan, the favorite beer house of author Jim Harrison. That find was a pure accident that filled me with delight and while the Ale house was fully intended it didn’t fail to reveal a few surprises in the hour I was there. The portrait of Putin wearing a ballerina tutu with his shirt off was a delight to see since it wasn’t finished in the Bourdain episode. Behind the bar I spotted a stack of books by the artist of the bar, Bruce Elliott. I remembered hearing about his blog telling the stories of his youth and tales of the Ale house and now they are available in print. I bought a copy for $20 and the bartender told me that if I stuck around for 20 minutes Bruce would stop in. I paid for an hour at the parking meter with the expectation of being gone before that time. Like clockwork Bruce stopped in and saw me reading his book at the bar. I asked him to sign it and we started talking for maybe five minutes. It was an awkward conversation one that had me watching the time with less than twenty minutes left on the meter. I didn’t have the time to relax and enjoy myself. With a two hour drive back there was little to be enjoyed at the bar and I still had to work the next day and watch my daughter. The lady Bruce was with was from Grand Rapids and we chatted about that with little to say. It sounded like she had not been back for a while stating that it was a bigger art community than when she left and money had not ruined it. I couldn’t ruin it for her. Let her think what she wants about her home town.
I snapped a picture with the Bourdain portrait and a few others to remember the place. Who knows when I will be back, if ever? When I used the restroom before heading out, I noticed that the toilet stall didn’t have a door on it, the urinal was a foot away from the sink and the mirror was scratched to shit. I was told that I would be able to feel Bourdain in there. For a moment I thought he was trying to tell me something. That buy the ticket, take the ride mentality was staring me in the face and I left the ticket on the counter. Not today. I like my life. I have responsibilities and while I could have traveled down the rabbit hole, I decided to leave it be and let someone else have the story. It was hard to see the place, recognize the seat Bourdain sat in. meet the people who talked to him. Take in the place that so many people have walked through hoping to leave with a little something extra.
Walking out I found a tobacco shop around the corner. If I wasn’t going to meet up with Jake, I could at least go home with something I wouldn’t find anywhere else. The time was ticking and I only had a few minutes until Chicago does whatever it does to cars after the meter runs out. I looked at the pipe tobacco in the case found one called Secret Agent and couldn’t find anyone to help me. I wasn’t greeted walking in. everyone was smoking cigars and the shop was one giant humidor. People would look at me wondering who I was and yet I wasn’t served or asked if I needed help. In the end I turned around and walked out with one guy making some shitty comment I didn’t catch. Who cares? If they don’t want business, fuck em.
I got in my car, hit the highway. Almost crashed taking an exit too fast to buy gas. Stopped at a McDonald’s that no longer had humans working behind the counter and made it home by 1am. For a few minutes I sat in bed wondering if I had fallen asleep at the wheel. Was I dreaming about being home going to bed? Once I convinced myself it was real, I went to sleep and sleep well I did. The adventure was over and it was time to return to my normal life.

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