Anthony Bourdain’s 1999 New Yorker Essay Is Still a Masterpiece

The chef and author is dead at 61

This morning, the world awoke to the devastating news that Anthony Bourdain is dead from an apparent suicide at 61 years old. The chef, author, and TV host has spent the past two decades shaping our collective understanding of the culinary world, and it all started with a 1999 New Yorker essay entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” a revealing and pointedly visceral glimpse behind the swinging doors and into a restaurant kitchen.

It begins, “Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.”

Bourdain, who was executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan at the time, goes on to offer guidance (order seafood on Tuesdays; never, under any circumstances order your nice steak well-done) all the while encouraging diners to reckon (in a healthy way) with the unglamorous-verging-on-gross nature of dining out as omnivores.

The essay became the basis for his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, and Bourdain parlayed that into more books and several TV shows, including A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and, most recently, his CNN series, Parts Unknown, which he was in France filming at the time of his death.

Bourdain’s voice—on the page and in life—was totally his own, and he exuded a cool that prompted the Smithsonian to call him “the Elvis of bad boy chefs.” But people are always more than their personas.

Rest in peace, chef.

And if you are in crisis, please get help: 1-800-273-8255.

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