A Lost Interview with the Late Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain

Upon learning about the suicide of chef, author, and media personality Anthony Bourdain, I remembered that he and I had spoken for an interview sometime in 2009 prior to a Bay Area appearance. The interview was intended for a wine country magazine that, alas, went belly up before I finished or filed the piece. However, here it is, in Q&A form — a previously unpublished interview with a remarkable talent and probably the only man who ever uttered: “Dishwashing saved my life.” He will be missed.

Daedalus Howell: “Did you always have a proclivity for writing?”

Anthony Bourdain: “It always kind of came easy. I wasn’t working away on an unpublished great American novel all those years. I was full-time cook and chef and really didn’t have any realistic aspirations or certainly wasn’t working on becoming a writer.”

DH: “You published fiction as well?”

AB: “I’d written the two fiction books before Kitchen Confidential. Nothing had happened with them, I’d written them while I was working as a chef and they never made it out of the first printing, so they were put back in print and they are doing really well now, and I’ve written another one since but largely because it’s fun and I enjoy somebody who writes about myself and my experiences a lot. So, it’s nice to kind of escape that in a crime fiction.”

DH: “Is it vindicating to have your back catalog prosper?”

AB: “Yeah, it feels good.”

DH: “How was the transition to becoming a media personality?”

AB: “It was awkward at first because I’d just published Kitchen Confidential and I really had no understanding of what was happening. I was really taken by surprise by it. I had written it while I was working 14, 15 hours a day and I was still working like that when I noticed that the crowd of journalists in my dining room were getting bigger and more persistent and I was spending a lot more time giving interviews and less time in the kitchen.

And around that time some people walked in the door and said they wanted to make television. So, the first few shows that I did for Food Network was with an independent production company that made a deal with the Food Network to buy the shows. It was a kind of learn-as-you-go experience, but for me, it was a means to an end. I mean actually I sold a book about eating around the world, I mean Kitchen Confidential did well, I went back to my publisher, no fool I, and said ‘I’ve got a great idea for a second book, I go all over the world to all these cool places and you pay.’ And they bought that book and then essentially a TV company came along and said ‘well we’d like to help pay also.’ It was awkward at first, but I guess I like movies, you know, I’m a big movie fan, I like telling stories and, you know, after banging around for a while I became very close to the people who were doing the actual shooting and production of the show and in the end it became another means to tell a story, a very powerful one. For me, it’s like new toys to play with.”

DH: “Congrats on your success!”

AB: “Thanks, well I see myself as an essayist, essentially I’m just trying to say something or tell a story and I’m using whatever tools are at hand, and have the ability, you know, to mess with music and editing and all of that and, you know, you’re working with all these talented people who know how to use those things. It just makes it, you know, you have new toys to play with, new ways to tell a story more effectively.”

DH: “Are you pretty invested in the post-production?”

AB: “Very. We sit around beforehand, we all decide where we’re going to go, what movies we are going to rip off when we make the show, what the music could be like. We talk a lot about the visual effects that we’ve seen that we’d like to do or new things that might be possible. I’ll do writing on the road, I’ll do writing after, I’ll do a rewrite of the whole show at the end. To a more or a lesser degree, depending on the episode, I’m involved as I want to be.”

DH: “You think you might move into features? You sound like a director to me.”

AB: “No, no, I don’t delude myself. I like watching movies. I don’t delude myself that I know how to make movies.”

DH: “Are you shooting right now?”

AB: “Yeah. Just got back from Sardinia and headed off to Montana shortly.”

DH: “Do you have any food aversions?”

AB: “I mean there are some foods that I like less than others, that I’m not really crazy about or actively just don’t care about. But I’m trying to think of stuff that I hate. There are not many things that I just out-and-out hate.”

DH: “You’re not allergic to anything?”

AB: “I’m not allergic to anything. You know, there are a few things that I’ve tried that I won’t be trying again that’s for sure.”

DH: “You capture community and food almost like it’ universal a language.”

AB: “Well, I think we tend, particularly in Northern California, to fetishize food, which I’m guilty of as well. But at the end of the day, it should be a pretty relaxed, submissive experience. It should be fun; you should be eating with people, in the best-case scenario, that are fun. The more I eat and the more I travel, the more I become convinced that the quality of the ingredient itself while it’s truly wonderful to have the best possible stuff, it’s not essential to the experience.”

DH: “And the ambient factor that comes with it.”

AB: “Ambiance is important. How it’s prepared. You’ve experienced an array of (what I’d consider) rather challenging food. Should we step out of the purview of our palate? I think if I’m an advocate for anything, that would be it. I mean everybody else in the world has been cooking longer than us and chances are they’ve been cooking better than us. And what’s the downside, what can you lose in the end, how bad could it be?”

DH: “Well put, it’s food, not poison.”

AB: “And the gesture, the willingness to try new things is fundamental to seeing other places in a way that you might not otherwise have been able to. I mean your not making friends on the other side of the world if you’re turning your nose up at their food.”

DH: “Do you think your palate has changed? Do our foods taste different to you?”

AB: “I like good food. I like having a good time at the table. I am apt to like someone’s mom’s meatloaf in the states, as something pretty exotic or expensive elsewhere. That said [spending a] significant time in Asia and significant exposure particularly to the chile peppers of Southeast Asia, and the condiments and some of those flavors, does tend to, when I come back to the West, I miss that. The Western food seems kind of bland and uninteresting sometimes compared to the colors and flavors and heat component of much of Asia.”

DH: “Is there a ‘baptismal’ food that crossed you over to other side?”

AB: “I think there were a few. My first raw oyster was certainly important. You know the first time I had really, really high test, luxury sushi. That is a real kind of a transformative, a real ‘oh shit’ moment when you realize that you just gotta kinda rethink everything. I’ve often compared the feeling of going to San Sebastian or Barcelona or Tokyo to what it must have been like for fairly talented Blues guitarist to suddenly experience Jimi Hendrix for the first time. It must have been beautiful but also deeply traumatic. You come away from an experience like that wondering what to do next.”

DH: “You seem to rue not working in the kitchen as much.”

AB: “Well listen, I’m 52 years old now, Kitchen Confidential happened for me I was in my mid-forties, I had no delusions it was going to get any easier in the kitchen for me. There is nothing noble about standing on your feet 16 hours a day in your mid-forties. I don’t miss that. I wasn’t getting any better at it, that’s for sure. I don’t think anyone does. My usefulness as a line-cook certainly was diminishing. I am very aware and I certainly do feel at the end of the day, after 28 years of cooking professionally, that feels like honest work. Writing, making television and talking about myself in public it feels a little dodgily easy.”

DH: “And people love it, you have some really hardcore fans. You’re a cult of personality. Does that interest you at all?”

AB: “Listen, I’m grateful. It’s nice that people care and are interested. I’m flattered. I’m not going to start talking about myself in the third person. I think everything happens for me really late. Even being a nobody line-cook and chef, I still was pretty much, as many of my generation were, were pretty much living the life of motley crew for a long time. So by the time it all happened, I pretty much, I like to think I have a sense of what’s important and what’s bullshit and I think I’ve had enough cocaine.”

DH: “It almost seems better than this success happened in this time of your life.”

AB: “Oh yeah, I can tell you without a doubt, had Kitchen Confidential happened to me when I was 25 or 28, or even 32, you would have found me face down in the pool at Chateau Marmont.”

DH: “Reflecting back on then and now, are there any kernels that are the same?”

AB: “Well, somebody asked me the question the other day, if I could go back if I could talk to my 17-year-old self, would I do anything differently? I know that I wouldn’t listen if I went back and talked to myself, it wouldn’t matter to the 17-year-old me so that’s who I was that’s who I am, you make that decision in your life. I find that you gotta live with your past.”

DH: “You have some regret?”

AB: “Sure, I have tons of regrets but I’m not eaten alive by the ‘if only I had done this,’ or ‘if I’d only done that.’ I don’t know if I would have done that much different if I had to do it again. It’s been an interesting ride so far.”

DH: “Someone from your past creep up?”

AB: “A lot, sure, yeah. I’ve been in touch with and put on the show friends from high school and people that I’ve worked with in restaurants. It’s tough because I’m moving so much. You know, I’m only in New York four or five days at a time, and I like to spend as much of that as I can with my family, playing with my daughter, doing silly stuff around the house. Normal relationships are tough. A lot of my closest friends are people in a similar position, dysfunctional well-known chefs who are also on TV or are traveling a lot. Friendships you can pick up and put down given the weird circumstances of our lives.”

DH: “Everyone gets it.”

AB: “Mario Batali is a friend, Éric Ripert is a friend. These are very busy people like me, and they travel a lot as well.”

DH: “You ever hang out with Guy Fieri?”

AB: “I’ve met him once, I’ve never hung out with him.”

DH: “At your upcoming appearance, what are you going to talk about?”

AB: “I’m going to wing it. I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do other than there will be a long question and answer period where the audience is invited to ask anything they want about any subject and I hope it’s an off the wall, confrontational, crazy, drunk, whatever. I always appreciate it when someone asks me something that I haven’t been asked before.”

DH: “Do you have people in the audience that like to get at you a bit?”

AB: “It hasn’t happened much and I’m kind of surprised. The angry vegan, not so much. I don’t think they get enough animal protein to get really angry. I’m hoping for a rowdy and controversial evening out there.”

From Wretch to Fringe: Templeton’s Wretch Like Me On Way to Edinburgh

For some, the 1970s were a hurly burly of hot tubs and hedonism. For playwright, performer and local journalist David Templeton, it was puppets and Christian Fundamentalism. He eventually outgrew both and shares the life lessons learned along the way with comedy and heart in his one-man show, “Wretch Like Me, or How I Was Saved from Being Saved.”
Templeton performs the show, one night only, this Monday evening at the Sonoma Community Center.

Monday’s performance is a fundraiser to mount a two-week run of the show at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe (colloquially known as the Fringe Fest), hosted annually in Scotland, to which Templeton and a skeleton crew have been invited to bring the production. He is also running a concurrent campaign on IndieGoGo to raise the $10,000 (at least!) necessary to make his Aug. 1 curtain call at the the Surgeon’s Hall at the Royal Academy of Surgeons Museum in Edinburgh.

Wretch Like Me

“With all the cutting I had to do with script, it’s appropriate to perform in a place that’s also seen its share of blood,” Templeton says drolly.

The lanky, bearded and bespectacled poly-hyphenate, who many will know from his theater reviews in the North Bay Bohemian, has performed the show more than 75 times throughout the Bay Area where it first hit the boards in 2009. He’s since honed it into a lean, mean theatrical machine, full of poignant laughs and life lessons that are relatable beyond the scope of the religious experience that inspired it.

“It’s about my childhood and teenage years, which were typical in that I had to have a lot of crap thrown at me before I figured out who I was and what I wanted to do,” says Templeton, who’s proven adept at finding the universal in personal experience in this and other works that draw inspiration from his autobiography. “It was unusual in that, in my case, it happened in the crazy running-away-to-the-circus vibe of Christian fundamentalism in the ’70s of Southern California.”

Templeton recounts how the “Jesus Movement” he joined evolved from a community born of the idealism of “surfing hippies,” and started moving toward the religious right, which was contrary to his own tolerant beliefs. Suddenly, the “Jesus Club,” which accepted nerdy guys (Templeton had a puppet ministry – enough said) became something he needed to escape.

“I had to have this ‘coming-of-age’ where I had to leave the only community I ever felt safe in. I no longer felt like I was a part of it,” recounts Templeton, who, a few decades hence, used the experience to craft “Wretch Like Me.” He succinctly sums the plot as, “Boy finds Jesus. Boy loses Jesus. Boy finds himself.”

Fringe Festival

From its inception, Templeton’s goal was to bring “Wretch” to the Fringe Fest, which is to theater professionals what the Sundance Film Festival was once to filmmakers – a place to launch one’s work onto the world’s stage.

“From the beginning, we announced that that was the goal,” says Templeton. “That’s where shows get found. Where they get a chance to tour, see London or New York, get publishing opportunities. All kinds of things happen there.”

To get there, however, Templeton needs to raise the funds. At present writing, he’s raised more than $2,000. With his crowd-funding deadline hovering at a minute before midnight on May 22, he has 35 days to go to raise the rest.

As explained on the production’s IndieGoGo page, “Team Wretch must raise a minimum of $10,000 dollars. That amount will fund the remaining rental, insurance and licensing fees, plus travel and lodging costs for a basic skeleton crew. Were the Team to raise $15,000, it would allow David to pay for advertising in the published Fringe program … and to bring his full crew to Edinburgh, all of which will help ‘Wretch’ have its best chance of success in Scotland.”

Until then, it’s all about Monday’s performance and the comedy and catharsis that Templeton ably brings to the stage.

“There’s always people in the audience that I realize have had the same experience, because they’re laughing in a very knowing way, or they’re sobbing in the moment I have to make the break and I think, ‘they’ve been through the same thing,’” says Templeton. “That happens at least once in nearly every show. I’m confessing a lot of stuff that most people would be embarrassed to confess but that allows people to reach out and bond with me a little bit, which makes what happens in the story all the more powerful.”

• • •

David Templeton performs “Wretch Like Me” at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 21 at the Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit wretch-like-me.org.

Via SonomaNews

Rags to Romance: A chat with hybrid author Bella Andre

Sonoma writer’s seven-figure print deal

Like all media-based industries, publishing has seen its share of digital disruption. Unlike the music and film biz, however, the seismic shifts caused by Kindles, iPads and their lot have had direct benefit for the creative people behind the work. Writers, who often have stopped just short of human sacrifice to score a traditional publishing deal that would net a mere 7 percent royalty off the cover price, are now able to go it alone with little to no overhead and a worldwide market at their fingertips.

Among the thousands of authors successfully charting their own path is Sonoma-based author Bella Andre, who recently inked a seven-figure deal with romance imprint Harlequin MIRA for her popular series?The Sullivans.

How, you ask, can Andre have her indie publishing cred and a major contract, too? Continue reading “Rags to Romance: A chat with hybrid author Bella Andre”

Goodbye, Norma Jean: Marilyn Monroe Tribute Artist Diana Dawn Hangs Up Her Platinum Wig

How does one pay tribute to a tribute artist? I suppose before anyone pays anything, we should clarify our terms ? a ?tribute artist? is not a mere impressionist or impersonator, which, respectively, might suggest a Monet or an identity thief. Instead, a tribute artist is a performer whose portrayal of a culturally-relevant personality is so nuanced and realized that it stands as an affectionate homage to the original.

When it comes to in-the-flesh depictions of the iconic Marilyn Monroe, few, if any, can rival the thousands of performances masterfully rendered by Sonoma?s own Diana Dawn.

On June 1, Marilyn Monroe?s birthday, Dawn, a local celebrity in her own right, will hang up her platinum blond wig for the last time. She?s retiring her tribute of Monroe after 27 years of bringing Monroe vividly back to life.

Dawn?s decision isn?t the result of a 27-year-itch, or even the fact that she?s outlived the actress who died 1962.

As Monroe herself said, ?A career is wonderful, but you can?t curl up with it on a cold night,? and Dawn is ready for new and varied pursuits.

She had originally considered retiring the act when she herself was 36, in deference to both the star, who died at 36, and the fact that playing a single role was obstructing her other acting pursuits. But the gigs as a Marilyn Monroe tribute artist kept coming.

By her own estimation, Dawn has sung ?Happy Birthday? (in the mode of Monroe?s famous recital for President Kennedy) about 10,000 times. Often, she would be in-character three times a night, performing local Bay Area gigs or on far flung adventures cruising Baltic Sea or launching commemorative collectibles in Asia. Marilyn has been good to Dawn and Dawn has endeavored to honor the icon in return.

Along the way, Dawn has met or worked with several of Monroe?s real life contemporaries, including Jackie Mason, Mickey Mantle and Kirk Douglas, among others. During the peak years of her tribute career,

Dawn even enjoyed the rare opportunity to try on a couple of Monroe?s own gowns. They fit perfectly and it?s no wonder ?

?36-24-36,? says Dawn without missing a beat, before one can even finish the question. To those of a younger generation, these numbers might read like the cypher that confounded viewers of Lost. A reader whose cultural currency has accrued more interest will recognize the bombshell measurements of the 20th century?s most enduring sex symbol.

?The interesting thing is, this wasn?t something I planned to do. It was after meeting Joe DiMaggio when I was about 19 -years-old at a City of Hope Golf Tournament,? recalled Dawn, referring to Monroe?s second husband, Yankee?s slugger ?Joltin? Joe.?

DiMaggio sought Dawn as a hostess in his Joe DiMaggio Invitational Tournament, in large part because she reminded him of ?Norma Jean,? which, if you happened to miss Elton John?s pre-Princess Di tune, ?Candle in the Wind,? was Monroe?s original name.

?I did accept his invitation and a few other invitations after that and he came to my house with a bottle of champagne to thank me and of course, I?ve been bubbling over it ever since,? says Dawn, who seamlessly slips into a Monroe voice for emphasis. It?s a beguiling transformation that has captivated audiences for nearly three decades, though it wasn?t until a family friend encouraged the Marin County native to enter a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest that her tribute began to take shape.

She was hesitant at first but she rationalized, ?Well, I?m putting on a wig, I?m putting on makeup, nobody?s gonna know who I am so, if it doesn?t work, I can just step backwards and go back to my regular life and nobody will have to know about it.?

Dawn adds, ?But I did it and it was such an overwhelming and positive experience that people made me feel again that I embodied Marilyn?s essence, her spirit, her walk, her talk, her moves.?

Ironically, she didn?t win that particular contest. She won a career instead.

?That day changed the course of what I thought was going to be my life,? she says. Globetrotting adventures and sometimes misadventures soon ensued. While in Taiwan for the release of a Monroe-themed stamp, she was assigned an entourage of a dozen people and circulated through the nation?s top talk shows.

?They decided they wanted me to be as authentic as possible and didn?t want me to wear a wig. They wanted me to be blonde,? says Dawn, whose hair color is naturally a few shades darker than Monroe?s artificial platinum.

A pair of Taiwan?s top colorists arrived to make the change but something was lost in translation and Dawn?s hair ended up orange. She used the wig after all.

Without Marilyn Monroe in her life full-time, Dawn is looking forward to exploring new professional pursuits. Likewise, she will continue hosting ?Some Like it Hot,? her radio chat show, which airs Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. on KSVY 91.3 FM, and she?ll keep managing her tribute artist booking agency at SFTalent.com.

?There are so many things I want to explore in my life, and 27 years is a good run. A lot of people have said, ?You should write a book, I?d love to read about your adventures,?? says Dawn. ?I think it?s time to sit down and relive all the adventures on paper and share them with everybody.?

Via SonomaNews

It’s all NEW for Indie Filmmaker John Harden

NEW by John Harden

An Invitation to Invest in the Future of Film

Among my favorite filmmakers, homegrown or otherwise, is Sonoma County’s own John Harden whose masterful short films, La Vie d’un Chien (The Life of a Dog) and The Story of Sputnik, for my money, represent much of what’s great about the form.

Harden is now in preproduction for NEW, which follows an elderly couple who elected to be cryonically preserved at death only to be restored to life and youth in the distant future where futureshock and identity crises ensue. Harden is running a campaign on USA Projects to raise the $22,000 budget which has to be met by Wednesday, May 15, at 11:59pm. At present writing the projection has raised in pledges $12,200, with $10k to go. Naturally, as a longtime fan of Harden’s, I’ve contributed and I urge you to do as well by clicking here now.

After you’ve contributed to the next great John Harden film, dig this recent Q&A with him in which I lead with my my standard mid-period Woody Allen question… Continue reading “It’s all NEW for Indie Filmmaker John Harden”