When the world lost American chef Anthony Bourdain in June 2018, everyone who had ever watched his television shows were at a standstill, unable to believe that such a seemingly powerful and collected man would have an easy demise. All of a sudden, gone was the man who defied many norms wherever he went, and one who showed his viewers what it means to really be in the moment, whether he is describing a new place, tasting new food in other regions, or simply discovering something new somewhere far off. Book author Laurie Woolever honors the man that Bourdain was in her new book called Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography.
If anything, Bourdain has a vast and inclusive worldview that his family and closest friends loved about him. He was a no-nonsense man with a lot of fire inside of him. The biography of the late chef is told through quotes from Bourdain himself and the author’s inner circle. It also contains recollections of Bourdain’s struggle with addiction and depression, shedding light on his untold journey, which he kept private until his death.
The people that Bourdain has closely interacted with get to have a moment in the oral biography, whether it is a member of his family, friends from high school, people from his production team, fellow kitchen staff, or celebrities like Eric Ripert, Anderson Cooper, or Nigella Lawson. Each person gets to tell their perspective of the time when Bourdain was part of their lives.
Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography’s unique presentation, it allows the reader to better understand his inner working, from his passions to his frustrations and constant battle with his mental health issues. If anything at all, the book gives readers the freedom to draw conclusions about how he lived his life, what drove him, what excited him, and how he saw the world.
Woolever worked with Bourdain for over a decade, attempting to chronicle the colorful and unpredictable life he lived. In an interview with Vogue, the author reveals why she opted to do an oral biography instead of writing about Bourdain the conventional way.
“The oral history route actually came from Dan Halpern, who had been Tony’s editor, and it allowed us to bring in unfettered, direct access to people’s stories without me flattening it down into a single narrative,” Woolever explained. “I was the right person to do this book because of the relationship I had with Tony for many years and the relationships I had with a lot of the people who I interviewed.”
In the same interview, Woolever shared that she started interviewing people two months after Bourdain passed away. She continued to do these interviews until February 2021. Throughout the process, she found herself being led to more people who were close with Bourdain since he was a young boy. The discoveries were awe-inspiring, proof that despite his inner struggles, Bourdain managed to live his life to the fullest.
Through Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography, she hopes that readers will also find the courage to discover more of themselves in the same way that revealing Bourdain’s life off-camera allowed them to understand him as the complex and extraordinary man that he was.