The New York Post first reported that the chef’s memoir Kitchen Confidential—which he wrote in 2000 after an 8-year stint in the kitchen at Les Halles in New York City—had shot to number one, ahead of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s most recent novel The President Is Missing and The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven R. Gundry. Another one of Bourdain’s publications, Medium Raw comes in fifth on the list.
When the book was first published, it rocked the culinary industry, leaving some readers, like Dana Cowin, the former Editor-in-Chief of our sister publication Food & Wine feeling captivated and “a little scandalized.”
“I was like, this guy—he doesn’t feel right for Food & Wine,” she tells PEOPLE. “He’s such a bad boy, and I held onto that thought for about a month until I was seated next to him at a dinner party and he was such a sweetheart. When I first looked at the place cards, I was sitting next to him and I just had this deep internal eye roll, although it may have been external. Then by the end of evening I was like leaning into him like ‘tell me more.’ I literally went from ‘I can’t believe I drew you as a dinner partner’ to ‘you are the most fascinating, thoughtful human being I have ever met.'”
Following that dinner party, Cowin and Bourdain grew to be friends, and he penned many stories for the magazine, including an annotated version of his old recipes and a series of illustrations where he sketched three of the most meaningful moments from his travels.
Bourdain’s storytelling capabilities extended beyond his book, as seen in his TV shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown, and then into sketches like graphic novels and other commissioned pieces for publications, but Cowin was always in awe of his “word-perfect” pieces.
“I think that the reason that Tony was a great storyteller and a great friend, was because he had this deep sense of empathy, humility and humanity,” Cowin says. “He found inside every story that he saw and told, the real human story. The idea that he was able to express it in so many different mediums is triply extraordinary. But I think that all the storytelling came from a keen intelligence, an intense curiosity, and a really huge moral compass. He had a tremendous moral compass which informed all of his work, and his storytelling and made him so ‘no bulls—’ and so charismatic.”
Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group had a similar experience with Bourdain and Kitchen Confidential. The restauranteur admitted that he and Bourdain had polarizing views of the industry, but ended up being “hugely respectful and admiring fans of one another.”
“I think Kitchen Confidential did more to inspire its readers to cook in their own kitchens or in professional kitchens than any other book in the history of the world,” Meyer tells PEOPLE. “Tony was like the stone against which this entire industry sharpened its knives. Depending on what your knife was, that had a different impact on you, but it was an incredibly effective stone.”
Meyer says he was inspired by Bourdain’s memoir to write his own book Setting the Table, which features his views on hospitality, many of which still don’t align with Bourdain’s, such as banning smoking in restaurants.
“I think it unwittingly blinded our industry in some ways to looking at itself because it glorified some behaviors that, I know in the later part of his life he abhorred,” Meyer continued. “But he had to be that person. He had to be that stone or he wouldn’t have been Anthony Bourdain, and I’m grateful. I can’t imagine how many people’s lives took a different turn because he existed—including my own—and that’s not always because you embrace every idea or every point of view or every attitude somebody else has. In fact, sometimes it’s more effective when you don’t.”
Bourdain also authored many other books that were in the top 20 best-sellers on Amazon’s Cookbooks, Food and Wine category as of Friday. His 2016 cookbook Appetites is listed at number 7, with his 2006 essay collection The Nasty Bits and his 2004 Les Halles Cookbook following behind at number 12 and 13, respectively. His 2002 culinary chronicles titled A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines is sitting at number 15. Bourdain’s 2013 comic Get Jiro! is at the top of Amazon’s dystopian graphic novels section. (According to Eater, sales numbers for all books sold since Friday have not been tallied.)
Signed copies of the chef’s books have been skyrocketing in price on eBay and online sales websites. A signed UK edition of Kitchen Confidential is listed at nearly $1,000 on Biblio.com while an autographed U.S. edition from its first printing cycle has reached $480 on eBay with an ongoing bid.
Bourdain’s inspiring legacy has reached far and wide, through his books, TV shows and restaurants, and Meyer believes he touched in the industry in a way that will never be forgotten.
“I think there’s a lot of cooks who—we’ll never know their names and will never be famous and yet, if you were to ask them if you what made them want to get into this business, I can’t imagine anyone’s name coming up more frequently than his.”
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