Its Not Often That You Meet People Who Are Funny, Clever, and Kind. And He Was

Nigella Lawson on Anthony Bourdain, as told to Laurie Woolever
The late Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever
The late Anthony Bourdain with Laurie Woolever

I met Tony at dinner, a long time ago, the late nineties, probably with the food critic A. A. [Adrian] Gill, in London. He didn&rsquot frighten me at first, but I found him daunting, because he was quite manic. He had his silver thumb ring, and [was] wearing black leather.

I didn&rsquot feel we got to know each other very much, but he was very much being Tony, many stories. From that dinner, he told everyone that I&rsquod eaten aborted lamb, which is an embellished story. I was saying there were practices in France where they take the lamb out before it&rsquos born and eat it. So he embellished that into a story about how that&rsquos what I had done. I can&rsquot tell you what trouble that got me into.


I really got to know Tony while doing The Taste. Such an unlikely program for him to be involved in. ... Knowing that he was doing it, as far as I was concerned, guaranteed that it would have integrity.

I wasn&rsquot particularly comfortable doing it, but I loved doing it, because I liked hanging out with Tony and Ludo [Lefebvre]. We&rsquod often go out eating in between times, but Tony really needed to be alone and in his trailer a lot. ... You&rsquod be filming and there&rsquod be a relight, and he&rsquod be editing a book or finishing something, writing something. He didn&rsquot give himself that much time off, on purpose.

He was a very introverted person, which people misunderstood in a way, because of his facility with people, but he was always a slightly detached presence. Enormously friendly he would look at you in a terribly warm way. And when he needed to pull back, I just felt there was something, like many introverts, he just needed a bit of space around him. He was such a strange mixture between an extraordinarily measured person and sort of a manically obsessive person. I think that&rsquos why he was always so fascinating. I always used to describe him [as] something like Gary Cooper mixed with Keith Richards.

I loved being in his company. When you&rsquore young, what you want of people is that they&rsquore funny and clever. And then as you get older, you realize kindness is important. But it&rsquos not often that you meet people who are funny, clever, and kind. And he was.

We talked a lot about things other than ourselves. We&rsquod talk about books. And he always wanted to add things to his life. He was never closed off to the recommendation of a book or a film.

He&mdashas I did&mdashliked being in the Chateau Marmont [hotel, in Los Angeles, where The Taste was filmed] for a month. I think it gave him a certain sense of stillness, but he was busy all the time we had very early starts. I love being busy and not having time to think about myself or life. It&rsquos actually quite rare that you can do it away from home, but in a fixed place, for a month. It was quite a treat.


Everyone felt they knew him. That&rsquos what television does to you, and his particular form of television. I think it&rsquos very difficult, because you&rsquore dealing with a lot of people who need something from you, emotionally&mdashthey&rsquore coming to hear him speak, and for someone who was quite turned in on himself, as an introvert, he was, more than a lot of men, quite porous in the sense of feeling people&rsquos needs.

He wasn&rsquot like that with producers he was quite capable of cordoning himself off and not really troubling himself about displeasing. But in terms of people who looked up to him, the sort of people who might come and hear him speak, I think he was very acutely sensitive to whatthey needed, and what he was going to give, which is why he always gave such a dazzling performance, with moments of showing vulnerability to people. That&rsquos why I think people responded to him.


I&rsquove experienced living through people&rsquos illness, and then dying, and it takes you a long time afterward to remember them not ill. And when you remember [them] at last as not ill, you feel something&rsquos been given to you. And I find it hard now to think of Tony in a way that isn&rsquot really very focused on the end. I feel the shock has slightly taken the other pictures away.

The excerpt is from Bourdain in Stories by Laurie Woolever 

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