Ten years ago, Anthony Bourdain was standing next to a deep fryer 14 to 16 hours a day, and that was the world he thought he'd be in for the rest of his life. Then, his book Kitchen Confidential came out, and his life changed almost overnight.
"In very short order I found myself traveling the world with the best job in the world, doing pretty much whatever I wanted, eating whatever I wanted, drinking too much, and given the creative freedom to tell stories about those experiences any way I liked," Bourdain tells NPR's Neal Conan. "I very quickly became a ridiculously privileged person."
The past 10 years of eating and drinking and traveling have provided plenty of fodder for Bourdain's new book, Medium Raw. In it, he details a very different food world from the one he saw from the deep fryer in which celebrity chefs inspire cultlike followings, and nothing — not even the classic American hamburger — is sacred.
It's been a decade since Bourdain last worked as a chef, though he'll still turn around if someone yells "chef!" on the street. With 28 years in the kitchen under his belt, he's earned the title, but he says, "I don't go home with a sore back and swollen hands every day — that's not who I am or what I do anymore."
Bourdain did dabble in his old life for an episode of his TV show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. He returned to the kitchen at Les Halles, where he worked before Kitchen Confidential made him a star.
"I gotta tell you," he says, "I barely made it through that one shift."
The return shift at Les Halles left Bourdain more convinced than ever that age is a major factor in the restaurant business.
"It's a very hard business, a very unforgiving one," he says. "If you were just starting out at age 32, a lot of forces are going to be stacked against you. It's going to very very hard."
So Bourdain has this piece of advice for anyone who wants to go to culinary school: "At least work in the restaurant business for six months, a year — in a busy restaurant — to see if you're the sort of person who loves the business."
He says he's grateful that his success as an author, then as a personality, got him out of the kitchen at 44.
"It's a young person's game," he says. "It's a good thing this celebrity chef scam is working out, because the timing couldn't have been better."