Writing about Tony felt weird and exploitative in the few weeks after his death, so I chose not to.
Part of me didn’t feel comfortable latching on to him in that way, but I also didn’t feel qualified to speak on him; and as I write this, I see how I’m already mentally centering what Tony meant to me instead of honoring his legacy with a less solipsistic perspective.
The truth is, my first thoughts after the initial devastating shock eased up a bit, were of what an important ally we had lost. Yes, he was a great writer, producer, television personality, etc., but to me, he was a much-needed male ally in an industry that has long demonstrated itself to be nonchalant (at best) about if and how women succeed in it—and they mostly don’t. His speaking out about ingrained systemic sexism in the restaurant business was so valuable because the bros who would never listen to me might possibly listen to Anthony Bourdain. Sadly, he was one of only a handful of prominent food men willing to say anything at all.
We stayed in touch after he filmed an episode of The Layover at one of my restaurants in 2012 and even more so after he (shockingly) agreed to blurb my book. I cried when I read it. It’s hard to explain the sense of relief high-level validation offers after a lifetime of screaming into a void while men (and women) dismiss, erase, and vilify you, all for the cardinal sin of saying (some) of what you actually think.
Tony came to feminism late in life, and I never tired of mocking him for admitting that having a daughter played a role in that. But however much I teased him about how eye-rolly that was, he just took it, slightly embarrassed that it was true. He was also willing to cop to an active role in romanticizing terrible kitchen culture, which would never have happened with such fervor if Kitchen Confidential hadn’t been so, so good. And he was willing to listen—something he, as a loquacious man perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for, although it’s all over his television work—and had an incredible skill for listening and hearing what’s really being said.
He’s irreplaceable as a visionary who forever transformed our relationship to food and restaurant culture. We are lucky to have had him so long. I sent this tribute in days past the requested deadline—something Tony would never do. He was quick to reply to emails, even ones demanding his already stretched time and energy. I still can’t believe he’s gone.