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Pistol-whipping Mother Teresa

A conversation with Anthony Bourdain

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For a chef who, by his own account, snorted coke through uncooked penne, threatened a sluggish line cook with disfigurement, and who encourages the gadget-savvy amateur to "make Emeril your bitch," Anthony Bourdain is disappointingly sane and even-handed in conversation.

Given the opportunity to slag any number of big names in the food world, he says judicious and evenhanded things. But about Emeril Lagasse, television's best-loved cooking personality, he admits: "I get a rash every time I look at him. ... People want me to say bad things about him ... it's kind of like kicking Barney in the privates or pistol-whipping Mother Teresa."

When asked if there is any precendent for his book within the industry, he scoffs.

"I hope not!" he laughs. "Not that I'm comparing myself to Orwell, but I hope to give the reader the same sense of recognition and a few sad laughs that you get from reading Down and Out in Paris and London," he says, referring to Orwell's classic account of his stint as a dishwasher in a Paris restaurant.

About his own place among the big names, Bourdain is modest. "At this point in my career, I know I'm not going to be on culinary Olympus or breaking any new culinary trends ... the satisfaction in my job comes from running a busy kitchen and doing it quickly, cleanly and profitably for my masters ... and from what I call the Lee Marvin Syndrome. ... I see myself as the pirate leader of a band of people who, outside the kitchen, are uncontrollable, potentially dangerous and dysfunctional. It's extremely satisfying to get them to show up on time, perform at a high level and take pleasure in their work."

Bourdain mentions with pride that he recently recruited a cook out of a Texas prison.

A famous survey put the average life expectancy of a chef at 55. Given that Bourdain is well over 40, does he contemplate the end of his career?

"They say you never see young pigeons or old chefs. ... I'll tell you what I won't be doing: I won't be giving up smoking (he has a three-pack-a-day habit) and I won't be leaving cooking. I'm going to beat the odds."

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