Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

What an intruiging human being. Jeremiah Tower, a food innovator, pioneer of the Great American Cuisine. He grew up alone. His affluent parents neglected him. In one striking moment at age 6, he recalls feeling let down by them when after hours and hours away, he found them in the hotel bar drinking and schmoozing. It was a moment he closed his heart off and decided to never put his faith in other people. But those moments of neglect allowed him to discover food. The innumerable fancy dishes with french names. Food became the balm that soothed his wounded heart. Food became his companion. And as his parents moved from country to country as globe hopping gypsies, his palate was allowed to develop. After college, he got his first cooking job, working alongside Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. It was there he discovered the power and awe of his own brilliance and creativity. And, quite possibly, his own darker side.
He became such an icon because he wasn’t afraid to break the mold. He was a handsome, charming, magnetic individual, and he shone. But an upbringing such as his must obviously come with deep psychological issues.
This documentary, while produced by, and featuring interviews from Tony Bourdain, feels much like an episode of any of Bourdain’s shows. In the beginning interviewees reflect on a time when Jeremiah simply dropped off the map and no one had heard from him. His first line, an audio overlay as we see him, an old man, walking among deserted ruins somewhere in Mexico, “I have to stay away from human beings, because somehow, I am not one…”

Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain

I think everyone knows how highly I hold Tony. This was an exercise in wiping tears, dabbing nose, clearing throat. Wiping tears, dabbing nose, clearing throat. Wiping tears, dabbing nose, clearing throat…
Honestly, this was not information I was unfamiliar with, as I’m sure the film wanted it to be. What? Tony was a PERSON?! But this, I already knew. I have followed him for decades and knew how to read between the scenes.
What got me, were the candid moments. The moments that took a well put together room, and added the dust and the dirt to the corners.
And yes, the moment Eric Ripert’s face came on screen, first, painfully looking off screen, I broke. The way an egg does. The way you tap tap tap it on the counter top, til finally it cracks. How Eric must have felt that morning… expecting routine breakfast with his best friend, and then being the one to find him…
I went for a second beer. The woman apologized for such a slow pour. I waved her off, “I am tearing up, I need a break from the movie…” silently cursing her for making me miss minutes of his life…
And perhaps two beers directly after work on an empty stomach wasn’t the brightest idea. But I adored this man. This was the premier showing and I wasn’t going to miss it. This man awkwardly stumbled through life, and when his foot hit the ground, he took you with him through the world. He was, as his producer said, tall, handsome, and incredibly geeky. He geeked about what he felt strongly about, and that’s why he was so well loved. Thats why I ran, to get a seat, because the theater was full. He touched people. He showed us the world through his eyes. They showed the pivital moment, that I remember, in which Tony wants to help. He buys out a womans food cart stock and gives it to the hungry children just outside of camera shot. And it becomes chaos. There was no way he was going to be able to feed the mouths of the hungry. And a little piece of him changed in that moment. It was no longer just about food. It became about opening our eyes to the world. And we followed him, because he so genuinely cared. “Do you feel unfortable?” a man who has lost both his arm and his leg asks. The sole bread winner and provider of his family. After a thoughtful pause, Tony responds, “no. I think I owe it to the world to show this.”

When Tony committed suicide I remember a lot of people were shocked. They were shocked because he was “living the dream.” He got to travel the world and eat food. But the truth is, he wasn’t living a dream. Tony had a rough childhood. He became a delinquent. Somehow food saved him. Tony was an incredibly smart and passionate man. He got a foot in the door with Travel Channel and was able to begin doing what he cared about. Traveling the world and bringing awareness to the struggles most people don’t want to acknowledge. But through all his different shows, you can see him struggle. With Travel Channel he wasn’t given enough freedom to do what he wanted. He had a lot of different shows on their network, perhaps trying over and over to get it right. But I don’t think they probably wanted to see world struggle. They wanted to see bright colours, and food. When he finally moved on to CNN, you could actually feel a change in him. Finally, this was where he could really breathe. He was able to travel the world and show and talk about what really mattered to him. The politics and the struggles of the world. And if you really think about it, why wouldn’t he begin suffering depression. Probably simmering since childhood. Now there ten fold. How can one man power travel the world, seeing the struggle and despair and not feel powerless. And then come home to a nation actively destroying itself under the leadership of a narcissistic moron. He engulfed himself in tragedy. So, on June 8th 2018, when I woke up to a text telling me he had committed suicide, after the shock, and the pain, the soul crushing pain, I understood. He wasn’t “living the dream.” He was single handedly trying to save the world.

(This, of course, is just my speculation.)

Heres a trailer for the upcoming documentary about him.

Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain

Tour of Tony

Having taken his own life in June 8th, and then his birthday being June 25th, June seemed the most appropriate month to honor Anthony Bourdain. I took a little cooking tour through his last cookbook, Appetites.

He stated in interviews that he had wanted to write a cookbook with family friendly recipes, with his daughter in mind. Admittedly, even for an intermediate cook, I found some of the recipes a little difficult. Some of the ingredients difficult to find, or quite expensive. And some of the recipes were time consuming, definitely not after work cooking.

But overall, they were all delicious.

Budae Jjigae

“Korean Army Stew”

Halibut Poached in Duck Fat

Macau-Style Pork Chop Sandwich

Cast-Iron Grilled Chicken

Spaghetti with Garlic, Anchovies, and Parsley

Sunday Gravy with Sausage and Rigatoni

Braised Pork Shoulder with Fried Shallots and Pickled Veg

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Here are some youtube clips of him cooking with Anderson Cooper.

In the first, hes teaching Anderson about the Korean dish Budae Jjigae. Yes, it sounds like it would be gross, but it is actually so surprisingly good.

In the second, hes cooking his Sunday Gravy with Sausage and Rigatoni. A dish, I spent the day cooking, and sharing with friends, on what would have been his 63rd birthday.

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In truth, I still can’t believe that it’s been a year since I woke up to a message that broke my heart. And I can’t believe how much he still comes to mind. Almost every week, from random foods, to things he’s said, even to the time he had a pair of custom shoes made… room full of people’s wooden shoe impressions. “How do you know if someone’s died?” he asked, I wonder the same thing…
A whole year later and I still feel my eyes filling. I can’t believe how much he touched me, his honesty. The time he bought food for hungry onlookers in Haiti, and before he knew it, he was overwhelmed with hungry people. It was horrible, but it was real. He was our ticket to the world, the real world. And he made us love it as much as he did…
I can’t believe its been a whole year since the world lost one of my greatest heroes…

(June 25, 1956 – June 8, 2018)