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Business Advice for Creatives from Bourdain & Zimmern

Unlike many travel writer friends, I’ve never been a Bourdain-groupie, but I really loved this conversation between Bourdain and fellow chef/writer Andrew Zimmern, which is in this month’s Delta SKY Magazine.

Saying yes and saying no to projects, doing things that people don’t expect of you/your career trajectory… these are all topics that resonate with me right now.

I definitely recommend reading the entire piece (especially if you don’t know the backstory of how he got Kitchen Confidential published). Here are a couple of the exchanges I enjoyed most:

ZIMMERN: … So, what determines for you yes or no these days?

BOURDAIN: I am constantly on the lookout for interesting people to collaborate with…. I like making things. I like doing things alone and I like doing them with a team—it’s a quality of life issue for me. Will it be fun to do? Do I have to talk on the phone with a***holes? It’s very important. You know, can we make something interesting here? Do I get to hang out with people I respect and admire? That is a privilege; it’s not work.

ZIMMERN: One of the things that you’re describing has been an awful lot of freedom, and I think that that kind of wind in your hair, not wearing a helmet, flying against convention, is what not only attracts people to you but it also creates this sort of fetishization of you as well. The other day I saw on Eater that someone was saying that they thought you were the next Julia Child.

BOURDAIN: It’s flattering but wrong‑headed. I mean, Julia Child changed the f***ing world. I am not a particle of dust compared to her. I am flattered to even be mentioned in postironic jest in the same paragraph. But to be actually compared? No. Absolutely not. She was such an important figure, a pioneer out there … I’ve tried very hard to do as creative and subversive television as possible for a long time. Anytime anyone thinks they’ve identified the brand, f*** up that whole notion or subvert it…. I don’t want people to feel comfortable in their assumptions of what I’m going to do next…. That was a lesson I learned in the bone, meaning the instinct to think about what do they want—What do they expect? What do my biggest fans want me to do next? How will they receive it? Who’s watching? Who’s reading?—this is a lethal, lethal instinct. I have to not think that. We all want to be loved, but I’m not going to even ask what people want, because that will ….

ZIMMERN: Kill your process.

BOURDAIN: I just can’t. That’s the road to madness. . . . Like any other job, you show up, you do the best you can, you do the things that keep you safe and happy. And happy is important, because we both know very well what happens when life is either too easy or too unpleasant. I work very hard to not hate myself, and worrying about what people want or expect—I would hate myself. I would say that a very large proportion of my fans would much prefer for me to be chain smoking and drinking heavily all the time. I may well do that again, who knows? But I’m not going to do it for them. You know, there’s no earring. There ain’t no thumb ring. The leather jacket is long, long ago gone. I’m a daddy. I’m aware of my place in this f***ing world.

ZIMMERN: With all the stuff that you have going on, is this a point in your life over the next six months where you’re waiting to see what happens next?

BOURDAIN: No, no, no. I say no to 95 percent of what I’m asked to do. I am very much in the “no” phase of my life. I mean, it’s almost an automatic no. I’m being very, very, very careful about what I’m saying yes to, and I’m doing only those things that sound like fun.


2 responses »

  1. I’m flying Delta today (currently commenting from an airport bar in Minneapolis), and I read this piece after I saw you recommended it. The part about struggling to write/create and wondering “what will readers think?” really resonated with me. Feel like I think too much about the readers, sometimes, on my blog. It is so much more liberating to think no one’s ever going to read it.

    • Julie Schwietert Collazo

      Me too, Lesley. It’s interesting- I was/am simultaneously reading The Art of Making Magazines, a compilation of essays by various editors and publishers, and this is a question that looms large in many of the essays: To what extent do editors/publishers choose to write for their readers and to what extent are their editorial decisions determined primarily by their own impulses about what makes good writing/reading… about what *they’d* want to read themselves? It’s funny, because one editor will make a pro-reader comment and I’m nodding my head, and another editor will make a “I just always published the writing I thought was good, period” comment, and I’m nodding my head, too. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive and I think they become less so when we’re consciously thinking about these concepts all the time.


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