A friend told me to pick up Anthony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential” in 2001 or 2002. At the time I was a veteran of the restaurant industry, although I only had a few years of fine dining under my belt. I’d heard about the book, but long before had soured on insiders from an industry, that more than most, is bloated with want-to-be writers … ahem.
My attitude toward the book was heavily influenced by the fact that it had been recommended by all the wrong people, but my friend Jeffery, himself a chef and a hell of a clever guy, told me it was worth a read so I dove in.
If you haven’t read it, “Kitchen Confidential” is a remarkable piece of work. Bourdain conveys the sense of disregard and chaos amongst a clique that can best be described as hyper goal-oriented. It does not matter how you get to the ends, but there is a job to be done and it’s getting done by a pirate crew, who for purely financial reasons figured out how to mix socially. And, although Bourdain would make fun, they garnish with a bit of parsley.
The news of Bourdain’s death was just as much a shock to me as it was to everybody else who didn’t know him. Here was a guy whose life consisted of going to amazing places to eat amazing food prepared by amazing people, and in the interim he dated a hot model. It’s a tribute to the power of depression that he needed escape. That’s not what I thought of, though. I thought of Jeffery, the chef who told me to read that book. He killed himself too.
I have a cinematic vision of the lakes near Kalamazoo (I saw it on Google maps, not in person — but that’s the kind of web-surfing you do when you lose a friend) where Jeffery sits on a stony outcropping. A crack shatters the calm, a raven flies from a gnarled fir or some such. That’s the romantic version of events where the hero slips the surly bonds of Earth, but the reality was probably much more prosaic, involving vodka, tears, and something low-caliber.
Suicide is ugly and inconsiderate. Val Kilmer is taking it on the chin right now for a Facebook post (Rant!™) where he posits the completely anodyne proposition that suicide is selfish. It’s unclear to me from the writing whether Kilmer and Bourdain knew each other, but that’s beside the point. Kilmer mentions the daughter left behind. She was 11. I just teared up when I sent my 11-year-old to camp. Again, the power of depression is not to be underestimated.
Along the Savannah River in the fall of 2014 a group of us sat with beers and wine glasses in a little pub called Feather & Freight and kinda told stories. It was at times uncomfortable, as none of us seemed to know the same Jeffery. Mercedes, graceful and wonderful and rare, remembered an ambitious young chef. She loved him and tried. I remembered a funny and curious guy, always trying something new. Those down the chronological tube saw drugs, vodka, and anger. When I moved away, I never knew. I lived 423 miles away from that Jeffery.
At the pub memorial there were tables laid out with his stuff. I know how odd that sounds. We were encouraged to take something. I have a cookbook of his called “Coyote Café.” I’ve never made anything from it and I don’t think Jeffery did either. I chose it because despite the bright yellow cover, the spine was faded, and I knew where he shelved his cookbooks in his apartment was not sunlit, so this was one he’d had for at least long enough to have been a move ago, and I like that idea. It’s a continuum of sorts.
I like to think of Jeffery as the guy that taught me how to make a solid coq au vin — and believe it or not, it comes down to how you slice the carrots and an insistence on Rhone wines. There was a lamb dish he made that won an award and more incredibly was at the center of a dispute where he beat back the IRS over the dispensation of the award money. He was the groomsman that leapt into service when my landlord decided to replace my kitchen appliances two hours before my wedding.
I try to remember him for such things, but what I can’t get past is the fact that he shot and killed my friend.
That’s not fair. Catholic doctrine and a slew of mental health professionals tell me that he was beyond rational thought when he did what he did, and I concede the point intellectually. But I can’t emotionally.
I’m not Anthony Bourdain’s daughter, girlfriend, or even acquaintance. But I did know Jeffery.
I am what’s left behind. My friend did something and I hate him for it even as I pray every morning for the redemption of his soul. I thought I’d be over it.