Sydney’s Chinatown is a familiar place to me. I know most of the turns, food courts and spruiker scripts like a good friend thinks they know another’s sensibilities. It’s a place I’m accustomed to since I began truanting high school as a 14 year old in the mid-eighties.
After dropping out of school I scored a cash in hand, dish-pigging job at a football club working for two moustached Croatian Brothers. Bill worked on the front grill while Rollo did the back kitchen and managed a young apprentice who prepared salads for the dodgy salad bar.
I learnt my first real kitchen lesson here when the apprentice nearly cut his hand off with his knife in my soapy bloody sink. Two days later, the brothers had a fight during service, with Rollo storming off leaving all the incoming dockets to mount up. Something clicked into gear as I took over their roles, mostly out of necessity, as Bill wasn’t planning on hiring anyone else to save money.
From that point onwards I worked in as many kitchens as possible; you name it I gave it go. From cooking for celebrities, on gas rigs, fine dining, turning over 1500 lunch meals in huge deep fryers filled with animal lard, vegetarian restaurants without prices and establishments with a menu written daily.
To unwind, have fun or keep up with the kitchen pace, coping mechanisms like alcohol, heroin and amphetamines became more part of my daily life. Thankfully, I’m 22 years clean and still enjoy a glass of wine or good rum every now and then.
“He wrote how we lived.”
These are the things I connected with when I first discovered Bourdain. He wrote how we lived. Those passions resonated and brought together all those things most of us dyslexic kitchen renegades experienced. It was like we weren’t alone in this industry with how we felt.
Hearing about his death I walk around in circles not knowing what to do with myself. My idol and hero, the one who personally spoke to me without having to be in the room, has taken his own life and the thing is I kinda get it, and I kinda don’t.
It’s fairly well known by now that men in their late 30s onwards are one of the most susceptible demographics to suicide in this country. Broadly speaking, we can easily tell you what you need to know about stuff, agendas, things, places, objects – but when it comes to expressing ourselves, emotions or what’s buried deep in our mind, well, that can be terrain we have no comprehension of how to relay.
I’m referring to anger, grief, depression, isolation, anxiety, not feeling worthy or understanding how to love ourselves, which I find challenging enough to confront in my own personal relations, let alone mention here. Our tendency to knuckle down, be stoic with pain and keep pushing through without displaying vulnerability continues to reside somewhere within our make up.
That’s why a part of me thinks there’s a public face for the seemingly good social times and getting the job done. Alongside, there’s a hidden private face which our closest circles may never see. And given the circumstance, I can only imagine reaching out doesn’t present itself as a viable option in that moment when all you imagine is one way out.
It leaves me here in Chinatown writing this piece, wondering whether it’s a statement, a reflection, a reminder, a temporary answer to so many questions, or all of the above. I think to myself about the facades of these streets and how I really don’t know what’s going on behind their walls, and will never fully know. Nonetheless, the place will still be one of my greatest influences and a friend who never knew I was there waiting to find out.
Image: Anthony Bourdain at the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards for his show Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, via Flickr Creative Commons.