My Favorite Mistake

Article excerpt

Anthony Bourdain on the wild life that killed his culinary career.

I was lucky enough to go to the Culinary Institute of America in my 20s, and my big mistake was that I was offered a chef's job very quickly after I graduated, and I took it. I did that rather than going to France--or even staying in New York, but taking a low-level position at a great restaurant and putting my nose to the grindstone. Once I started down that path, years later I was still working in a procession of not-good restaurants. The lowest of the lows is cooking food for people you hate in a restaurant you hate, with no pride.

I was about getting the biggest paycheck then, so I could see music, smoke expensive weed, do cocaine, that kind of life. It was less important to me that I would get good at my craft. I deluded myself into thinking I was good. And by the time it occurred to me that I'd never worked for a three-star chef, I didn't have the skills. It was late in the day.

After I graduated, I was working with friends in a restaurant in SoHo called WPA. We helped bankrupt the place in short order. We thought we were creative geniuses, and created a very chef-centric menu that was not what the dining public wanted. …