Tony and Kevin. Two chefs gone too soon.
When I think of Anthony Bourdain, I can’t help but thinking of my friend, Kevin Weeks. Both chefs and both lost to this world too soon, each harbored some of the same qualities: an unquenchable and unyielding appetite for life, a passion for what they did and a similar passion to share it, and a deep and tireless curiosity to learn more about the world and its people. They were also two very influential people on my career and in my life.
I first read Kitchen Confidential two years into my life in the restaurants, right as I was deciding if this was going to in fact be my life, and I was going to abandon whatever my earlier plan had been—law school, journalism…cubicles. I was working for Kevin–a chef with wild red hair, chili pepper tattoos, a love for music, photography, painting, books, anything interesting really, and the sensibility that sleep was optional.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I loved being in this business. With Bourdain’s book in my hand, I nestled myself under Kevin’s wing, and I figured this path was sure as Hell good as any other I was considering.
From there, the wild ride began, and it continues to this day. I struggled mightily, I failed repeatedly, but I pressed on. I remember thinking early on with a mix of fear and excitement, “Holy shit. Is this what it is like?” Kevin basically responded, “Yes. And no. Now get back to work. And you’re buying tonight.”
I did it because I loved the heat and the salt and the night and the noise. I did it because I felt, even then, that I only had once chance on the ride, and I wouldn’t take the path well-traveled because I was supposed to. But I also did it because I wanted to be like Kevin. And in a way, like Anthony Bourdain.
Anthony Bourdain pushed himself out of his comfort zone in so many ways. He wrote his story beautifully, and then he spent years telling other people’s stories. He went where many others had not—across borders and onto the backstreets, down the alleys and through the dark doors without fear or prejudice. And then he left the comfort zone of his new famous life and owned up to his past, supporting the #metoo movement in our business and becoming a leader when our industry needed them the most.
It was remarkable to watch Bourdain’s career evolve. He was to me, a good chef, a brilliant writer, and a preternatural connector. Rarely can someone meander their way to match their career with their true talent. He brought the secret pain and joy of the professional kitchen to the masses, and then he went further to connect the world to itself. I don’t think we will know the significance of his loss for some time.
Kevin died in a car crash, the result of a negligent driver, over 11 years ago. He was 35. My wife was seven months pregnant with our daughter. At the time, we were planning a restaurant together that would become Eventide. He never got to see it, and he never got to meet Evelyn. Many of us that were lucky to be in his orbit have never forgotten that awful night, never forgotten the impact he had on us and never stopped missing him.
I gave a eulogy for Kevin—one of many given—where I tried to sum up what it meant when I said we should all wake in the morning and “Do something Kevin today.” Essentially it means at least for a moment, go and grab life into your hands. Inhale deeply, taste it all, slurp up every drop and then…go back in for more. Break out of your mold, free yourself from your rut, and seek and savor something new. Kevin was a chef, but he was also so much more. He could do it all, and he would try anything.
Anthony Bourdain did that over and over. It makes me so sad to see how that was possible for someone so similar to my friend, and to wonder just what Kevin could have done if he had more time to grow. I have no doubt it would have been special, and I don’t think anyone who ever met him would doubt it either.
And yet here we are, and the world pushes on without the benefit of these two extraordinary people. There is nothing we can do about it, and they would surely not want us to linger in our loneliness. For more than 10 years, I have been trying to do that, and I am buoyed by the thought—the hope, really—that Kevin would be proud of me. I don’t know how else to do it.
I imagine that Anthony would have liked Kevin, and that Kevin would have liked Anthony. I like to think they would have loved to sit together, slurping noodles, slamming back shots and laughing and singing. I would have liked to be there as well; sitting there being grateful to know them and trying not to say anything stupid.
I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in Heaven. But the idea that maybe the two of them could be sharing that meal together now makes me pause–and smile. And in another 40 years or so, if there is an extra chair, and I get to sit down, I would be grateful.