On Thursday night, at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, Anthony Bourdain sat down with Shep Gordon, the legendary talent manager whose life was chronicled in the Mike Meyers documentary Supermensch in 2013. And while at first glance it may seem odd for someone like Bourdain, whose new season of Parts Unknown premieres later this month, to chat with a man most famous for wrapping Alice Cooper's naked body in snakes and shooting him out of a cannon, Gordon is also credited with transforming chefs from hired kitchen help to celebrities, kick starting the careers of TV stars like Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck.
Though the conversation largely focused on Gordon's new book—titled They Call Me Supermensch, and published under Bourdain's imprint—the pair also got into some of the more esoteric principles that attracted them to cooking in the first place.
"This is a world where everything is sort of ephemeral, where you never really know how you're doing on a daily basis. You're writing a book and your mom says she likes it, but is it really good? You don't know. People tell you, but you're not sure," Bourdain said. "You know exactly how you're doing when you're cooking, because the guy next to you will tell you, 'You're fucking up.' So, you know, it's quantifiable."
Gordon, who was born to a Jewish family in Queens, but practices Buddhism, explained the differences between the culinary arts and music, pointing to the impermanence of the finished product in the kitchen.
"One of the things that I love, and it's got the spirit of Buddhism in it, is it's temporary. You cook a meal and it's over, it's done," he said. "You make a record and it's never over. It just keeps going."
Bourdain jumped back in: "My good friends at Joe Beef in Montreal, they're great bon vivants and storytellers and chefs, they say, 'Food, it's feces in waiting.'"
Though in the 16 years since Bourdain's debut book, Kitchen Confidential, first hit shelves, the man has largely redefined what it means to be a celebrity chef, he admitted that he owes a substantial part of his career to Gordon's work.
Gordon recalled meeting Bourdain at a book signing for the chef Roy Choi a few years back.
"Anthony comes walking up to me and he says, 'I wanted to thank you. If it wasn't for you I probably wouldn't be me,'" he remembers "I said, 'What do you mean? He said, 'Well, you made Emeril really famous, and I made the beginning of my career on beating up Emeril.'"
Can't really argue with that.