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Five Social Media Lessons From Anthony Bourdain

By: Guest | December 29, 2011 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Craig McBreen.

What can a snarky, middle-aged, New Yorker teach a 40-something, wannabe blogger about life?

Well, I often find inspiration in the strangest places and politically incorrect, sharp-tongued, bad boy chefs dole out the best advice. You knew that, right?

I’m an unabashed fan of Mr. Bourdain’s work and simply love his sardonic wit, candid observations, and appreciate his creative chops. Emeril Lagasse, Paula Dean, and Rachael Ray might beg to differ.

He often has too many drinks on camera, openly mocks other celebrities (see above), and has a disdain for all things vegan. Even though his contempt is generally a bit tongue in cheek, it’s certainly fun and part of his charm.

I mean, we all know the most dangerous person to America is clearly not Paula Deen, right?

He sometimes mentions a past filled with drugs and serious issues with authority. So, we’re not talking about Tony Robbins here, but I say smarts, snark, and honesty go a long way.

In 1997, his exposé of New York City restaurants titled Don’t Eat Before Reading This appeared in the New Yorker (article is archived behind the paywall). Shortly after, the incredibly successful Kitchen Confidential was published. So after 20 plus years in the kitchen, he was a best-selling author and soon had his own show on the Food Network.

The Travel Channel is his current home, with two shows, including the award-winning, No Reservations. He’s a sought-after speaker and manages to crank out book after book, but didn’t reach this level of success until later.

As a young guy, he rarely traveled, admits he was not a star chef, and often struggled with drugs and alcohol, but his life changed dramatically; even though he might deny it, he is a celebrity.

So, what did Anthony Bourdain teach me about social media?

  1. It’s never too late. I write about this ad nauseum, but it’s true and what better example than Mr. Bourdain. At 44 years of age, he was a chef at New York’s Les Halles, in debt and working 12 hour days. But he wrote. And this is when Kitchen Confidential led to his extraordinary trajectory, which hasn’t slowed down one bit. Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour exploded on the scene when he was in his 40s. He’s now one of the world’s most famous chefs and sits comfortably on his Travel Channel properties at the age of 55.
  2. Sometimes you don’t choose a passion, it finds you. As a chef, he always devoted time to writing. That is what changed his life. He didn’t exactly stumble upon writing, but he sure discovered something he did brilliantly. He didn’t know The New Yorker article would blow up. He simply wrote a great piece based on years of experience and then some magic happened.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. A bit of levity is good medicine for the soul, don’t you think? Here’s a guy who has reached a certain level of success, but never takes himself too seriously. Sure, he often pokes fun at celebrities and his favorite targets at The Food Network, but it’s all in good fun, really. He’s even written that it would be “entirely fair and appropriate” were he described as “a loud, egotistical, one-note a**hole who’s been cruising on the reputation of one obnoxious, over-testosteroned book for way too long and who should just shut the f*ck up.” Need I say more?
  4. Be yourself. He likes dive bars, street food, and misses the seediness of old New York. He freely talks about his past missteps, has a strong point of view, and can be over the top at times, but that’s all part of the appeal. And he doesn’t care what you think. Many can relate to the caustic and darkly humorous side, but he’s also extremely creative. The flaws, vulnerability, and honesty are traits that resonate with me. If you plan to become great at something, isn’t embracing your distinctiveness and applying some imagination a huge help? He’s done that in spades.
  5. Be open to new experiences. We don’t all have the luxury of globetrotting on the Travel Channel’s dime, but here’s a guy who graciously ate a dirt covered omelet cooked by a Namibian tribesman, took psychedelic Ayahuasca, and famously ate a beating cobra heart; not to mention he’s a New York City liberal who broke bread with Ted Nugent. In fact, he calls him “Uncle Ted.”

Sure Tony Bourdain is offensive to some, or maybe he’s just misunderstood. I don’t know, but this is a guy with a fondness for pork, is a long-time Ramones fan, and possesses a beautifully acerbic wit. What’s not to love? Like I said, inspiration is sometimes found in the strangest places.

Craig McBreen owns and operates McBreen Design, but you can also find him at craigmcbreen.com. A rookie blogger and student of social media, Craig is originally from Baltimore, but now lives in Seattle, with his wife and two kids.

97 comments
jburdadams
jburdadams

enjoyed your post Craig. Anthony is one of my favorites as well. Happy New Year to you.

Phanyxx
Phanyxx

Last #FF of the year goes to @thornybleeder. He's a social media rockstar, and is always sharing great links. #FFF11

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

Hi Craig,

I actually quite enjoy Anthony Bourdain, for many of the reasons you mention. What strikes me most often about him is his genuine interest in the people that he's interviewing and 'hanging out' with and his desire to understand the world from their perspective. Few people do that really well; marketers (heck, all of us) could stand to emulate that behavior.

Bourdain recently came to Asheville (my little neck of the woods) and the vegans were definitely on alert. A local journalist got the thrill of her culinary coverage when she got to interview him. Hope you'll forgive the large quote, but his response to a vegan laden question shed a lot of light for me on his views:

Plant's Jason Sellers wants to know if you would be willing to visit his vegan restaurant to "quell some of that open animosity with some open-mindedness.

"Listen, I'm perfectly OK with vegetarians practicing whatever they want to do. I just think they make for bad travelers. That's what pisses me off. If you're eating vegan for religious reasons, fine. What you do in your home — or hometown even — in the industrialized world, I'm OK with that. That's your personal choice. I think the notion that you can travel — and I'm not talking about Rome or Paris, of course you can call ahead and say, "do you have any vegetarian options?" You can't do that in the developing world without offending people ... It's awkward and hurtful to go to grandma's house and turn down the turkey. I just see it as rude and incurious."

Regarding your list, and really, that's what this is about, right? Numbers 3, 4 and 5 are my road maps for life and when I stay on task and follow that course, seem to work out all right for me. Enjoyed this very much, Craig.

Raj-PB
Raj-PB

**has a disdain for all things vegan** - Funny. I mean, what else can we expect from the kind of past he might have had, as described in this article? Drugs, Alcohol and being Vegan don't go together.

NancyD68
NancyD68

So, I am late showing up here. I like all five points but if I had to chose one I would maybe choose number 2.

I did not know writing was my real calling. I thought I was going to be a motivational speaker or a stand up comic. I could motivate people. I really could. I could motivate them to never book me again!

I guess my point is that I am a work in progress and perhaps I am meant to be all of those things. I can be funny, help you with your life, and write a book you might find helpful.

I love pork BTW. Just saying.

My son watched Food Inc. today and has announced he will never eat another chicken nugget again. Such is my life.

KenMueller
KenMueller

I think your five points are great, with some exceptions,and perhaps it comes from my distaste for Bourdain and the way he treats others. I think it's incredibly important to be yourself, but if yourself is a horrible person, I'd prefer to see you change to something better. Perhaps that's a pollyanna-esque attitude, but if you're an asshole, I don't think embracing your nature as an asshole is admirable.

His distaste of anyone who is different and doesn't agree with him is the same thing we find fault with in other celebrities, politicians, and larger corporations: my way or the highway. I may joke with my vegetarian and vegan friends, but he just outright dismisses them as an affront.

And I guess from having seen him in action all too often, I would disagree with point 3. I don't disagree that it is a valid and important point. I think we do need to not take ourselves so seriously, but I think Bourdain DOES take himself too seriously, as evidenced by how he rips into anyone who dares question him. He is incredibly thin-skinned, but expects others to behave under a different set of rules.

It may work for a celebrity on camera, but I think that is exactly the type of thing we need to get away from in the business world. It sells for the camera. If it weren't for television, would Bourdain be a success? I'm not pretending to know the answer, but I think we need to at least muse on the question..

So as for point 4, I think it is important to be yourself, but it is possible to change. Don't fake it. Don't pretend to be something your not, but must we embrace the horrible aspects of who we are and flaunt them? We're asking businesses to change their personalities and adapt to a new world, and that change starts with individuals. The Spin and arrogance that is spoken of on this blog time and time again isn't something that is a characteristic of a business. It is a characteristic of individuals who run those businesses and is then built into their culture.

Clearly I'm outnumbered here, but felt I had to throw in my 2-cents.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I'm currently reading one of his latest books, Medium Raw, and enjoy watching No Reservations when I have the time. Biggest lesson of this to ME is Numero Cinco - it's not always about the carefully crafted "plan." Life will find its own way; same with marketing, the reasons we are supposed to continually measure and study - so that we can adapt, overcome obstacles; cut out the b.s. that ain't working as it was supposed to; AND discover what IS working, that we weren't even trying, those happy accidents. FWIW.

TheJackB
TheJackB

Hi Craig,

This is really good. I can't pick anything from 1-5 as being extraneous and less useful than the others because they are all really important.

But the two that resonate the most with me are 1 and 2. Maybe it is because of my own age, time of life or what have you but there is so much truth in it never being too late and passion finding us.

thornybleeder
thornybleeder

@Phanyxx Nick, you rock bud! Thanks for that killer shout-out man, all the best for 2012 to you!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@EricaAllison THis is so cool! I am a big fan of Bourdain's but I never knew all this outside stuff about him. Thanks for sharing that quote. And I'd like to add...we had a culinary writer coming to visit a destination client of mine two years ago. two weeks before her visit, she informed us of dietary restrictions: Stuff like organic eggs, goats milk (no cows milk) etc.... (A huge list)This was a RURAL destination. We cancelled her trip. She was furious. We told her we couldn't accommodate her needs. THEN! she sent a letter to the Idaho Governor!!! LOL, about how bad I am. Whatever. that didn't get her anywhere. But he makes a point. In her case anyway.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@EricaAllison

Hi Erica,

Thanks for the comments and quote. The vegan thing sure strikes a nerve and I think it is perfect that you included this quote from him. I've heard him say this before and it makes so much sense. He really does focus on understanding the world from his host's point of view every time. And I think a show like this might even change some people's preconceived notions about certain cultures. I'd say he's a model citizen when visiting other countries, so a big thank you for bringing this up! :)

Thank you for the comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Like I said, I sometimes find inspiration in the strangest places.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@Raj-PB Like I've said, he's not for everybody. I think His quote (in Erica's comment above) sums it up pretty well, after all it's from the man himself. And I like the fact that he's so open about his past.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@NancyD68

Hi Nancy,

I'm a big fan of numbers 1 & 2.

I'd say we are all a work in progress, but good for us you did discover your calling as a writer. :)

Fried pork is the best. And I know you and I agree, bacon rules. Food Inc was an education. But I'm not giving up bacon :)

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@KenMueller

Hi Ken,

Wow, thanks for the details here and glad you threw in your 2-cents. He's definitely not for everyone. I often tell people how much I loved and admired George Carlin, but sometimes get a similar reaction, like ... why? :) My grandfather thought he was trash.

I honestly think part of his charm is that he says he can be bit of a jerk sometimes. Can't we all? One of the reasons I listed no. 3 is because I've heard him interviewed and read more than a few of his interviews online, and he's pretty damned honest about his history and his faults, plus there is a good deal of self-deprecating humor in his show and writing. He gave Emeril Lagasse tons of crap after Kitchen Confidential came out, but actually broke bread with the guy later. I think part of what irks him is the contrived production of some of these shows and a lot of it is crap. With that being said, I think he went a bit too far with Paula Deen.

Like I mentioned in the post, I really do think his distaste for vegans is a bit tongue in cheek and I imagine he might actually have some vegetarian friends. I honestly think he's just having a bit of fun. I think his real distaste comes from some of the vigilante-like behavior some groups have committed against his chef friends. Usually extreme vandalism and threats of harm. I'm not certain, but I think that's what started the entire thing.

Do I think he's being 100% himself on camera? Of course not, but he's way more authentic then many celebrities trying to do a similar show. He is more successful because of his TV shows of course, but he's also one hell of a writer and that is what really changed his career path.

And with all that being said I admire him mostly because of his creativity. He and his crew constantly pump out some of the best stuff on TV in my humble opinion.

Thanks for the comments, Ken and sorry to ramble. I think we each did a blog post here. :) Anyway, your comments inspired me to write another post!

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@3HatsComm

Hi Davina,

I have not read Medium Raw yet, so I better get to it!

Yes, just being open to new experiences is so important and you might just find some passion there. You never know. Also, letting go of preconceived notions of people. I think it's really funny when I see Tony Bourdain shooting guns with Ted Nugent. What a pairing, huh?

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@TheJackB

Hey Jack,

Thanks. Since coming online and blogging at my own homestead and very fine places like Spin Sucks, well, I've changed my direction and outlook. So, those two are the strongest for me as well. I guess that's why I made them one and two. :)

KenMueller
KenMueller

@Craig McBreen Agreed. Where I part with him on the vegetarian/vegan thing is when he compares them to Hezzbollah, and not solely based on their actions, but ridicules them for not liking meat and therefore beneath him. I find it hard to see that as tongue in cheek.

And the "I'm an asshole so deal with it attitude" is what troubles me the most. If you're an asshole and you know it, do you really want to embrace that?

Again, I agree with all of your points on their own merit and think they are all important.

KenMueller
KenMueller

@Adam | Customer Experience@Craig McBreen Yeah, I don't buy into the "I'm an asshole so I'll be an asshole and wear it on my sleeve" argument. Yes, we need to be who we are, but if you're an asshole, I'd rather see you try to work on that rather than wear it as a badge of honor. This is why we have the celebrity and reality show culture that we do. Why celebrate that? People CAN change. We all should desire to change for the better, all the time.

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

@KenMueller@Craig McBreen Ken, you hit one of my pet peeves. People who think that it's okay to be a jerk because they admit it and wear it proudly. Usually accompanied by "that's just who I am." Well, you're still a jerk, self-acknowledgement really doesn't soften it for me.

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

@KenMueller@jasonkonopinski Now I'm just hoping Paula Deen doesn't track him down and get him in a headlock :) But I do know Bourdain's wife is seriously into jujitsu, so she could take her, no problem ;)

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@KenMueller@Craig McBreen There's an old joke about vegans: "How do you know someone's vegan? Don't worry, they'll tell you." :)

As far as Bourdain's biting personality, I actually find it refreshing. He's not afraid to piss people off. He knows there are some people who shrink away from because of his politics, his punk attitude, his mouth. 'Authenticity' isn't a strategy. It's the baseline, who you are. The minute you start talking about being 'authentic' as part of a bigger plan, the chinks in the armor start to show. There are abrasive personalities out there who do it for the show, the consummate troll. They relish the conflict. We've all encountered them both on and offline.

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