They say you should never meet your heroes

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Last Tuesday, I discovered exactly why “they” say such a thing.  Culinary truth-teller Anthony Bourdain was in Austin on tour for his recently released book, ‘Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook‘.  A local bookstore had announced that Bourdain would be signing copies, and I wasn’t going to miss a chance to talk to the man who inspired me to start cooking from Fergus Henderson’s grand opus.

That morning, I woke up early and got to the bookstore about thirty minutes before they opened to secure myself twenty seconds or so of Mr. Bourdain’s time.  The store was handing out wristbands, and only the people that snagged one would be able to get their books signed.  Book and wristband in hand, I headed to work.

As the day wore on, every second of the meeting was planned out in my head.  I dearly wanted him to sign my beat up copy of “The Cookbook” so he could see that I was serious about the recipes inside.   The idea of asking about woodcock suppliers came up as well, because I’ve finally started to lose hope of ever finding one.  And of course, I allowed myself to indulge in the far-flung possibilities, that just maybe he’d find my project interesting enough to want to find out more.

I think that’s something we all do to an extent.  It’s fun to imagine that we’ve done something of merit, worthy of recognition by the people we put upon pedestals.  I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a foolish pipe dream, but that silly little hope is comforting, regardless of how ridiculous it may be.

Later that day, I showed up to the bookstore along with my friends April and Sean of The Hungry Engineer and listened to Mr. Bourdain read from one of his books, and take questions from the massive crowd of people that had shown up to get their books signed too.  An hour later, I was almost face to face with the man.  The entire time, Mr. Bourdain had been sucking down Shiner Bock after Shiner Bock.  I can’t really fault him.  I know if I had just been tasked to talk for an extended amount of time in front of roughly 600 people I’d never met, I’d probably ask for a stiff drink as well.

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When it was finally my turn, I followed my carefully laid plans out to a T.  I asked if he’d sign my copy of “The Cookbook”, which he was more than happy to do.  At first he was a bit taken aback.

“I’m not familiar with this edition.” he stated.

“Ah, my wife had it rebound for me.  I’ve used it so much that the back broke.”

“Man, I really do love this book.”

“I’ve got a question for you real quick about trying to find a woodcock.  Do you have any suggestions?”

“They don’t have them out here?”

“Not really.  And you can’t buy them because they’re a game bird.”

“What, they’re illegal?  Huh.  Well this is Texas, get a gun and go shoot something local.  Substitute it man.”

“I’ll mention on my site that you said that.  Thank you.”

At that point, I’d noticed that Bourdain had already picked up the next book he needed to sign.  My time was up, so I turned around and walked out the double doors toward the parking lot.  The hope that he’d see something worth investigating further had come to a quiet, easy end.  And before you think that I’m angry about it, or upset with Bourdain, let me stop you right there:  I full understand that he was under no obligation to do anything but sign the copy of his book I had bought.  The fact he even took the time to chat with me briefly means a lot to me, and I appreciate it greatly.  He’s still one of my favorite people in the food world, and I doubt that will ever change.

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But that’s why you shouldn’t meet your heroes: you get to cling on to that silly little daydream a little longer.

13 thoughts on “They say you should never meet your heroes

  1. And what an exciting pipe dream it is…I know exactly what you’re talking about, Ryan.

    A few years ago, I went through similar motions to get Chef Bourdain’s signature in my copy of “A Cook’s Tour”. This was before my blogging days, but my (pipe) dream was to invite AB to the Alaska lodge where I cooked every year during salmon season. I wrote him a long letter expressing my gratitude for his inspiration and extending an invitation for a free week of great fishing and eating my food. Oh well, he took the letter without reading it (of course!) and moved on to the next book signing. And the call I was hoping for never came.

    What was I thinking? The man gets better offers than mine, probably on a daily basis. But it was still great to meet him and to listen to his stories.

  2. Don’t worry! At least you had the balls to say SOMETHING. I met Michael Pollan at Barnes & Noble, and I was so nervous I couldn’t do anything but awkwardly stammer “Hi….” before he signed my book. It was so lame!

  3. Chef Keem, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. First beer is on me, okay?

    Camille! I just got done reading about your cupcake extravaganza. I’m really wishing I could try some of that lemon curd! Thank you for the kind words. :)

    Meredith, I was the same way the first time I met Alton Brown. I couldn’t even form words. Thankfully Mr. Brown was a gracious fellow, signed my book, and sent me on my way.

  4. Lovely post. Another story for you. My sister was invited in Bangkok to an evening with Nelson Mandela. There he was in a crowded room and she was so awed she couldn’t even summon the strength to meet him, so his signature is in her book, but her husband had to get it for her. I was incredulous but I somehow suspect I may have had the same reaction.

  5. Dude. If I shoot a brace of woodcock for you this fall, will you stop with the “woodcock suppliers?” Makes you sound a little too Brokeback… I’ll be in Canada and then in Minnesota this September, and if I am lucky enough to whack a couple, I will see if I can either a) ship them, or b) you come out to California and we will cook them Fergus’ way.

    Deal?

    h.

  6. Eliane, I’m right there with you. Mr. Mandela is someone very special. I too would probably admire him from afar. You sister is very lucky.

    Hank, I’ll send you an e-mail here in a bit. The woodock, my proverbial white whale. I can see how Ahab might have gone a little crazy. ;)

  7. Pingback: Bourdain Returns to “Where it All Began” « Cats Working

  8. I got me a ticket to go and see Bourdain here in England. I hadn’t thought of taking along my copy of Nose to Tail but now you mention it…

  9. So true. I met my hero yesterday and I should’ve known the reality would never stack up against the person I’ve placed on a pedestal. It’s a let down and probably best left undone … if there’s anyone out there considering it.

    • I know what you mean man. It’s not their fault at all, and that’s why I had to share. Just to put my own head right.

  10. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels kinda down afterwards. I met someone I really admired this past week and i handed them a letter expressing my thanks form being such an inspiration, etc. I was happy about it for like a day afterwards just to get the words out there, but i’ve felt almost absolute horror about it every waking minute afterwards, haha. I think it might have something to do with letting your guard down around someone who’s opinion you strongly care about, leaving you in an incredibly raw situation. Well anyway, it really made me want to improve myself to a point where i could work with my hero, or at least make them proud to have been my inspiration. That’s how I’m justifying it anyway~

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