As we celebrate both the birthday of Anthony Bourdain this month and the anniversary of his death, our own CCKC Executive Chef Jill Garcia Schmidt felt compelled to share how this industry icon influenced her at a deep level and, more importantly, to share her personal journey and second chance at life. We are honored to assist her in getting her powerful message out by sharing it with our readers and followers in the hopes that others will find the courage to do the same. Chef Jill, we say Anthony Bourdain would be proud of you.
When I read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, my world was forever changed. I used to keep the copy that my late brother-in-law, Rico, gave me for Christmas one year, rolled up in the back pocket of my work pants. I was a bartender back then, with lots of down time between customers. Any chance I got, I pulled that wrinkled book out and read it. Its worn condition was a testament to how much I loved it, all my other books are still to this day in pristine condition. Like, don’t even think about cracking that binding, man. For real.
But THAT book? It would have been an egregious mistake on my part not to abuse it the way Tony would have. He would most definitely accuse me of lying about reading any other books in my collection – they do look a bit untouched in their perfection.
So, I carried that raggedy thing around with me until I reluctantly lent it to a coworker who never gave it back. I’m still bitter about that.
It’s not as if Kitchen Confidential was a literary masterpiece, or even an original concept. It was, after all, just a biography. It was the way in which it was written that was so enticing… almost addicting. I couldn’t get enough of his crass way of telling a story. The language he used and the ‘no holds barred’ way of putting it out there. Putting it all out there. Brutal honesty, intense sadness and even more -intense love. And the glamorization of this industry, the industry that I was so dead set on working my way into, was completely zapped away.
Meanwhile, I was a drunk. I was drinking every day. I would go to work sober, but by the time I got home, my hands would be shaking so badly that I could barely get my key into the lock on our apartment door. Then I would drink until I passed out.
Pretty soon I wasn’t going to work sober. I would have to have at least 2-3 shots of vodka just to “get me going”, to ease the nausea and to quiet the shakes. I’d drink during my break, or sometimes even during my shift, if I was really sick. Nobody knew. Ha.
Everyone knew. All you had to do was look at me. My skin was sallow, my hair was falling out in clumps. I bruised if you looked at me wrong and my eyes looked like the living dead. I told myself that I was highly functioning. I went to work every day. I killed it every day. I did everything I could to make sure that no one would think otherwise. While everyone else would go get wasted together after work, I would politely decline as if I wasn’t headed home to do the same thing. Then, I’d get up and do it all over again the next day.
Everyone knew and NO ONE said anything.
Oh, there were side-eyed glances and whispers, of course. But no one ever came up to me and asked me if I needed help.
If I’m honest, I’m not sure it would have done any good if someone did “say something”. I was pretty sure I was going to be fine. Until I wasn’t.
After almost losing my husband and my own life in the same day, I had what some might call a rude awakening. But, through the grace of God, I bounced back when I hit bottom.
On May 25th of this year, my husband and I celebrated 10 years of sobriety. It’s the greatest gift I have ever been given.
When Anthony Bourdain decided to take his own way out of this world, I was seriously disappointed. My heart had just been broken by the unexpected death of a very good friend who also took his own life. I was in a state of shock. I didn’t want to be angry, but I was.
After the news of Bourdain’s death and the craziness of the situation calmed down, more information was coming out. His friends and fellow chefs, Eric Ripert and Jose Andres, were being so outspoken about it. I had to reevaluate my position.
Anthony Bourdain needed help. He knew he needed help. How many of us, who have been where he was, knew he needed help just by looking at him? Even through the TV screen.
WHY ARE WE SO AFRAID OF ASKING FOR HELP???????
It is shameful to have to admit that one has allowed his/her life to spiral out of control. Or so we are made to feel ashamed about it by society, friends and, most sadly, family.
Addiction is not a one-way street.
Addiction is not glamorous.
Addiction is not fun.
Addiction is lonely.
Addiction is depressing.
Addiction is killing us.
For the past ten years, as I have been doing my best to take advantage of this blessed second chance at life that I have been given, I have worked incredibly hard to achieve my dream of being a chef. I washed dishes, bussed tables, took thousands of food pics and ate thousands of cold meals. Although I have been cheffing for over 25 years now, I have never taken it as seriously as I have during this ‘rebirth’. It’s been all food, all the time, for the last decade.
Today, I am living my dream as Executive Chef of The Culinary Center of Kansas City. I was made for this. I get to cook all the time. I get to talk about food all the time. I get to teach people how to cook. I get to give back to the community. I get to be on TV all the time and spread my love for food to the masses. I get to be a part of something I believe in! And I get to work with some of the most inspiring and supportive people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. (And that is truly saying something, because the people I have worked with over the past 18 years of my life have become some of my closest and dearest friends. I am so blessed!) No one tries to pigeon-hole me or make me into something I am not. My kind of crazy is embraced here, and I am joyful to share it. For the first time in my life, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
My journey is not over. Heck, I’m barely getting started. There’s a whole world out there waiting for me to cook for them. I still have a lot of work to do.
I believe that if I could have met Anthony Bourdain and told him my story, he would have been utterly unimpressed. My story is probably pretty lame compared to not only his own, but all the others he had witnessed. After all, I struggled with alcohol, not heroine. But I do think that he would have been impressed by my ability to love my new life. To smile for no reason and to mean it. And to take this life by the meatballs and make it as delicious as possible.
I think that the most important thing we should take from Anthony Bourdain’s death is this: if you hear a cry for help, answer it. You never know whose life you could save by just saying enough to open a dialog. Alcohol and drug abuse runs rampant in the restaurant industry, how could it not? It is everywhere, and ready to be shared by all.
If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, reach out to someone today. It could save your life, or even someone else’s life. If you know someone who needs help, reach out to them. Even the smallest gesture can change someone’s mind, if they know someone cares.
If you, like me, are doing your best to live your dream (be it your first, second or infinity chance), don’t let anything stand in your way. Especially not alcohol or drugs.
Choose to THRIVE, not just to survive.
And above all, stay hungry.