From his college years through the publication of Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain was awful with money. In an excellent new article for Wealthsimple, the food media super star outlines how he lived hand-to-mouth as a line cook for decades. “Money came in, money went out,“ he explains. As a young man, Bourdain spent any spare funds on weed and the occasional trip to the Caribbean. These excursions often involved leaving his kitchen gigs, permanently, and racking up even more credit card debt — but Tony could always find more work when he came back, so the cycle continued. When Bourdain’s writing finally started to take off, the chef/author made some decisions that turned his financial life around:
I think living like that made me very cautious. I held onto my job after Kitchen Confidential came out; I was hesitant about whether I should leave the kitchen, and I waited as long as I could. I was old enough to realize I’d been handed this incredible, lucky break and I was very unlikely to get another one. There was this weird moment where I noticed that everyone in the dining room were journalists waiting to talk to me, and I realized I’d become the sort of chef I used to despise, constantly having to leave the kitchen to deal with journalists. I didn’t want to be that guy. So I left. Once I did that risky thing, leaving the only profession I knew to become a professional writer and TV guy, I was, and continue to be, very careful about the decisions I make every day.
Bourdain immediately paid off his debt to the IRS and the remaining balance on his Amex. He also began putting money away, and with the help of his agent, Bourdain turned his attention to practical deals where he knew he could earn money for his partners doing work he was happy with.
“I am fanatical about not owing anybody any money,” Bourdain writes. But despite his many book deals and TV shows, Tony insists that reports about his net worth “are about 10 times overstated,” and he doesn’t even mind paying high taxes. “Everybody gets theirs: My partners make money, I make money, the government gets theirs,” Bourdain explains.