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How Anthony Bourdain Became a Book Publisher

His imprint will end once it’s published all books under contract

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Those who knew him well know that the late Anthony Bourdain was not only a great writer, but also a voracious reader. That’s basically how he became a publisher: In 2011, Ecco, which published Bourdain’s seminal memoir Kitchen Confidential in 2000, announced an imprint called Anthony Bourdain Books. Right off the bat, Bourdain used his new platform to greenlight a variety of authors, from experts in niche fields to previously unsung critics like Marilyn Hagerty. “We made this arrangement because he always wanted to be a publisher,” says Ecco’s Daniel Halpern, who purchased the rights to Kitchen Confidential, based on a New Yorker essay Bourdain wrote, for $100,000. “He loved working with writers, and wanted to be a part of the publication process.”

But in light of Bourdain’s death last Friday, the imprint — for which Halpern notes Bourdain hand-picked each author — will end.

“This is something I don’t think I could say about anyone else with that level of fame: While Bourdain was a celebrity, he was also someone that could be an editor or publisher here,” Halpern says. “He had the access we didn’t have, but also the editing skills, and was a conduit for finding books that really engaged readers. He dealt with his authors in the same way he dealt with cultures around the world: He went into it with an open mind and respect, he wanted to bring out the best wherever he could.”

Very quickly Anthony Bourdain Books became known as a publishing house that featured a variety of books. “From culinary topics to memoirs to rereleased novels to unknown authors, Bourdain wanted his imprint to have a wide range.” Halpern says.

The latest book from the imprint is Hawker Fare, San Francisco chef James Syhabout’s deep dive into the street food of Isan and Laos, and personal journey into the history of his heritage. And Bourdain was deeply invested in the success of each of his books. “Each book [he brought in] was a little different in how he was involved in it,” Halpern says. “He was involved in all of the production side; he saw covers, page layouts; if there was ever an issue in an editorial thing, he handled it. He was certainly involved in publicity and marketing... One of the remarkable things about him was that he was tireless about promoting his authors. If it wasn’t a well-known author, he would go down to Barnes & Noble bookstore in [NYC’s] Union Square and be on a panel with them to draw attention to them and their voice.”

Halpern hopes to publish a final book by Bourdain, under the Ecco label, based on a collection of essays the two men discussed over the past two years. Halpern first told Vulture of the as-yet-unseen manuscript: “There was a book that he was going to deliver at the end of the summer. I know he’s been working on them and I know that he had a bunch of them last summer. I think that it was going to be much more personal. I think he planned to talk about traveling more, what it’s like to be on the road, having a family. But I haven’t seen anything and I’m guessing I’ll hear from his agent at some point. I hope there’s enough for at least a small book.”

Future books from the imprint include We Fed An Island by chef José Andrés, which is expected out on September 11, 2018. Of it, Bourdain said in a press release earlier this year: “With a fraction of the resources available to the government, huge non-profits or NGOs, José Andrés and World Central Kitchen fed hundreds of thousands of desperate people in Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria... To say that I am proud to publish this book, and to help tell this vital story, is a vast understatement.”

Bourdain’s imprint will also release Prisoner by journalist Jason Rezaian next year. Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who served as a guide to Bourdain during Parts Unknown’s Iran episode, was held hostage in a high-security prison in Iran’s capital for 18 months in 2014 and 2015 after being accused of spying. His book is a memoir of his imprisonment and release.

According to Halpern, chef José Andrés is also publishing a vegetable-focused cookbook next spring, and several other as-yet-unnamed books are under contract. “With his modesty and honesty, he was a kind of catalyst for people to think about what they were doing, and why,” Halpern says of the late author and publisher, “no matter if it was eating or traveling or fighting or feeling.” There’s no question that Bourdain touched many lives. Among them was a new generation of authors and their readers.