Last night the only good food show on TV, “No Reservations,” featured a documentary on the host, Anthony Bourdain. In the midst of it, Chef Beth Aretsky referred to Bourdain as, “The Howard Stern of chefs.”
It was an off-handed comment, just slipped into an hour-long documentary, but of course it leapt out for me—and not just because in that instant two of my passions—Howard Stern and great food—joined as one. What Aretsky meant was that that Bourdain’s career as a chef and writer embodied the same qualities as Stern’s career in radio: a fearless, iconoclastic, anti-establishment, outrageous, original.
What stood out for me is that Aretsky, who has actually served as Bourdain’s executive assistant—she was the “Grill Bitch” in his book “Kitchen Confidential”—was using Stern’s name as a kind of adjective, but not, as is so often the case, pejoratively. (She might also have been struck by the personal similarities: both are tall, skinny, driven men whose wild public personas conceal a highly disciplined work ethic).
I know she’s on to something. One day, hopefully while Stern is still alive, it will be a badge of honor for anyone to be referred to as “the Howard Stern” of his or her profession. It means you blazed a trail, outraged, upset and ultimately entertained a wide audience, took huge risks in telling the truth, pursued your craft with excellence and originality, and in so doing shook up the larger culture.
All of this begs the question: Who else is the Howard Stern of his or her world? Who’s the Howard Stern of TV, of journalism, of fiction, of movies, of business?
And most importantly, how Howard Stern is each of us capable of being in our own work?
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