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Grant Bosse: The craft and class of Bourdain and Krauthammer

June 11. 2018 9:25PM

I spent the weekend reading Charlie Krauthammer columns, listening to Anthony Bourdain narrate “Kitchen Confidential,” and making coq au vin.

This is one of my favorite dishes to prepare because it does not require any fancy ingredients or flashy cooking skills. It’s really nothing more than chicken stew. The most complicated procedure is deglazing the pan. It takes time and attention, emphasizing the craft of cooking.

Bourdain was always more of a craftsman than an artist. A self-described huckster for much of his career, he was never a particularly innovative chef. Once he started taking himself and his profession seriously, his greatest skill was in organizing a kitchen to produce hundreds of consistently excellent meals.

My favorite chapter of “Kitchen Confidential” did not recount the infamous antics of Bourdain and his pirate crew, but walked through the logistics of a Friday at Les Halles, the Manhattan brasserie where Bourdain finally managed to find a place in the culinary big leagues.

Bourdain describes a dawn-to-midnight grind of barely-contained chaos. Working in a professional kitchen has as much in common with a good home cook as playing in the NBA has with the pop-a-shot game at Dave & Buster’s.

With the exception of one annoying but brilliant baker, Bourdain wasn’t looking for inspiration from his cooks. He wanted reliability. Cooking is a craft. Talent helps, but training and practice matter more.

Writing is also a craft, and Bourdain was even better at writing than cooking. Bourdain was a raconteur, a French word loosely translated as “liar.” His memory may have been unreliable, but his prose was sharp:

“Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food,” Bourdain wrote.

Charles Krauthammer is a vegetarian, just one of many ways he stands in contrast to Bourdain; as politically conservative and personally reserved as Bourdain was liberal and brash. But like Bourdain, Krauthammer demonstrated excellence in one career before turning into an exceptional writer.

Krauthammer majored in political science and economics at McGill before earning his M.D. at Harvard. He practiced medicine for three years, rising to chief psychiatric resident at Massachusetts General before leaving medicine for politics.

He worked for the Carter administration, and wrote speeches for Walter Mondale during the 1980 campaign. Later that year, he joined the staff of the New Republic.

During his 37 years as a journalist, Krauthammer won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Magazine Award. He gained a new audience on Fox News, where his dry, sharp wit elevated a format not always known for high-level political discourse.

I had the honor of running Krauthammer’s weekly column in the New Hampshire Sunday News, and I always looked forward to receiving it, and putting it on the page. His writing was reliably conservative, yet never predictable. His columns were well-informed, well-argued, and passionate.

Krauthammer stopped writing his column as he battled cancer, and as he shared last week, his fight is over.

As someone who types for a living, I admire how Bourdain used words to tell a story and how Krauthammer used them to inform and persuade. It’s humbling to realize both writers excelled at their second careers. Then, they each gained success and fame in a third arena, television.

I was also struck by the outpouring of love from people who happened across Bourdain and Krauthammer. Both men demonstrated kindness and generosity to countless strangers.

If there is any bright side to last week’s horrible news, it is that Charles Krauthammer will have a few weeks to appreciate how much he has meant to so many. It is tragically too late for Anthony Bourdain.

I wish I had something profound or helpful to say about addiction, or depression, or cancer. I must settle for sharing my admiration for two master craftsmen, whose words I will miss reading.

Grant Bosse is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @grantbosse.

Grant Bosse

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