Nearly 40 years ago, Dallas chef John Tesar was a pot-smoking cook at New York City’s Supper Club. His sidekick? Globally famous food personality Anthony Bourdain, who died on Friday at the age of 61.
It’s an oft-repeated story — the two cooked together as young men in the 1980s, and Tesar would eventually appear as the barely fictionalized, self-destructive Jimmy Sears in Bourdain’s best-selling book Kitchen Confidential. Upon hearing the news that his old friend had died, Tesar only had one reaction: confusion.
“I don’t understand it. I’m angry, I’m jealous, I’m sad,” Tesar tells Eater. “All I can say is that I’m perplexed. We had our disagreements, we had our snarky comments about each other, but we had a longstanding understanding of who we are with each other.” In the ensuing years after the Supper Club, both Bourdain and Tesar would go on to become renowned cooks and television stars, even if Bourdain’s star burned a little bit brighter than Tesar’s.
The two didn’t hesitate to trade barbs with each other, either. In a 2015 interview with Playboy, Tesar said that Bourdain was a “shitty chef.” In fact, the last time Tesar spoke with Bourdain was in Dallas, and he wasn’t happy about that comment in Playboy. “He revoked my access pass to his performance at The Majestic with Eric Ripert,” Tesar says. “I later apologized on the phone and wished him well, and that’s the last time we talked. He traveled so much and had become so famous, that I would email him and he would respond, but he’d be in Zimbabwe and too busy to talk.”
Tesar still has an unmistakable joy about the years he spent in New York with Bourdain, describing their reign at Supper Club as a 24-hour party. “For three years, we ran a pirate ship on 47th Street in Times Square,” he says. “We cooked and did whatever we wanted to do, which was smoking pot, drinking, rambling around New York hanging out with chefs and talking about life.”
Ultimately, Tesar says that he and Bourdain were in a good place at the end of Bourdain’s life. “We knew each other when we were nothing and we had nobody,” Tesar says. “I’m glad that people realized that we were real friends, even though everybody felt like they knew him.”
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.