Stay Vigilant exists because of Anthony Bourdain. When I found out he was 44 years old when he published Kitchen Confidential I realized I had no excuse to not launch my own brand. As I write this blog post, I’m 44 years old. In 6 days I’ll be 45. Age isn’t just a number. It’s a reminder that I don’t have much time until I’m dead so I better get my ass in gear and start making things and sharing them with the world.
There’s a little part of me that’s angry with myself for not understanding just how awesome Tony was when I first learned who exactly he was and what he was creating. I remember it distinctly. It was in 2008. My friend and colleague Victor had poached me from the design agency we had previously worked at. Like all new hires, Victor took me out for a welcome lunch at Les Halles at 15 John Street in downtown Manhattan. It was a few blocks from our office in the Trinity Building at 111 Broadway. Les Halles was a French bistro steakhouse. Victor used to gush over this guy Anthony Bourdain who apparently used to be the executive chef there and was responsible for the steak frites I ordered every time I took a new hire to lunch. Despite how much Victor used to rave about this Bourdain guy and all his TV shows and books, I never bothered to find out more about him.
Fast forward 8 years to 2016 when I started watching Parts Unknown on Netflix. Holy fucking shit. What was wrong with me? All these years I had been missing out on everything this guy was doing. I got it now. I understood what Victor had been talking about. This guy was amazing. I had never seen a travel show, or was it a food show? …quite like this. I was hooked on Anthony Bourdain.
Then I read Kitchen Confidential in 2018. Jesus Christ. I loved it because it was raw and snarky and honest. I worked as a bus boy in an Italian restaurant in New Jersey as a teenager in the 1990s and I recognized the kitchen shenanigans Tony described.
Tony possessed all the qualities I admire in a person. He was confident in his abilities, he had a strong work ethic, and yet he was also self-deprecating and aware of his limitations. This sounds like a paradox of personality traits but I’ve found most people at the top of their chosen games outwardly have egos the size of mountains, but are also acutely aware of who’s better than them.
In Kitchen Confidential Tony heaps praise on other chefs—chefs he acknowledges are in another league than him. I’ve always felt this way about myself as a graphic designer.
Having spent the first 12 years of my career in New York City, I was always around other, better designers. They made me a better designer, but I’d never be better than them. I like to think my intelligence, hustle, and personality made up for my lack of talent. There’s something to be said for resilience (freshman year of college there were 25 people in my design program, four years later only 11 of us remained and graduated).
In the 8 years I’ve been consuming Tony’s books and shows I’ve come to realize he wasn’t a cook who wrote, he was a writer who cooked to pay the bills. Tony the Chef was the outer layer but Tony the Writer was his true core.
In much the same way, I’ve always felt my career as a designer working for clients has always been the top layer of who I really am. That eventually that outer layer would slough off and reveal the artist I really am.
Welp, here I am and here’s Stay Vigilant. It’s the first day of school. I feel vulnerable and unsure of what the future holds. There’s no point whining like a little baby.
Let’s do this.