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Tony was a man of contradictions.
His work from almost two decades ago inspired a rogue-ish bro culture in the chef world that in the past few years he came to revile and worked hard to repudiate. He told me almost 13 years ago that television was the “most vile mistress,” but he refined the medium to suit his needs as a communicator and was addicted to its power as a tool to communicate.
Essence - Place - People - Gorilla - Room
He sought to highlight, to underscore the most simple essence of a place and its people. He insisted that we never ignore the obvious, the “gorilla in the room,” and yet he did it by profiling so many people and places from the fringe. He made the invisible, visible and understandable. He raised up the humblest aspects of our community, from the prep cook to the rural farmer on the far side of the planet, and he hung out with the cultural royalty of our generation. He was in many ways a rebel, an anarchist, but he revered the classics. He made commercial television but took inspiration from the great cinematic auteurs he feverishly admired. He championed the Davids of the world and called out the Goliaths, and then he became a symphonic behemoth of incredible gravitational pull. Who didn’t want to be with Tony when he walked into a room? He was the most charismatic man I knew.
Tony talked at various times to me of chucking it all in and “living a feral life on a beach in Vietnam.” Then there was the night over dinner when he talked for an hour about the joy he felt he could squeeze from teaching writing or literature, followed...
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