I have to stay away from human beings because somehow I am not one,” writes a 19-year-old Jeremiah Tower on his worn-down notebook while fulfilling studies at Harvard. It could have been the mescaline talking but the case for being offbeat was pretty strong for the bad boy who, for most of his young life, felt like an outsider. From being a yank in Australia, an Aussie in England and a queer with an eccentric British accent in a then homophobic US, his presence was not always welcome. Then again, solitude was no stranger to him.
In Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, a 2016 documentary produced by the late great Anthony Bourdain, the influential chef recalls a formative instance from his childhood that defined the career he would eventually take.
He was six when he wandered away from his parents to explore a beach on the Great Barrier Reef. He chanced upon a fisherman who showed him how to roast a barracuda, talked about the stars, and introduced him to the birds and the bees. His folks—a bastard of a father and an alcoholic of a mother as he describes them—couldn’t care less where he was, but that was the least of his concerns. At that particular moment, all that mattered to him was the scintillating aroma of fish torching on an open fire—and sex.
“At an early age, I learnt to look after myself and not care much for tough times when they came along,” he says. Tower may have been brought up by privilege, an entitlement that had him travelling around the world first-class twice by age 16, and indifference, as deemed by today’s standards. But those two were pivotal to his culinary race as it allowed him to build a strong relationship with his loyal companions—The Escoffier Cookbook and gourmet food.
“To me, menus are a language unto themselves. I’ve been collecting and reading them since I was ten. They spoke to me as clearly as any childhood fantasy novel,” he says in the film. From early on, food became his best pal.
He preferred hotel rooms over the company of his parents as he got to be “a king in his own kingdom”, giving his first taste of consommé and anything in aspic the proper time, thought and appreciation they deserved.
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