A master chef vanishes -- and re-appears -- in surprising ways

(There have been some fascinating documentaries late, as people take a fresh interest in American food and American chefs. No comes an  intriguing one, tentatively set for Nov. 12 and 18 on CNN; here's the story I sent to papers.)

By Mike Hughes

It's one thing to be
the best. It's another to do it and disappear.

That has happened to
authors (Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger) and athletes. And to Jeremiah
Tower, a master chef.

“He was there –
and suddenly he wasn't there,” said Anthony Bourdain, a chef and TV

So Bourdain produced
a documentary, coming to CNN. Producer-director Lydia Tenaglia (who
also does Bourdain's series) captured Tower's quiet life in Mexico
and his un-quiet past.

“He was a
celebrity chef with an open kitchen .... He was the first sexy chef,”
Bourdain said.

In 2014, the filming
was almost done ... and Tower suddenly un-vanished.

“We opened up the
newspaper and found he'd taken the job at Tavern on the Green,”
Bourdain said. Tenaglia “said this would mean another year of
shooting. I said, 'Don't worry, he won't last a month.'”

Tower quit in April
of 2015, after a difficult year at New York's mega-restaurant

In Tokyo, Tower once
met an acclaimed chef whose restaurant seats nine people. Tavern on
the Green lists a seating capacity of 1,600. “It's a chef-killer
.... On Valentine's Day or Mother's Day, it's like Yankee Stadium,”
Bourdain said.

That was an odd stop
in a far-flung life.

Tower, 75, grew up
in a comfortable-but-distant family. He went to top schools –
including an architecture graduate degree from Harvard – and became
a chef.

He reshaped the menu
at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Bourdain said, then quit when owner
Alice Waters took credit in her cookbook. He created the Stars
restaurant in San Francisco, then sold it in 1998 and semi-vanished.

Along the way,
Bourdain said, he'd sparked a revolution in American food. People
used to try dinner and a show, talking about the show. “Now you go
to dinner and talk about the food.”

-- “Jeremiah
Tower: The Last Magnificent”

-- Debuts 9 p.m. ET
and PT Sunday (Nov. 12) on CNN, rerunning at 9 p.m. ET and 11:30 p.m. PT Nov.

-- Schedule could
change with breaking n