I was sitting in a hospital room in the winter of 2001 when I first discovered Anthony Bourdain. Someone gave me a copy of his first book for my 21st birthday, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” It was an eye opening read that immediately got me and the rest of the world hooked on the acerbic chef from New York. Our view of food, travel, and culture would never be the same. Thank God.
This morning, CNN confirmed that Bourdain’s longtime friend, travel companion and fellow chef Eric Ripert found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room in France, while the two were on location filming an upcoming episode of the network’s show “Parts Unknown.” Bourdain apparently committed suicide. He was 61.
Since that first book 18 years ago, Tony had gone on to write numerous works of non-fiction, a few novels, and become an award winning producer of some of the best television you’ll find today. He was a truly unique talent. A classically trained chef, a gifted story teller, and a relatable human, Bourdain was able to ask people questions most journalists wouldn’t, and as a result got incredible stories.
We live in an era of peak food TV and we owe it to Anthony Bourdain, but so much of what “Parts Unknown” has become is about more than just the food. If you scratch past the surface, food is just what Bourdain and his crew used to get people talking in whatever far flung community they are visiting.
“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions,” he said while accepting a Peabody award in 2013. “We tend to get some really astonishing answers.”
Those “astonishing answers” have made some of the best TV of the last decade plus.
Bourdain gave us a famous episode in 2006 that was nominated for his first of many Emmy’s where he was filming in Beirut during the start of that year’s Israel-Hezbollah War. Bourdain would later say that the experience would change both himself and the way he approached making TV.
Some of his later episodes no doubt benefited from that inspiration. Bourdain’s trip to Iran in 2014 for CNN was a landmark episode, and one that could probably not have happened without the network of contacts a world-wide organization like CNN has. Closer to home, his look at the opioid crisis devastating America was a perfect example of a show almost devoid of the happy, food porn moments you’d come to expect, but it’s excellence, and personal touches made it one of his best.
I saw Bourdain speak several times. Austin was a regular stop on book tours for him and was the subject of one of his shows several years ago as well. The episode was full of the biting Bourdain hipster jokes you would expect and that ring even more true now that California license plates flood our Texas streets. He was someone that never seemed to be able to slow down for long, always full of energy. But this quote to People Magazine from a few months ago about retirement now seems … well, sadly prophetic.
“I gave up on that,” he said, regarding retirement. “I’ve tried. I just think I’m just too nervous, neurotic, driven. I would have had a different answer a few years ago. I might have deluded myself into thinking that I’d be happy in a hammock or gardening. But no, I’m quite sure I can’t. … I’m going to pretty much die in the saddle.”
It was always my dream to interview Anthony Bourdain, something that will sadly go unfulfilled now. There is so much I wanted to ask him about how his travels, overcoming addiction, and his late fatherhood had impacted his worldview. He lived his life the way we all should strive to: curiously. He explored the unfamiliar, whether that was here at home or abroad, and found a way to relate to people and places he didn’t understand. We should all do the same.
You will be greatly missed Tony.
Bourdain, who the Smithsonian once called “the Elvis of bad boy chefs,” leaves behind an 11-year old daughter, whom he had with his second wife Ottavia Busia.
Here are some reactions from others around the web to his shocking passing:
Stunned and saddened by the loss of Anthony Bourdain. He brought the world into our homes and inspired so many people to explore cultures and cities through their food. Remember that help is a phone call away US:1-800-273-TALK UK: 116 123
— Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay) June 8, 2018
Im so angry this morning. Life is fucking hard and crazy and Tony I love you. Im wearing your boots that I never wore because they were yours, and going to work. Everyone should hug some extra people today. My heart is heavy. https://t.co/2lFmz1UvWK pic.twitter.com/62Qcjwo33f
— Andrew Zimmern (@andrewzimmern) June 8, 2018
My friend..I know you are on a Ferry going to somewhere amazing…..you still had so many places to show us, whispering to our souls the great possibilities beyond what we could see with our own eyes…you only saw beauty in all https://t.co/Ltw9HrCBb2 will always travel with me https://t.co/Yv4Ntud6X0
— José Andrés (@chefjoseandres) June 8, 2018
Absolutely stunned. @Bourdain you motherfucker. You giant. You friend. You writer. You most loyal to all around you. God, I’m so sad. Oh, this world. We’ve lost a hero.
— Michael Ruhlman (@ruhlman) June 8, 2018