Because of Anthony Bourdain, I will never hesitate to taste something new, and I will never order fish at a restaurant on a Monday. I will always have a sharp chef’s knife in my drawer, and I will always know where my passport is. I am grateful for a glimpse at the world through his eyes, and his appreciation for all the little things he discovered and treasured on his journeys.
As news of Bourdain’s death reached the multitudes on Friday, social media transformed into a chilling memorial to the vastly influential chef and television host. Bourdain’s snarky quotes, clips from his various shows, and photos from every phase of his life inundated the Internet, often accompanied by stories of how he had affected the life, career, or simply the dining habits of the person who posted. Bourdain had a way of ingratiating himself with everyone, despite his often polarizing opinions and disinterest in customary politeness.
Anthony Bourdain’s Rise to Fame
Bourdain bucked at the social norms from early days. Starting as a dishwasher, following his graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, he clawed his way into a career as a head chef in New York City, experiencing varying levels of acclaim. In 1999, following a sudden restaurant closure, he wrote a now famous article for The New Yorker, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” The article resonated with people as an “insider’s guide” to the quickly burgeoning fine dining scene in New York.
Soon after its publication, he wrote a snark-filled tell-all, “Kitchen Confidential,” which further depicted the down and dirty life of a chef. His candor and humor found a huge audience, both in and out of the restaurant industry, and he quickly gained celebrity status.
In 2002, he began his illustrious television career with “A Cook’s Tour,” where he broadened his appeal even further by sharing his insatiable appetite for good food and travel without holding back opinion. Bourdain found an incredibly unique way to bring previously unknown corners of the globe into people’s living rooms, and to make them hungrier and more curious than ever.
Bourdain went on to write many more books about food, as well as hosting several more wildly successful TV shows, most recently “Parts Unknown” on CNN. It would be difficult to find someone who was untouched by Bourdain’s career. As he traveled the globe, eating and drinking his way through underexplored regions, he showed the world the joy in exploration and how we can connect to each other through food.
Anthony Bourdain’s Loss Is Ours, Too
Having spent 16 years in the restaurant industry, I can assure you that no one had a greater appreciation for what we did and how hard we worked than Bourdain. He loved New York City, his home base, and felt personally responsible for sharing its unique culinary identity with the world.
A visit from Bourdain was a guarantee of increased business for a small restaurant, so he always received the royal treatment. On the handful of times I encountered him while working in New York City, either serving him a dish prepared by the shaking hands of a nervous cook, or pouring him a glass of champagne we thought might impress him, his gracious nature was apparent.
A relentless hedonist, Bourdain was candid about his early struggle with drug addiction, and knew he had a tendency to abuse alcohol, although he never gave up drinking. In a recent interview with People magazine, he discussed his love for his 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, who he credited with giving him a reason to live. He alluded to the fact that he sometimes struggled with happiness, suggesting even that he previously questioned what reason he had to go on in life.
Bourdain’s substantial influence is now canonized in his written word and past episodes of his television shows. His absence from the restaurant world will be felt deeply, and for a long time. On Friday, chefs and other restaurant professionals took to social media with their memories of Bourdain. Many young chefs consider reading “Kitchen Confidential” the reason they wanted to cook professionally. Many older chefs knew him personally, and shared their poignant memories and photos.
He and Everyone Has Reason to Live
The news of Bourdain’s suicide came just 48 hours after the Centers for Disease Control released an alarming report about the dramatic rise in the rate of suicides over the last two decades. In some states, the rate of suicide has increased by nearly 60 percent.
This is another solemn reminder that we cannot always know how deeply someone is suffering. Sadly, suicide is not uncommon among restaurant employees, who are at great risk of becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol in an effort to cope with depression. Bourdain’s death must become a reminder to look for warning signs, to talk to each other, and to ask for help in times of need.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).