Anthony Michael Bourdain (June 25, 1956 – June 8, 2018) was an American celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and television personality who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition. He was considered one of the most influential chefs in the world.
Bourdain in 2014
|Born||Anthony Michael Bourdain
June 25, 1956
New York City, U.S.
|Died||June 8, 2018
Kaysersberg-Vignoble, Haut-Rhin, France
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Spouse(s)||Nancy Putkoski (m. 1985; div. 2005)
Ottavia Busia (m. 2007)
|Cooking style||French; eclectic|
Bourdain was a 1978 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of a number of professional kitchens in his long career, which included many years spent as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan. He first became known for his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000). His first food and world-travel television show, A Cook's Tour, ran for 35 episodes on the Food Network in 2002 and 2003. In 2005, he began hosting the Travel Channel's culinary and cultural adventure programs Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (2005–2012) and The Layover (2011–2013). In 2013, he began a three-season run as a judge on The Taste, and concurrently switched his travelogue programming to CNN to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
Though best known for his culinary achievements and television presentations, along with several books on food and cooking and travel adventures, Bourdain also wrote both fiction and historical nonfiction.
Anthony Bourdain, called "Tony" by friends and colleagues, was born June 25, 1956 in New York City. The elder of two sons of Pierre Bourdain, an executive for Columbia Records, and Gladys Bourdain (née Sacksman), a staff editor for The New York Times, Bourdain spent most of his childhood in Leonia, New Jersey. His younger brother, Christopher, became a currency analyst and made appearances on some of his television series.
Bourdain said he was raised without religion, but that his family was Catholic on his father's side and Jewish on his mother's side. His paternal grandparents were French: his paternal grandfather emigrated from Arcachon to New York following World War I, and his father grew up speaking French and spent many summers in France. Bourdain was a Boy Scout.
Culinary training and career
Bourdain wrote that his love of food was aroused in his youth while on a family vacation in France, when he tried his first oyster on a fisherman's boat. He graduated from the Dwight-Englewood School—an independent coeducational college-preparatory day school in Englewood, New Jersey—in 1973, then enrolled at Vassar College, but dropped out after two years. He worked in seafood restaurants in Provincetown, Massachusetts, while attending Vassar, which inspired his decision to pursue cooking as a career.
Bourdain attended The Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 1978. From there he went on to run various restaurant kitchens in New York City—including the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and Sullivan's.
In 1998, Bourdain became executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles. Based in Manhattan, at the time the brand had additional restaurants in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Tokyo. Bourdain remained executive chef there for many years, and, even when no longer formally employed at Les Halles, maintained a relationship with the restaurant, which described him in January 2014 as their "chef-at-large". Les Halles closed in 2017, after filing for bankruptcy.
Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000), a New York Times bestseller, was an expansion of his 1999 New Yorker article "Don't Eat Before Reading This." A sequel to the book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, was published in 2010.
He wrote two more bestselling nonfiction books: A Cook's Tour (2001), an account of his food and travel exploits around the world, written in conjunction with his first television series of the same title, and The Nasty Bits (2006), another collection of essays centered on food. His additional books include Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, the culinary mysteries Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, a hypothetical historical investigation, Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, and No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach.
His articles and essays appeared in many publications, including in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Times of London, the Los Angeles Times, The Observer, Gourmet, Maxim, and Esquire (UK) magazines; Scotland on Sunday, The Face, Food Arts, Limb by Limb, BlackBook, The Independent, Best Life, the Financial Times, and Town & Country. His blog for the third season of Top Chef was nominated for a Webby Award for Best Blog (in the Cultural/Personal category) in 2008.
As series host
A Cook's Tour (2002–2003)
The acclaim surrounding Bourdain's memoir Kitchen Confidential led to an offer by the Food Network for him to host his own food and world-travel show, A Cook's Tour, which premiered in January 2002. It ran for 35 episodes, through 2003.
No Reservations (2005–2012)
In July 2005, he premiered a new, somewhat similar television series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. As a further result of the immense popularity of Kitchen Confidential, the Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential aired in 2005, in which the character Jack Bourdain is based loosely on his biography and persona.
In July 2006, he and his crew were in Beirut filming an episode of No Reservations when the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out unexpectedly after the crew had filmed only a few hours of footage for the food and travel show. His producers compiled behind-the-scenes footage of him and his production staff, including not only their initial attempts to film the episode, but also their firsthand encounters with Hezbollah supporters, their days of waiting for news with other expatriates in a Beirut hotel, and their eventual escape aided by a fixer (unseen in the footage), whom Bourdain dubbed Mr. Wolf after Harvey Keitel's character in Pulp Fiction. Bourdain and his crew were finally evacuated with other American citizens, on the morning of July 20, by the United States Marine Corps. The Beirut No Reservations episode, which aired on August 21, 2006, was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2007.
The Layover (2011–2013)
The Travel Channel announced in July 2011 that it would be adding a second one-hour ten-episode Bourdain show to be titled The Layover, which premiered November 21, 2011. Each episode featured an exploration of a city that can be undertaken within an air travel layover of 24 to 48 hours. The series ran for 20 episodes, through February 2013. Bourdain executive produced a similar show hosted by celebrities called The Getaway, which lasted two seasons on Esquire Network.
Parts Unknown (2013–2018)
In May 2012, Bourdain announced that he would be leaving the Travel Channel. In December he explained on his blog that his departure was due to his frustration with the channel's new ownership using his voice and image to make it seem as if he were endorsing a car brand, and the channel's creating three "special episodes" consisting solely of clips from the seven official episodes of that season. He went on to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown for CNN. The program focuses on other cuisines, cultures and politics and premiered April 14, 2013.
President Barack Obama was featured on the program in an episode filmed in Vietnam that aired in September 2016. The show was filmed and is set in places as diverse as Libya, Tokyo, the Punjab region, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Armenia.
Top Chef and other guest appearances
Between 2012 and 2017, he served as narrator and executive producer for several episodes of the award-winning PBS series The Mind of a Chef. The series moved from PBS to Facebook Watch in 2017. From 2013 to 2015 he was an executive producer and appeared as a judge and mentor in ABC's cooking-competition show The Taste. He earned an Emmy nomination for each season.
Bourdain appeared five times as guest judge on Bravo's Top Chef reality cooking competition program: first in the November 2006 "Thanksgiving" episode of Season 2, and again in June 2007 in the first episode of Season 3, judging the "exotic surf and turf" competition that featured ingredients including abalone, alligator, black chicken, geoduck and eel. His third appearance was also in Season 3, as an expert on air travel, judging the competitors' airplane meals. He also wrote weekly blog commentaries for many of the Season 3 episodes, filling in as a guest blogger while Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio was busy opening a new restaurant. He next appeared as a guest judge for the opening episode of Season 4, in which pairs of chefs competed head-to-head in the preparation of various classic dishes, and again in the Season 4 Restaurant Wars episode, temporarily taking the place of head judge Tom Colicchio, who was at a charity event. He was also one of the main judges on Top Chef All-Stars (Top Chef, Season 8). He made a guest appearance on the August 6, 2007 New York City episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and Zimmern himself appeared as a guest on the New York City episode of Bourdain's No Reservations airing the same day. On October 20, 2008 Bourdain hosted a special, At the Table with Anthony Bourdain, on the Travel Channel.
Other series and animation
Bourdain appeared in an episode of TLC's reality show Miami Ink, aired on August 28, 2006, in which artist Chris Garver tattooed a skull on his right shoulder. Bourdain, who noted it was his fourth tattoo, said that one reason for the skull was that he wished to balance the ouroboros tattoo he had inked on his opposite shoulder in Malaysia, while filming Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. He was a consultant and writer for the television series Treme.
In 2010, he appeared on Nick Jr.'s Yo Gabba Gabba! as Dr. Tony. In 2011 he voiced himself in a cameo on an episode of The Simpsons titled "The Food Wife", in which Marge, Lisa, and Bart start a food blog called The Three Mouthkateers. He appeared in a 2013 episode of the animated series Archer (S04E07), voicing chef Lance Casteau, a parody of himself.
From 2015–2017, Bourdain hosted Raw Craft, a series of short videos released on YouTube. The series followed Bourdain as he visited various artisans who produce various craft items by hand, including iron skillets, suits, saxophones, and kitchen knives. The series was produced by William Grant & Sons to promote their Balvenie distillery's products.
Ecco Press announced in September 2011 that Bourdain would have his own publishing line, Anthony Bourdain Books, which would include acquiring between three and five titles per year that "reflect his remarkably eclectic tastes". The first books that the imprint published, released in 2013, include L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi, Tien Nguyen, and Natasha Phan, Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn, and Pain Don't Hurt by Mark Miller. Bourdain also announced plans to publish a book by Marilyn Hagerty.
In describing the line, he said, "This will be a line of books for people with strong voices who are good at something—who speak with authority. Discern nothing from this initial list—other than a general affection for people who cook food and like food. The ability to kick people in the head is just as compelling to us—as long as that's coupled with an ability to vividly describe the experience. We are just as intent on crossing genres as we are enthusiastic about our first three authors. It only gets weirder from here."
Shortly after Bourdain's death, HarperCollins announced the publishing line would shut down after the remaining works under contract are published.
Bourdain appeared as himself in the 2015 film The Big Short, in which he used seafood stew as an analogy for a collateralized debt obligation. He also produced and starred in Wasted! The Story of Food Waste.
Drew Magary, in a column for GQ, reflected that Bourdain was heir in spirit to Hunter S. Thompson. The Smithsonian Institution declared Bourdain "the original rock star" of the culinary world, while his public persona was characterized by Gothamist as "culinary bad boy". Due to his liberal use of profanity and sexual references in his television show No Reservations, the network added viewer-discretion advisories to each episode.
Bourdain was known for consuming exotic local specialty dishes, having eaten "sheep testicles in Morocco, ant eggs in Puebla, Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of a traditional Inuit seal hunt, and an entire cobra—beating heart, blood, bile, and meat—in Vietnam". Bourdain was quoted as saying that a Chicken McNugget was the most disgusting thing he ever ate, although he declared that the unwashed warthog rectum he ate in Namibia was "the worst meal of [his] life", along with the fermented shark he ate in Iceland.
Bourdain was noted for his put-downs of celebrity chefs, such as Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Sandra Lee, and Rachael Ray, and appeared irritated by both the overt commercialism of the celebrity cooking industry and its lack of culinary authenticity. He voiced a "serious disdain for food demigods like Alan Richman, Alice Waters, and Alain Ducasse." Bourdain recognized the irony of his transformation into a celebrity chef and, to some extent, began to qualify his insults; in the 2007 New Orleans episode of No Reservations, he reconciled with Emeril Lagasse. He was consistently outspoken in his praise for chefs he admired, particularly Ferran Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak, Mario Batali, Fergus Henderson, José Andrés, Thomas Keller, Martin Picard, Éric Ripert, and Marco Pierre White, as well as his former protegé and colleagues at Brasserie Les Halles. He spoke very highly of Julia Child, saying that she "influenced the way I grew up and my entire value system."
Bourdain was also known for his sarcastic comments about vegan and vegetarian activists, saying that their lifestyle is rude to the inhabitants of many countries he visits. He said he considers vegetarianism, except in the case of religious strictures as in India, a "First World luxury". He clarified that he believed Americans eat too much meat, and admired vegetarians who allow themselves to put aside their vegetarianism when they travel in order to be respectful of their hosts.
His book, The Nasty Bits, is dedicated to "Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee" of the Ramones. Bourdain declared fond appreciation for their music, as well that of other early punk bands such as Dead Boys, and The Voidoids. He said that the playing of music by Billy Joel, Elton John, or the Grateful Dead in his kitchen was grounds for firing. Joel was, however, a fan of Bourdain's, and visited the restaurant.
On both No Reservations and Parts Unknown, he dined with and interviewed many musicians, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, with a special focus on glam and punk rockers such as Alice Cooper, David Johansen, Marky Ramone and Iggy Pop. He featured contemporary band Queens of the Stone Age on No Reservations several times, and they composed and performed the theme song for Parts Unknown.
Bourdain married his high school girlfriend, Nancy Putkoski, in 1985, and they remained together for two decades, divorcing in 2005. On April 20, 2007, he married Ottavia Busia, a mixed martial artist. The couple's daughter, Ariane, was born in 2007. Bourdain noted that having to be away from his wife and child for about 250 days a year working on his television shows became a strain. Busia appeared in several episodes of No Reservations—notably the ones in Sardinia (her birthplace), Tuscany (in which she plays a disgruntled Italian diner), Rome, Rio de Janeiro, and Naples. The couple separated in 2016. In 2017, Bourdain began dating the Italian actress Asia Argento, whom he met when she appeared on the Rome episode of Parts Unknown.
Bourdain practiced the martial art Brazilian jiu-jitsu, earning a blue belt in August 2015. He won gold at the IBJJF New York Spring International Open Championship 2016, in the Middleweight Master 5 (age 56 and older) division.
Bourdain was known for having been a heavy smoker. In a nod to Bourdain's (at the time) two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, Thomas Keller once served him a 20-course tasting menu which included a mid-meal "coffee and cigarette": a coffee custard infused with tobacco, together with a foie gras mousse. Bourdain stopped cigarette smoking in the summer of 2007 for the sake of his daughter.
A former user of cocaine, heroin, and LSD, he wrote in Kitchen Confidential of his experience in a trendy SoHo restaurant in 1981: "We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to 'conceptualize.' Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, secobarbital, tuinal, amphetamine, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get."
On June 8, 2018, Bourdain was found dead of an apparent suicide by hanging in his room at the Le Chambard hotel in Kaysersberg, France. Bourdain was traveling with his friend Éric Ripert, who became worried when Bourdain missed dinner and breakfast. Christian de Rocquigny du Fayel, the public prosecutor for Colmar, said that Bourdain's body bore no signs of violence, and that toxicology tests would determine whether drugs or medications were involved. Christian de Rocquigny later disclosed that Bourdain's toxicology results were negative for narcotics, showing only a trace of a therapeutic nonnarcotic medication. Bourdain was working on an episode of Parts Unknown in nearby Strasbourg.
Reactions and tributes
Bourdain's mother, Gladys Bourdain, told The New York Times: "He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this."
Following the news of Bourdain's death, various celebrity chefs and other public figures expressed sentiments of condolence. Among them were Andrew Zimmern, Gordon Ramsay, and former astronaut Scott Kelly. CNN issued a statement, saying that Bourdain's "talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much." Regarding Bourdain, former U.S. President Barack Obama, who dined with Bourdain in Vietnam on an episode of Parts Unknown, wrote on Twitter, "He taught us about food—but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown." On June 8, 2018, CNN aired Remembering Anthony Bourdain, a tribute program.
In the days following Bourdain's death fans paid tribute to him outside his now-closed former place of employment, Brasserie Les Halles. Cooks and restaurant owners gathered together and held tribute dinners, memorials and donated net sales to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Interests and advocacy
In an assessment of Bourdain's life for The Nation, David Klion theorizes that, "Bourdain understood that the point of journalism is to tell the truth, to challenge the powerful, to expose wrongdoing. But his unique gift was to make doing all that look fun rather than grim or tedious." According to Klion, Bourdain's shows "made it possible to believe that social justice and earthly delights weren't mutually exclusive, and he pursued both with the same earnest reverence."
Bourdain advocated for communicating the value of traditional or "peasant" foods, including all of the varietal bits and unused animal parts not usually eaten by affluent, 21st-century Americans. He also praised the quality of freshly prepared street food in other countries—especially developing countries—compared to fast-food chains in the U.S.
He championed industrious Spanish-speaking immigrants–from Mexico, Ecuador, and other Central and South American countries--who are cooks and chefs in many U.S. restaurants, including upscale establishments, regardless of cuisine. He considered them talented chefs and invaluable cooks, underpaid and unrecognized even though they have become the backbone of the U.S. restaurant industry.
In 2017, Bourdain became a vocal advocate against sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, speaking out about celebrity chefs Mario Batali and John Besh and in Hollywood, particularly following his partner Asia Argento's sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Bourdain accused Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino of "complicity" in the Weinstein sex scandal.
Awards and nominations
- Bourdain was named Food Writer of the Year in 2001 by Bon Appétit magazine for Kitchen Confidential.
- A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal was named Food Book of the Year in 2002 by the British Guild of Food Writers.
- The Beirut episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which documented the experiences of Bourdain and his crew during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Programming in 2007.
- Bourdain's blog for the reality competition show Top Chef was nominated for a Webby Award for best Blog – Culture/Personal in 2008.
- In 2008, Bourdain was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America.
- In 2009 and 2011, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations won a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming.
- In 2010, Bourdain was nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming.
- In 2012, Bourdain was awarded an Honorary Clio Award, which is given to individuals who are changing the world by encouraging people to think differently.
- In 2012, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations won the Critics' Choice Best Reality Series award.
- In 2013, 2014 and 2015, Bourdain was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for The Taste.
- Each year from 2013 to 2016, Bourdain won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
- In 2014, the 2013 season of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown won a Peabody Award, which was accepted by Bourdain.
- In December 2017, The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa in the Culinary Arts to Bourdain, who graduated from the CIA with an associate degree in 1978.
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- Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical. New York: Bloomsbury. 2001. ISBN 1-58234-133-8.
- Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. Bloomsbury. 2004. ISBN 978-1-58234-180-4.
- The Nasty Bits. New York: Bloomsbury. 2006. ISBN 978-1-59691-360-8.
- No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. New York: Bloomsbury. 2007. ISBN 978-1-59691-447-6.
- Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. Ecco/HarperCollins. 2010. ISBN 0-06-171894-7.
- Appetites: A Cookbook. Ecco Press. 2016. ISBN 978-0-06-240995-9.
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- Gone Bamboo. New York: Villard Books. 1997. ISBN 0-679-44880-2.
- Bobby Gold. Edinburgh: Canongate Crime. 2001. ISBN 1-84195-145-5.
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My dad worked two jobs as a salesman in Willoughby's camera store in New York and as a floor manager at a record store. Later, he scored a nice gig at Columbia Records.
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