Remembering Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain wanted us to look at the world with the same wonder he did.

Whether he was shining a light on somewhere new or making us look at the familiar through a different lens, his stories turned us into curious eaters and curious people. Whether he was eating at a fine diner or on the street, he implored us to eat, explore and think courageously. To use food as a way to better understand others and ourselves. At a time when the world feels so divided, his lessons feel more important than ever.

In honour of Bourdain Day, we’ve asked friends of The Local Tongue to share memories of the great man and stories about the influence he’s had on their lives. We might not have had the chance to say goodbye to Bourdain properly, but we can take comfort in the knowledge that his legacy lives on in the cooks, writers and intrepid travellers that he inspired. He was a man of the kitchen. He was a man of the world. He was a man with a singular voice and grasp of language. So much so that it seems fitting that the words we finish with are the same ones he used to end his breakthrough book, Kitchen Confidential.

“It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Marco Pierre White
Chef

Anthony was a beautiful boy. He was exceptional, he was special, he was clever. And apart from being a cook, he knew how to eat. There’s an art to eating. He had that great ability to know how to eat properly, to maximise pleasure, to indulge. But the most important thing is, he is one of those very few chefs who created a movement, and not a following. He was a true artist. He was a poet. He was cool. He was the Hemingway of gastronomy. And he was my friend. I admired him, I respected him. I love him dearly and I miss him greatly.

Andy Ricker
Chef, Pok Pok

One of my happiest memories of Uncle Tony is when after eating grilled pig tails, pig brain curry and luu (raw spiced pork blood with raw laap and herbs) at Huang Him Tong in Mae On, Chiang Mai, he declared it the best meal he had ever eaten in Thailand. That was a massive shout out to the folks of the province who have been making this food for generations. It helped move the needle for western folk’s perception of this kind of food as “weird” or “gross” and only-eaten-on-a-dare, to that of delicious and worth seeking out. 

Andy Ricker and Anthony Bourdain in Chiang Mai. Photography: Courtesy of Andy Ricker

Fergus Henderson
Chef and co-founder, St. John

The first moment Anthony came into my life was at St. John. He had arrived for supper. It was one of those nights in the kitchen when everyone was just a bit down a bit gloomy. But help was at hand. Anthony rocked up to the kitchen, with a personality bigger than life, got down on his knees and said, ”you guys rock.” Just a few words of encouragement brought happiness and equilibrium back. He had a knack of bringing energy, fun and games to the table. The room was always better with Anthony in it.

Trevor Gulliver
CEO and co-founder, St. John

Anthony was always such a great supporter of Fergus and of St. John, writing kind things along our stubborn path. We were heading up into the winery this time last year for our annual Fête du Vin when the news just broke across our phones and machines. We were able to raise a glass to his memory in a setting that we know that he would have enjoyed. He’s much missed.

Matt Goulding
Publisher and co-founder, Roads & Kingdoms

Eight kilometres. Probably the most famous eight-kilometre drive in the culinary world — the eight kilometres that separate the town of Roses from El Bulli, considered the greatest restaurant of the first part of the 21st century. Every food writer who made the pilgrimage to the Catalan institution felt compelled to begin his or her story with a vivid description of the bumps and bruises one must endure before sitting down to the 40-course modernist masterpiece. 

Tony and I were filming a series for the release of the new Parts Unknown website that we created together along with our team from Roads & Kingdoms. We decided that we’d film in Catalonia, a place with special significance for Tony since he’d filmed there many times over the years with Ferran and Albert Adria. It also happens to be my home, so the idea was that I’d take him around to show him a bit of the world I had discovered. To ask him the questions. It was surreal and magical and all a little bit terrifying. 

On the second day of shooting, we found ourselves in Roses, about to cover those famous eight kilometers to the beach below El Bulli, where the brothers Adria were preparing a sunset seafood feast. The series was sponsored by Land Rover, and up until then, I had been driving, offering Tony a chance to distance himself from the light branding of it all. But as we approached the car, he asked for the keys. I told him not to worry, that I was happy to drive, but he wasn’t having it. 

We had cameras mounted on the Land Rover, and our director Kate Kunath sat in the backseat monitoring the action. I didn’t expect us to do much — it was, after all, just eight kilometers — but we wanted to be prepared just in case something happened. And something did happen. Something that I still think about all the time. I asked him questions: about returning to a place with so much significance, about whether or not he had the best job in the world, about whether he or not he ever thought about slowing down. Tony, who normally asked the questions, said a lot over the short drive, some of it hilarious, some it touching, all of it deeply revealing. I still haven’t been able to go back and watch that episode since his death, but I’m eternally grateful for the chance to drive those eight kilometers together.

Matt Goulding and Anthony Bourdain filming in Catalonia. Photography: Courtesy of Nathan Thornburgh

Cheryl Tiu
Food and travel journalist, Philippines

I never got to meet the late Anthony Bourdain but he was — and continues to be — a hero for many Filipinos. He introduced Filipino food to the world and championed our cuisine at a time when it was underrepresented and unacknowledged, specifically declaring our lechon as “the best pig ever” in a 2009 episode of No Reservations, filmed in the Philippines. He asked pertinent questions like, why, given the number of Filipinos in the US, Filipino food hasn’t really taken off — and later predicted its ascent in American food culture in 2017. On his repeat visits back to the country, he was always game to explore, and never as an authority figure but as a student, and one who genuinely wanted to learn more. He helped make Filipinos proud of our culture and cuisine, calling us “the most giving of all people on the planet.”

Tomos Parry
Chef-owner, restaurant Brat

My first encounter with Anthony Bourdain was when I left my first kitchen job back in very rural Wales. I was 15 years old and passionate about food. The head chef said I probably wouldn’t find a kitchen that could progress me in my small rural hometown and gave me a departing gift – a copy of Kitchen Confidential. He told me, “this will give you a taste of what’s to come.” It threw me in and from then I was hooked on restaurant culture. It transported me to this new exciting world. It fed me inspiration through a mix of high energy and nervous excitement for what could potentially be in front of me. Reading this book took me from my rural sleepy town into the bustling highs and lows of busy restaurants. It was a momentous moment in my cooking journey, which I will forever be thankful to Anthony Bourdain for. 

John Martin
Publisher and co-founder, Munchies

There’s an apocryphal old Brian Eno quote about how not many people bought the first Velvet Underground record but everyone who did started a band. Bourdain’s influence is kind of like that, except that millions of people bought his books and watched his shows. And while not everyone became a chef, we all walked away with a better appreciation of food and the world we live in.

Margot Henderson
Chef-owner, Rochelle Canteen

The last day I saw that gorgeous man was the day after Britain had voted for Brexit. We were all so shocked and upset and couldn’t quite believe it. In walked Anthony, so handsome and smiling away with that twinkle in his eye. A bit tired and scruffy from jet lag, as always. It had been a few years since we had seen each other. It was great to see him. He had great empathy for the moment he found himself in. We sat in the garden at Rochelle and had lunch, well, we pretended it was lunch as it was only11am. Anthony was chatting away in that effortless charming way of his. Making us all feel better and stronger as he spread the word of food and culture across the world.

Duncan Welgemoed
Chef, Africola

Anthony Bourdain’s impact on me was profound. I remember reading Kitchen Confidential when I was a young cook and feeling a sense of belonging within my industry. His words were my thoughts, the familiar taste of the daily grind. Each experience dripping off the page and consumed by my mind. His writing gave me pride in my vocation. It opened my eyes to the true kitchen underbelly and helped me embrace this subculture I call home. [French-Cuban American writer] Anaïs Nin once wrote, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” I am forever grateful we were able to share that feast with Anthony, even when sometimes we were left with a bone in the throat. Vale Tony.

Neil Perry
Chef, Rockpool Group

I first met Anthony Bourdain many years ago in New York. Subsequently, we would see each other in New York a few times more and at culinary conferences around the world. I also had the opportunity to take him to my favourite Uyghur restaurant in Sydney. Every time, we would enjoy lively conversation on food, travel and restaurants. His book of course was massively entertaining. It exposed the underbelly of ordinary restaurants and restaurant life, along with his own struggles that the hospitality industry seems to throw up. He loved nothing more than to question, query and dive into the taste, texture, origin and history of food. His curious nature was likely his strongest character trait. I know I certainly feel life was richer with Anthony in it. It’s very sad to see such a great communicator and lover of travel and food leave us way too early.

Shirin Bhandari
Food and travel journalist, India

In November 2015, I was working on a travel piece on the food trail of the Grand Trunk Road in Punjab, India. It was submitted to one of Anthony Bourdain’s funded projects called Roads and Kingdoms. Nearing Christmas 2015, a friend invited me to his pub in downtown Manila, Philippines to be part of a closed set taping for Manila’s Parts Unknown. The pub is a local haunt for journalists. We spent that rainy day with Tony and his amazing team, sipping on Philippine rum and nibbling on spicy garlic pork chorizos, under the festive Philippine Christmas parols. I had the privilege of meeting him personally. He was generous to spare some of his time to talk. I mentioned I was working on a piece for Roads and Kingdoms, which surprised him. We spoke about food culture in my hometown of Amritsar, India. The conversation changed my life. Tony promised to read my work once he got back to New York. A year later, I was asked to write for Parts Unknown which is one of the highlights of my career. It was so unexpected, and this act of kindness from Tony opened doors that would have remained shut. He gave people like me a chance to have our stories heard, and for that, I will forever be grateful. The earnings went to purchase a laptop that I continue to write with. There is not a day that goes by as my fingers touch the keyboard that I don’t think of Tony. This week, I was able to pitch my first feature documentary at the Tribeca Film Institute.  All of these accomplishments would not have been possible without his influence, humour, and views on the world. Thank you for everything, Tony. I hope you are at peace. You are sorely missed.

Will Goldfarb
Chef, Room 4 Dessert

In May 2000 I was likely being bounced out of yet another youth hostel in Bondi Beach, Australia. Or worse, tying my bag to my arm so that when I slept in the dreary boarding house with the cold ass outdoor showers, nobody could take my stuff without waking me. Or even worse, desperately seeking the after-after-after party, located only by following a random assortment of posters tacked to the city’s telephone poles. My precise whereabouts remain mercifully unknown. What I do know is, at that time, all of these seemingly incoherent and rambling passages in a young cook’s life were all of a sudden cool. And not just to me and my friends. The ragtag collection of has-beens, never will-bes and the few flashes of brilliance that comprise nearly all kitchens were validated. We meant something. We were all part of a journey that existed beyond our kitchen. Not merely a by-product of the shitty restaurant development system, but a product in and of itself. And it didn’t just happen. No, the thrill and pride of grinding it out in the trenches had arrived courtesy of a cult release book, no less. All of the bitter and nasty detours became merely the way. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was honest, and it meant something. It was about food and pots and pans and life and struggle, and nobody before or since has produced anything like it. It wasn’t about fine dining. It was about cooking. Kitchen Confidential changed the idea of what it means to be part of the corps. Anthony Bourdain gave and gives meaning to a lonely shared journey. May he rest in peace.

Dan Hong
Chef, Merivale Group

I remember the early episodes of Tony’s television series, A Cook’s Tour. In one of the episodes, Tony goes to Singapore for the first time. Local food expert KF Seetoh of Makansutra fame takes him to Sin Huat Eating House and they have a seafood feast including the legendary crab bee hoon. I made it my mission to go there about eight years ago and I wasn’t disappointed. It was one of the best meals of my life. Yes, the service was horrific and the meal was expensive, but that same guy who cooked for Tony and KF back then was cooking for me. A one-man team, taking the orders and cooking for every table personally. It was unforgettable.

Robin Gill
Chef, The Dairy

Anthony paved the way for chefs in our industry to make it big. From street food in Bangkok to three-stars in Manhattan, he opened our world to the public. In doing that he brought an air of intrigue, respect and excitement around our weird and wonderful industry. 

Analiese Gregory
Chef, Australia

I remember being a naïve 16-year-old who had freshly signed herself out of school and into catering college in Auckland. One of my classmates handed me a second-hand copy of Kitchen Confidential. It was wild. It was a journey into a world I had never seen or understood. A world of drugs, of food, of rock ‘n roll lifestyle choices. It blew my little mind. The next year I read A Cook’s Tour and it cemented that I needed to get out of New Zealand and go live in London. It opened the doors of the world to me in a way that didn’t happen in the pre-iPhone days. Suffice to say, I moved to London and the rest is history. 

Stephen Toman
Chef, OX Belfast

Kitchen culture used to be a lot different to how it is now. It was tougher, the hours longer and the pay much less, there was no Google or smartphones. We had books, which were an expensive luxury to us. If a chef managed to get the newest, hottest book, they would lend it out to the rest of the guys in the kitchen once they had finished. You had to read it and absorb it fast, because there was always somebody next in line. The two books that inspired us the most were White Heat by Marco Pierre White and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. We always made sure the new guys in the kitchen read them. We quoted them every day. They made us push harder. They encouraged us. They made us feel proud of our chosen career path. Kitchen Confidential is a masterpiece. It was our song. Anthony Bourdain wrote about the life of a chef, the demands of a busy service, the long hours, the crazy characters and the late nights. It was as if he was talking about our own kitchen, our own crew. He was one of us. The more hardcore the service, the better. Cuts and burns were medals, not hazards of the job. Everything was referred to as if going into battle, earning our stripes. Everything was rock ‘n roll. The day we learned of his passing we spent quoting our favourite parts of Kitchen Confidential. There were a few young chefs in my team that hadn’t heard of the book. Which of course, I had to rectify. That night I ordered four copies to hold in the kitchen for anyone that comes through. Anthony Bourdain was the voice of our generation and now it’s up to us to pass it on. RIP Anthony Bourdain.

Paolo Marchi
Founder, Identità Golose

For me, the strongest message that Anthony Bourdain has left us is not the thousands of useful tips and practical advice to the four corners of the planet, but the philosophy that guided all of his choices, which I can condense in a few words: you have a head, use it. Think first-hand and don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t simply follow the current. Don’t let others decide who deserves and who doesn’t or decide what is right to do and what is better to ignore. So many chefs live their lives chasing stars and rankings, but Bourdain was comfortably Bourdain. He was true and sincere, always ready to defend his opinions and choices. He was never banal and predictable. Even when it came, unfortunately, to leaving this world.

Monica Brown
Publicist, Lotus International

I was working at a restaurant called Soho Soho in London when I first met Anthony Bourdain. Those days were hardcore. The restaurant guests, mostly media people, were full of loud, dramatic energy and strong booze. It also played host to mice and cockroaches and memorable lock-ins. The food was old school. Whole fish would arrive and butchery of huge carcasses was standard. I remember this tall, lanky American guy walking in. We were told he was a “somebody” and had written a book. He loved the restaurant and wanted all the UK publicity shots taken there for Kitchen Confidential. Apparently, it reminded him of his place in NYC. So, we hung out. And we kinda clicked. He was sexy, he was gorgeous, he was interesting. He talked about New York City. I had never been and was mesmerised. He told me he loved my accent and my eyes. We talked about travel — we were both obsessed — and food. He invited me to his book launch. Only chefs were invited and if you wore your chef’s jacket you got free booze. So, I nicked a jacket from the kitchen of course. We tried to hang out but he had to shake hands and sign books. Still, he made sure I always had a drink in my hand. Eventually, I split to go on to another party. We grabbed a moment and said goodbye. It was just a moment, but it was a nice one. He was such a gentleman and had manners I hadn’t experienced before in London. For the stories of the drugs and the wild days and crazy kitchen goings-on, he had that kind of vulnerable innocence that you rarely come across and at the same time, he had stature. He was a man, actually a real gentleman but he had the kind of energy that intrigued me and made me a little scared for him at the same time. He then became, of course, the Anthony Bourdain we all know from TV. I remember him as a gentle gentleman, with enormous charisma and energy. He seemed to love living and while that vulnerability never left, I guess, it set him apart and opened him up to the excitement and experience of life. Through his lens, we shared that world with him on so many occasions. I’m glad we all got to know him a little and I hope we all become a wee bit more open to that vulnerability and bravery that lets us just enjoy one another and food and life. I like to think that he’s up there somewhere sussing it all out for us, so when we follow, he will be able to tell us exactly where to go for the good stuff.

Laurie Woolever
Long-time assistant to Anthony Bourdain and co-author of Bourdain’s final cookbook, Appetites and the upcoming travel guide, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide.

[As told to People Magazine] Anthony was 44 years old when Kitchen Confidential was published, its success releasing him from hard toil in restaurant kitchens and into the life of a writer and TV host. I’m 44 now, too, my mentor and my job gone without warning; I’ve been released through Tony’s untimely death into the life of a full-time writer. It’s an utterly daunting prospect, to stare down this uncertain path without his guidance, but he set me up for success, and I owe it to him to try. It’s been a wrenching, lurching struggle to get back to that [World Travel, An Irreverent Guide] manuscript, as I grieve the enormous loss of his kind, profane, surprising and brilliant existence.

Photograph of Anthony Bourdain by Erik Tanner/Contour by Getty Images

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

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