Anthony Bourdain, the author of food writing essential reading Kitchen Confidential and the star of CNN’s Parts Unknown, has died. The news came from CNN, the producers of Parts Unknown, who noted that the cause of death was suicide. Chef Eric Ripert found Bourdain in a hotel room in France, where the two were shooting an episode of Parts Unknown. He was 61.
It’s hard to find a food enthusiast, chef, or writer who wasn’t inspired by Bourdain. Most food writers read Kitchen Confidential early in their careers. Chefs met him during his travels, for either Parts Unknown or his Travel Channel show, No Reservations.
In “fabulously quirky, obsessively talented” Portland — his words — Bourdain ate Voodoo Doughnuts (“I kind of wish I were drunk before eating this”), talked pizza with Brian Spangler of Apizza Scholls, and admired the food-themed tattoos of Portland’s chefs. “I know what the Pacific Northwest is about,” he says in an episode of No Reservations. “It’s about obsession.”
While shooting that episode, Nick Zukin of Mi Mero Mole helped his team find a restaurant to visit for a segment on tattooed chefs. He, Bourdain, and a group of inked cooks sat out on the patio at Apizza Scholls, before heading to Bar of the Gods. “He was exactly the guy in real life that he was on the screen,” Zukin remembers. “He was very down to earth, and you can tell he enjoyed being a part of the people.”
Spangler echoed Zukin’s memories, saying he was quickly taken with how genuine Bourdain was. “He didn’t turn it on for the camera... It wasn’t a show, it wasn’t an act,” Spangler says. After shooting the segment and closing his restaurant that day, Spangler noticed Bourdain had disappeared — but not for long. He walked back to the restaurant, said, “You’re coming with me,” and brought the pizzaiolo to a bar. “We sat around for hours getting wasted on tequila — he drank me under the table completely — but he wanted to hear my story,” Spangler remembers. “He treated you like family, like a friend.”
On social media, Portland restaurant writers, chefs, and food professionals remembered Bourdain as a gracious and courageous voice in the world of food, an empathetic-but-sarcastic diner with a sense of humor that didn’t go too far. Pok Pok founder Andy Ricker, who traveled with Bourdain to Thailand for Parts Unknown, posted a photo of the two of them, writing, “I am proud to have known this man a little, maybe enough to call him friend.”
Andrea Damewood, the restaurant critic for the Portland Mercury, remembers the two chefs’ trip to Thailand, as well. On Twitter, she shared a memory of going to Chiang Mai to eat raw pork blood soup because of that episode. “In my early 20s, @Bourdain’s writing got me into restaurants and food,” she writes. “His influence is unmeasurable.” The Oregonian’s Michael Russell agreed, adding, “Most of us will think first and foremost of Bourdain the TV host, and that’s right. But you can’t overstate his impact as a writer.”
Freelance food writer Kirsten Saladow tweeted her own retrospective, recounting her time working with Bourdain early in her career. “I barely knew him, but he took the time to know everybody’s name,” she remembers. In a threaded tweet, she adds, “It made me feel seen in a world that I didn’t fit into well. And it gave me confidence to speak up in meetings. It was such a small kindness, but it spoke volumes.”
I was lucky enough to work with Anthony Bourdain on projects early in my career. I barely knew him, but he took the time to know everybody’s name. As someone just starting out - him saying hello to me and treating me the same way he did the same as he did the VPs gave me a lot.— Kirsten (@hellokirst) June 8, 2018
Another food writer, former MIX Magazine and Eater PDX editor Danielle Centoni, used a word popping up in almost all of the local retrospectives: gutted. “Absolutely shocked and gutted by this,” she writes. “I feel like in many ways he was the conscience of the food world. He wasn’t afraid to admit to his mistakes and pushed us all to do the same, and do better.”
Absolutely shocked and gutted by this. I feel like in many ways he was the conscience of the food world. He wasn’t afraid to admit to his mistakes and pushed us all to do the same, and do better. https://t.co/PIj90z7hZF— Danielle Centoni (@daniellecentoni) June 8, 2018
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin: https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/.
Update: June 8, 2018, 12:23 p.m.
This story has been updated to include personal memories from chefs Nick Zukin and Brian Spangler
• Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 [Eater]
• No Reservations: Pacific Northwest [Travel Channel]
• The Parts Unknown Thailand Episode: Just the One-Liners [Eater]
• Andy Ricker [Instagram]
• Andrea Damewood [Twitter]
• Danielle Centoni [Twitter]