Anthony Bourdain obituary: Celebrity chef who exposed the dark corners of New York’s restaurants

Bourdain became a celebrity when ‘Kitchen Confidential’ was published in 2000

Anthony Bourdain in 2010: he cultivated a renegade style and bad-boy persona.  Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire

Anthony Bourdain in 2010: he cultivated a renegade style and bad-boy persona. Photograph: Ian West/PA Wire

 

Anthony Bourdain
Born: June 25th, 1956
Died: June 8th, 2018

Travel host Anthony Bourdain, whose memoir Kitchen Confidential about the dark corners of New York’s restaurants started a career in television, died yesterday at 61. For the past several years, Bourdain hosted the show Parts Unknown on CNN and was working on an episode in Strasbourg, France, when he died, the network said. He killed himself in a hotel room, the network said.

In everything he did, Bourdain cultivated a renegade style and bad-boy persona. For decades, he worked 13-hour days as a line cook in restaurants in New York and the northeast of the US before he became executive chef in the 1990s at Brasserie Les Halles, serving steak frites and onion soup in lower Manhattan. He had been the chef there for eight years when he sent an unsolicited article to the New Yorker about the underbelly of the restaurant world and its deceptions.

To his surprise, the magazine accepted it and ran it – catching the attention of book editors. It resulted in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a memoir that elevated Bourdain to a celebrity chef and a new career on TV. Before he joined CNN in 2012, he spent eight seasons as the globe-trotting host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel, highlighting obscure cuisine and unknown restaurants.

Instant hero

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Bourdain became an instant hero to a certain breed of professional cooks and restaurant goers when Kitchen Confidential hit the best-seller lists in 2000. He is largely credited for defining an era of line cooks as warriors, exposing a kitchen culture in which drugs, drinking and long, brutal hours on the line in professional kitchens were both a badge of honour and a curse.

Bourdain was open about his past addictions and penchant for alcohol in his writing, and described his struggles with cocaine in the 1980s. No Reservations largely focused on food and Bourdain himself. But on Parts Unknown, he turned the lens around, delving into different countries around the world and the people who lived in them. He explored politics and history with locals, often over plates of food and drinks.

Bourdain also famously appeared with US president Barack Obama on an episode of Parts Unknown in Vietnam in 2016. Over cold beers, grilled pork and noodles, they discussed Vietnamese-US relations, Obama’s final months in office and fatherhood.

Leading voice

Bourdain had emerged as a leading male voice against sexual abuse in the wake of rape and abuse allegations against the film producer Harvey Weinstein and others. His girlfriend, actor Asia Argento (42), said in a lengthy story in the New Yorker that she endured multiple attacks and manipulation by Weinstein, saying that he sexually assaulted her in a hotel room when she was 21. She said she had left her native Italy and moved to Berlin to escape the tension and victim-shaming culture she said she experienced at home. Last month, she gave a speech at Cannes that stunned the room. “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes,” Argento said. “This festival was his hunting ground.

‘Lion’s den’

In an interview with IndieWire magazine this month, Bourdain called her speech a nuclear bomb. “I was so proud of her,” he said. “It was absolutely fearless to walk right into the lion’s den and say what she said, the way she said it. It was an incredibly powerful moment, I thought. I am honoured to know someone who has the strength and fearlessness to do something like that.”

Bourdain continued speaking out boldly on the subject of sexual abuse and harassment, taking on everyone from Alec Baldwin to chef Mario Batali, who is under investigation for sexual assault charges. Several women have come forward and described repeated incidents of Batali groping them and of unwanted kisses and sexual propositions.