Anthony Bourdain was more than a 'celebrity chef'

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

It seems as if everyone is publicly reacting to the death of Anthony Bourdain, who was found after an apparent suicide in a hotel room in France on Friday. Not only did former President Barack Obama, who appeared on Bourdain’s Parts Unknown in 2016, share his condolences, but so did President Trump, even though Bourdain was a vocal critic of the president.

Anthony Bourdain traveled in an endless loop around the world and brought viewers along for the journey, which included food but certainly wasn’t limited to it. (Image: Anthony Bourdain via Instagram)

In all these stories about Bourdain today, he’s called a celebrity chef — and all his various food shows, books, and a schooling at the Culinary Institute of America support that — but a more apt description came from his friend and fellow chef Eric Ripert, who discovered his body this morning, and that’s “storyteller.” And not just any storyteller: “One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many,” Ripert wrote in his social media tribute.

Yes, food was a focal point on Parts Unknown, but more so was the conversation. Bourdain traveled around the globe — from Appalachia to war-torn countries. His cameras took us to places we’ll never get to go and introduced us to faces we’ll never meet. Over meals, he’d discuss current events. He’d discuss history. He’d discuss politics. He’d listen. It was inspiring conversation. It was real life. And, yes, at the root there was food — a common link between us all.

Bourdain wasn’t famous until his 40s — and he didn’t even have a savings account until he was 44 (he had a lot of demons, and they expressed themselves even more in his younger years) — so in less than two decades he made his tremendous impact on pop culture. His CNN show began in 2013 and is now in its 11th season. His girlfriend, actress Asia Argento, just directed an episode. (Read her statement on his death.) Prior to that, he had No Reservations (2005–2012) and The Layover (2011–2013) on the Travel Channel, and A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network (2002-2003).

He also appeared on other cooking shows. He was a guest judge on Top Chef, not pulling any punches with his criticism, and a judge on ABC’s The Taste for three seasons. He also hosted a web series Raw Craft.

Bourdain often produced his own shows and others — documentaries like Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste, and Mind of a Chef, for which he was also the narrator. At 61, he said that he considered retirement but then unconsidered it. “I’ve tried,” he told People. “I just think I’m just too nervous, neurotic, driven. I would have had a different answer a few years ago. I might have deluded myself into thinking that I’d be happy in a hammock or gardening. But no, I’m quite sure I can’t. I’m going to pretty much die in the saddle.” Sadly, of course, he did. He was shooting Parts Unknown when he died.

Just days ago, he was riding a tandem bike with Ripert while the crew recorded:

Bourdain’s storytelling really began though with his books, written with a journalistic view of the restaurant industry, including 2000’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and 2007’s No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. However, he also wrote Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, about a New York cook who was accused of spreading typhoid at the turn of the 20th century. He even wrote crime stories: The Bobby Gold Stories. His editor said that at his time of death he was working on a more “personal” book.

Bourdain was also outspoken about his personal convictions, most recently supporting his girlfriend, who is one of Harvey Weinstein’s many accusers. Not only did he hold a dinner party for Argento when she met with fellow accuser Rose McGowan, but he also blasted Alec Baldwin for weighing in on how women should be handling the #MeToo movement and urged news outlets that had buried stories on Weinstein to take a hard look back.

In fact, he never shied away from a public dispute over perceived wrongs. For instance, he took on Paula Deen in 2012 when she started promoting a $500-a-month diabetes treatment while continuing to push her “excess without guilt” food empire. “I find it in excruciatingly bad taste,” he said, before adding, “It’s unconscionable. Cynical. And greedy! $30 million dollars a year. How much money do you need?” Other so-called celebrity chefs, such as Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray, have also been on the receiving end of his criticism. (The latter two had their payback at On the Chopping Block: A Roast of Anthony Bourdain.)

And his scorn was not limited to celebs. He drew correlations between disgraced producer Weinstein and Trump, telling Eater just after the election, “There’s so many reasons to find the guy troubling.”

Trump must not have gotten the memo on that one, because he spoke out today, calling Bourdain’s death “very sad” and adding that he enjoyed the chef’s TV show and found the accomplished author and world traveler to be “quite a character.”

For his part, Obama remembered shooting their episode, during which they had a $6 meal and a beer in Hanoi. “’Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.’ This is how I’ll remember Tony,” he wrote. “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. We’ll miss him.”

Yes, the world will miss that storyteller for sure.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-74. You can also go online here

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