Anthony Bourdain, Chef, Author And TV Host Dies At 61

Jun 8, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 5:50 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Many people who love food, travel and good television are in shock and mourning today. The chef, TV host and author Anthony Bourdain has died in France at the age of 61. He was filming an episode of his award-winning show "Parts Unknown" for CNN. The network confirmed the cause of death was suicide. NPR's Rose Friedman has this appreciation of Bourdain's life and career.

ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: Sometimes it was about the food.

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ANTHONY BOURDAIN: The broth is wonderful.

FRIEDMAN: Anthony Bourdain traveled and ate in Mississippi...

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BOURDAIN: Is that fried okra there? I'll have a little of that.

FRIEDMAN: ...In Budapest...

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BOURDAIN: Deeply textured pork flavor.

FRIEDMAN: ...In Vietnam...

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BOURDAIN: People are put on Earth for various purposes. I was put on Earth to do this - eat noodles right here.

FRIEDMAN: ...And France.

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BOURDAIN: If you could please say how honored and grateful I am to be here, this is a dream come true.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

FRIEDMAN: But over the years, Bourdain's show focused less on food.

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BOURDAIN: Some of you have noticed and complained that I don't really describe food anymore on the show. That's a deliberate strategy on my part, actually.

FRIEDMAN: Ruth Reichl is a cookbook author and the former editor of Gourmet magazine. She says Bourdain used his shows to connect people.

RUTH REICHL: Those shows are - they're political, and they're humane. And when food television first started, it was remarkably stupid. And he was one of the people who really changed it and, you know, understood that food is a lens. It's a way to see the world.

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BOURDAIN: How old is he? Does he even remember the planes?

FRIEDMAN: In an episode of "No Reservations" shot in Laos, Bourdain met a man named Puviyin (ph) who lost a leg and an arm to an unexploded American bomb.

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BOURDAIN: Americans - every American should see the results of war. You know, it's not a movie. I think it's the least I can do - is to see the world with open eyes.

FRIEDMAN: Anthony Bourdain was born in New York in 1956 and grew up in New Jersey. He started cooking after dropping out of Vassar College, first on Cape Cod, later Park Avenue. He skyrocketed to fame with his memoir in 2000. "Kitchen Confidential" was a peek into the pirate-ship atmosphere of restaurant kitchens.

HELEN ROSNER: People would walk in, and they would only want to buy "Kitchen Confidential" or "Harry Potter."

FRIEDMAN: Helen Rosner is the food correspondent for The New Yorker, but she was working in a bookstore when it came out. She says the book taught readers to avoid brunch, not to order fish on Mondays. And it exposed other issues - drug use, anger and exploitation.

ROSNER: He wanted to make sure that you knew that behind the kitchen doors, there were uncountable numbers of Mexican laborers, frequently from other Latin American countries as well, who were working for low wages, who often did the bulk of the work and who were almost never sung as the heroes of restaurants.

FRIEDMAN: Bill Buford is a food writer. He was a good friend of Bourdain's, and he was the fiction editor at The New Yorker magazine when Bourdain's manuscript arrived. It came via Bourdain's mother, who'd given it to the wife of David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker.

BILL BUFORD: It was good storytelling. It was good feel for detail. It was gossipy. It was insider. Here was somebody who wasn't just a chef and just wasn't a cook or wasn't a journalist. Here was somebody who was really a writer.

FRIEDMAN: Buford said his friend's life was changed by the book. He became a celebrity, one whose great strength was knowing what food really is.

BUFORD: Food is stories. And it's not just a recipe. And it's not just dinner. It's culture and pathos and family and tragedy and death and birth and nutrition and ecology and the globe. It was exciting to him because it was exciting as a story.

FRIEDMAN: Anthony Bourdain told a lot of stories, but he kept coming back to one theme in particular. After lunch with the man from Laos who lost limbs, he noted...

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BOURDAIN: This is something I've seen a fair amount of over time - acts of kindness and generosity from strangers who have no reason at all to be nice to me. It frankly kicks the hell out of me.

FRIEDMAN: Anthony Bourdain was 61 years old. Rose Friedman, NPR News, New York.

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