Anthony Bourdain’s work and life resonated with people in a way not often seen by figures in the food world. Bourdain’s journey cut through the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and funneled him into the food scene of Manhattan. But it wasn’t until Bourdain stepped out of the back of house and spilled the proverbial beans on the pages of The New Yorker that the chef truly found his niche. “It was the unsavory side of professional cooking that attracted me to it in the first place,” he wrote. “I wanted it all: the cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos.”
Bourdain’s devil-may-care approach to the big-city restaurant industry made way for his signature Gonzo gastronomy. As The New York Times points out, Bourdain had a Hunter S. Thompson-esque way with words, with his writing oftentimes “direct” and “brutal.” Simply put, Bourdain carried a hunger for the parts of the culinary industry that weren’t always pretty or polished. This energy lent itself to books including “Kitchen Confidential,” and to his CNN travel-and-food show, “Parts Unknown.”
When Bourdain died on June 8, 2018, the world lost a man who shook up the food and travel realms with a certain authenticity. Here are a few of the many paths and detours Bourdain took during the final year of his life.
Anthony Bourdain was traveling the world for Parts Unknown
Anthony Bourdain’s beloved CNN show, “Parts Unknown,” began in 2013 as a chronicle of Bourdain’s adventures through culinary and cultural realms that were off the beaten track. “People said, ‘I was afraid to travel before I watched the show,’ ‘I followed his route,’ ‘I was an addict and I connected with Tony and now I’m fine,'” Amy Entelis, a CNN executive behind the show, told the Los Angeles Times after Bourdain’s death in 2018. “Others were angry that he’s not in the world anymore. It’s an incredible outpouring. A lot of people are experiencing what we are.”
Upon Bourdain’s death, only one episode of the show’s final season, Season 12, had been completed with Bourdain’s narration. The episode followed Bourdain and “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell through Kenya. Other episodes — which traversed the terrains of Texas, Mexico, Indonesia, and beyond — were completed by the show’s directors via a collagic approach, featuring follow-up interviews and voiceover narration from Bourdain’s guests. The finale — which aired on November 11, 2018 — went back to Bourdain’s roots on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Bourdain’s narration injected “Parts Unknown” with its raw, personal, and irreverent energy, but after his death, the show’s directors had to capture the host’s spirit through the perspectives of people who were around him. “What Tony did was inimitable,” Entelis told the Los Angeles Times before the final season was completed. “What we want to do is find a show that captures what Tony is all about.”
Anthony Bourdain launched Explore Parts Unknown
In the spring of 2017, CNN launched Explore Parts Unknown, a “mobile-first immersive guide” with original storytelling, photography, and other “engaging interactives” inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” CNN described the website as “a digital universe for the Bourdain super-fan, enabling you to learn what Tony knows, go where he went, eat what he ate, and drink what he drank.”
It included recipes, field notes, fact sheets, and video exclusives pertaining to destinations across the world, from Las Vegas and New Jersey to Senegal and Hanoi. In September 2018, Explore Parts Unknown won Bourdain a posthumous Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series.
The launch of the website was most likely inspired by Bourdain’s fierce following and the commercial success he brought to CNN. According to the Standard Media Index (via the Los Angeles Times), the commercials that ran during new episodes of “Parts Unknown” during the first half of 2018 were the most expensive among any run during any CNN program, at an average of $8,601 a pop.
The restaurant where Anthony Bourdain got his start filed for bankruptcy
In the late 1990s, Anthony Bourdain worked as a chef at a French restaurant called Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan. The restaurant job was ultimately the launchpad for his career in culinary journalism; it inspired his 1999 New Yorker article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” “I’m the chef de cuisine of a much loved, old-school French brasserie/bistro where the customers eat their meat rare, vegetarians are scarce, and every part of the animal—hooves, snout, cheeks, skin, and organs—is avidly and appreciatively prepared and consumed,” Bourdain wrote in the New Yorker piece, referencing the restaurant.
According to Eater, the people of Brasserie Les Halles worked to maintain a connection to Bourdain and listed him on the restaurant’s website as its “chef-at-large” as recently as 2016. In May 2017, the brasserie’s owner, Philippe Lajaunie, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the restaurant’s location in Manhattan’s Financial District, which was shuttered shortly thereafter (via The New York Times). By August of that year, Lajaunie’s bankruptcy case was rejected, and he was forced to give up the restaurant’s lease and advised to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
According to Eater, Lajaunie’s case was jeopardized due to the restaurateur reportedly failing to pay rent on his restaurants or to pay his employees, his vendors, or his legal fees.
Anthony Bourdain was in a relationship with actor Asia Argento
In Season 8, Episode 9 of “Parts Unknown,” Anthony Bourdain walked through the streets of Rome with his tour guide, actor Asia Argento. “As so many have found throughout history, it’s easy to fall in love with Rome,” Bourdain said via voiceover as they strolled (via E!). “She is seductively beautiful. She has endured and survived many things.”
The statement seemed a fitting metaphor of Bourdain’s feelings for Argento. The pair fell in love while filming the episode in 2016 and began a relationship that would last until his death two years later. When Argento spoke out about allegations against Harvey Weinstein at the beginning of the #MeToo movement, Bourdain supported her with an Instagram post captioned “Proud as hell.”
Argento’s outspokenness brought the pair close to other leading figures in the #MeToo movement, including Rose McGowan, who later defended Argento when she was accused of cheating on Bourdain and blamed for his death. “Anthony and Asia had a free relationship,” McGowan wrote in an open letter (via E!), “they loved without borders of traditional relationships, and they established the parameters of their relationship early on.”
Anthony Bourdain was vocal in the #MeToo movement
In October 2017, The New Yorker published Ronan Farrow’s investigation of the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Asia Argento gave a record of her own experience with Weinstein, and her partner Anthony Bourdain voiced his support of her. “I am proud and honored to know you,” he wrote in a note to Argento (via Daily News). “You just did the hardest thing in the world.”
Bourdain’s support of the movement included criticism of individuals in Hollywood who were complicit in or insensitive to the issue of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. In October 2017, “The Late Late Show with James Corden” host told a joke that made light of Weinstein’s predation. Bourdain swiftly responded on Twitter, calling Corden “a porcine, pandering tool.”
Bourdain also referenced director Quentin Tarantino when discussing turning down a lucrative deal during a Q&A for a Produced By NY conference, per Variety. “It was a lot of money,” he said, adding that the deal “would have been a slow-acting poison that would have nibbled away at our souls until we ended up like Quentin Tarantino, looking back at a life of complicity, shame and compromise.” When asked whether he was referring to the director’s relationship with Weinstein, Bourdain responded, “One might think.”
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Anthony Bourdain received an honorary doctorate from the Culinary Institute of America
Anthony Bourdain graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. Nearly four decades later — on December 19, 2017 — he returned to the CIA campus in Hyde Park, New York, to give the school’s commencement speech. “The CIA is an institution that I’m very grateful for having attended,” he said. “It was incredibly important to me. I had a good time here, and I’m grateful for all of the skills I learned and the experiences I had.”
Following Bourdain’s speech, CIA President Tim Ryan presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in Culinary Arts. “Anthony Bourdain is possibly the most recognizable food personality on the planet,” Ryan said. “He’s an accomplished chef, author, publisher, entrepreneur, and television host who shares his commitment to excellence and passion for food with audiences around the world. We are proud of his many achievements and pleased to present him with an honorary doctoral degree from the college.”
In his speech, Bourdain asked the school’s 143 graduates what kind of leaders they hoped to become. “Please go out there in this new world that is being created right in front of us right now,” he said, “and change that world for the better.”
Anthony Bourdain was co-writing two books
Anthony Bourdain co-wrote two books that were released after his death. “Anthony Bourdain’s Hungry Ghosts: Tales of Fear and Food From Around the World” was released in October 2018 via Penguin Random House. The graphic novel tells the story of international chefs sitting around a table to tell ghost stories, and it features gory illustrations by artists from around the world, as well as original recipes by Bourdain.
Bourdain had also begun co-writing a book with his former assistant and editor, Laurie Woolever, with whom he had co-written 2016’s “Appetites: A Cookbook.” In a 2018 piece for CNN Travel, Woolever wrote that her second collaboration with Bourdain was “based on his nearly two decades of world travel.”
“It’s been a wrenching, lurching struggle to get back to that manuscript, as I grieve the enormous loss of his kind, profane, surprising and brilliant existence,” Woolever wrote. “I’ve been buoyed and motivated by the work that my colleagues have done to manifest a beautiful, if heartbreaking, final season of ‘Parts Unknown,’ without the usual expository writing and post-production input from Tony … 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.” The finished product, “World Travel: An Irreverent Guide,” was released on April 20, 2021.
Anthony Bourdain prioritized being a father to his daughter, Ariane
With her father being who he was, Anthony Bourdain’s daughter, Ariane, often had the wackiest lunches in the cafeteria. “I love sending her to school with stuff other kids don’t have and never will have,” Bourdain told People in 2016, citing braised rabbit and carbonara as examples. When describing his typical Friday night at home, he listed “cooking something that my daughter decides she wants” and going to bed pretty much immediately after his daughter did.
When speaking to People again in February 2018, Bourdain cited Ariane as a reason to live. “There have been times, honestly, in my life that I figured, ‘I’ve had a good run — why not just do this stupid thing, this selfish thing … jump off a cliff into water of indeterminate depth,'” he said. He mentioned how, before his daughter was born, he would often take unnecessary risks and go places where he was “asking for trouble.”
“In retrospect, I don’t know that I would do that today,” Bourdain said, “now that I’m a dad [and] reasonably happy.”
Anthony Bourdain had depression and was exhausted
People who were close to Anthony Bourdain have suggested that depression and exhaustion contributed to his death. In June 2018, an insider who worked with Bourdain in the last year of his life told People about his taxing work schedule. “His travel schedule was grueling and he often seemed quite beat-up from it, as anyone would be,” the source said. “He’d put everything into the shoots and then go back to his room to isolate.”
“It never struck me as peculiar, but it was as if he gave everything to his work and then had nothing, zero, left for himself afterwards,” the source continued. “He was always very, very tired. He pushed himself extremely hard … We never had any sense of depression or mental illness. He was not especially cheerful or engaging, off camera, but it was never rude or ill-intentioned. The guy was absolutely exhausted.”
Rose McGowan, who was close to Bourdain through his partner Asia Argento, posted a public letter online defending Argento and honoring Bourdain. “Anthony was open with his demons, he even wrote a book about them,” she wrote (via Rolling Stone). “Anthony’s depression didn’t let him [stay alive], he put down his armor, and that was very much his choice … I know before Anthony died he reached out for help, and yet he did not take the doctor’s advice. And that has led us here, to this tragedy, to this loss, to this world of hurt.”
Anthony Bourdain died during a work trip to France
In June 2018, Anthony Bourdain flew to the Alsace region in France to film an episode for Season 12 of “Parts Unknown.” He had arranged to meet friends for a “rustic French dinner” on the night of June 7, but he didn’t show up (via Page Six). The following morning, he was due to join his friend, a French chef named Eric Ripert, for breakfast at the five-star hotel Le Chambard. When Bourdain was absent once more, Ripert discovered that his best friend had died by suicide. Bourdain was 61 years old.
“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” read a statement from CNN (via People). “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Anthony Bourdain left a lasting impact on the world
In his exploration of parts unknown, Anthony Bourdain connected with people all over the world. “Anthony was my best friend,” French chef Eric Ripert wrote on Twitter. “An exceptional human being, so inspiring & generous. One of the great storytellers who connected [with] so many. I pray he is at peace from the bottom of my heart. My love and prayers are also w his family, friends and loved ones.”
President Barack Obama, who had appeared on a 2016 episode of “Parts Unknown,” also paid tribute to Bourdain on Twitter. “‘Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer,'” President Obama wrote. “This is how I’ll remember Tony. 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.” Bourdain’s partner, Asia Argento, also took to Twitter to express her grief. “He was my love, my rock, my protector,” she wrote (via CNN). “I am beyond devastated.”
A prominent aspect of Bourdain’s legacy is that he made the oft-overlooked corners of the world and the oft-stuffy food scene accessible to the curious masses. CNN summarized Bourdain fans’ and “Parts Unknown” viewers’ reactions to his death as a single, resounding sentiment: “I feel like I’ve lost a friend.”
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