Forget about four-star hotels or luxury spa treatments: Bourdain is on a mission to illuminate underappreciated and misunderstood cultures, whether it’s Myanmar or Detroit. He regularly takes viewers to the sorts of places–Libya, Gaza, Congo–that most Americans know only from grim headlines about political strife and body counts. Bourdain does all of this with vivid narrative reporting, stunning visuals, palpable empathy, and a relentlessly open mind.
As with Bourdain’s previous programs, A Cook’s Tour and the long-running No Reservations, the premise is simple: he goes somewhere interesting and hangs out with the locals. “We show up and say, ‘What’s to eat? What makes you happy?’” Bourdain says. “You’re going to get very Technicolor, very deep, very complicated answers to those questions. I’m not a Middle East expert. I’m not an Africa expert. I’m not a foreign-policy wonk. But I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don’t. If we have a role, it’s to put a face on people who you might not otherwise have seen or cared about.”
— “Anthony Bourdain Has Become The Future Of Cable News, And He Couldn’t Care Less,” by Rob Brunner, Fast Company, September 24, 2014.
What do I like to eat after hours? Strange things. Oysters are my favorite, especially at three in the morning, in the company of my crew. Focaccia pizza with robiola cheese and white truffle oil is good, especially at Le Madri on a summer afternoon in the outdoor patio. Frozen vodka at Siberia Bar is also good, particularly if a cook from one of the big hotels shows up with beluga. At Indigo, on Tenth Street, I love the mushroom strudel and the daube of beef. At my own place, I love a spicy boudin noir that squirts blood in your mouth; the braised fennel the way my sous-chef makes it; scraps from duck confit; and fresh cockles steamed with greasy Portuguese sausage.
I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.
In America, the professional kitchen is the last refuge of the misfit. It’s a place for people with bad pasts to find a new family. It’s a haven for foreigners—Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Chinese, Senegalese, Egyptians, Poles. In New York, the main linguistic spice is Spanish. “Hey, maricón! chupa mis huevos” means, roughly, “How are you, valued comrade? I hope all is well.” And you hear “Hey, baboso! Put some more brown jiz on the fire and check your meez before the sous comes back there and fucks you in the culo!,” which means “Please reduce some additional demi-glace, brother, and reëxamine your mise en place, because the sous-chef is concerned about your state of readiness.”
— “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” by Anthony Bourdain, The New Yorker, April 19, 1999.
Anthony Bourdain, an influential American chef, author, and television host, died in Strasbourg, France, on Friday June 8, at age 61. Bourdain, whose rise to fame started with his book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, used his influence to campaign for kitchen workers’ rights and for the marginalized communities he encountered as part of his television show travels. While he was best known for his nonfiction, Bourdain also wrote crime and graphic novels.