Great Chefs on Anthony Bourdain’s Life, Impact, and Unifying Spirit

Anthony Bourdain
Chef Anthony Bourdain has a drink at Tintol restaurant in Times Square, New York City. James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

Here at Men’s Journal, Anthony Bourdain’s passing feels like a death in the family.

Bourdain, who died today at 61 years old, not only appeared in our pages dozens of times over the years, he almost perfectly embodied the kind of man this magazine celebrates—adventurous, passionate, intelligent, curious, irreverent. (Not to mention fit as hell—the man was deep into jiu jitsu.)

The world first encountered Bourdain in 2000, when he published Kitchen Confidential, the warts-and-all chronicle of his years as a chef. The book made him a little famous and led to the TV shows—No Reservations on Travel Channel and Parts Unknown on CNN—that made him really, really famous. Whether in West Virginia or the Gaza Strip, Bourdain pushed viewers into the type of immersive, sometimes uncomfortable travel that magazines recommend de rigueur today—like why wouldn’t you take the public bus to a vineyard in the hinterlands of Tbilisi to drink orange wine from a hollowed ram horn? More important, his travels underscored food’s power as a unifier, how a shared meal can break barriers, challenge assumptions, and build bridges. (And now, more than ever, we’re not exactly in a position to lose voices on that side of the argument.)

Outspoken about his struggles with addiction and—particularly in the last year, as the better half of actor and activist Asia Argento—the issue of sexual harassment, Bourdain always had plenty to say. Indeed, more than a chef or TV personality, he was a master storyteller. He wrote sentences that could stop trains. He influenced a generation of writers, present company included. In 2006, I was just starting out writing about food. I had just finished college and was reading Kitchen Confidential while waiting for cocktail hour to begin at my weekend gig bartending at weddings. I kept the copy in my purple Crown Royal bag with my gum and my keys and my opener. Bourdain didn’t make me want to write about food, but he made me think about food writing in a different way, as a vehicle for telling compelling stories. That’s what I take away from his time here.

Here’s how others in the restaurant industry are remembering him. We’ll continue to add to these thoughts as they come in. — Adam Erace

Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix: “I’m in the airport and still a bit stunned as I see the words rolling through the bottom of the TV at my gate. My heart is heavy for his family and all who loved him. For me he saw the true opportunity in food to bring us to the table—a place to be vulnerable, different, and similar, for good and evil to be exposed and illuminated, brought together with an eloquent poetic perspective that will be surely and deeply missed.”

Erling Wu-Bower, Pacific Standard Time, Chicago: “So many of us cook because of him. He was a pioneer and old school at the same time, a no-bullshit hero [who] entered the American subconscious—the first cook since Julia Child to do so. His words will live on forever. I love that he started with a book, the written word, not on TV or social media. He was amazing. Super fucking sad.”

Chris Shepherd, UB Preserv, Houston: “A lot of people work in this industry because of him. I don’t know if there is a bigger icon—he inspired me to travel. Right now, we need to address why this happened. How do we change this industry? How do we do more to help people?”

Kenny Gilbert, Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen & Bar, Jacksonville: “Growing up as a young chef, I took comfort in knowing that I was not alone in the business because of Anthony’s storytelling. Anthony’s shows were more classroom sessions to me than they were shows. It felt as if he was only speaking to me. I’ve grown to be the chef and person I am because of Anthony sharing his knowledge, experiences, and travels with me.”

Adrienne Cheatham, Sunday Best Dinner Series, New York City: “I met him only in passing and so did not know him well, but he has always been a source of inspiration for me, especially when it came to enjoying cooking, food, and life. He was always someone that you wanted to hang out with, eat good food with, have a beer with. He had a huge impact on so many people and that will live on. My heart goes out to his family and friends and the whole community, for this is truly a great person that we have lost.”

Anna Posey, Elske, Chicago: “It’s such shocking news. We grew up in this industry with him as this incredibly brilliant, knowledgeable luminary of the food world. He was a humanitarian and brought so much positive awareness to places and people that may have otherwise been forgotten. For over a dozen years, he opened a new world for us, changing our lives through television and writing. He will be truly, greatly missed.”

Ludo Lefebvre, Trois Mec, Los Angeles: “Tony did so much for our industry and so much for me. Such a curious, intelligent man. No matter what I asked him, regardless of the subject, he knew something about it. He opened America’s mind to the food culture of the world and made everyone better through his passion. Tony will forever be with me. Looking at the spoon tattoo we share fills my heart with so much sadness today, but forever will be a reminder that he believed in me, where I came from, and he wanted the world to know me. He told me I was the last of my kind, but it Tony who was truly the last of his kind. Gone too soon.”

Edouardo Jordan, JuneBaby, Seattle: “Anthony Bourdain exposed the industry’s deepest darkest secrets. He enabled us to see all the sides of this industry and indirectly encouraged us to see the life outside of the kitchen as a father and historian. Balance may not have ever been found, but there is so much learned from his life and so much to be learned from his death.”

Kris Yenbamroong, Night + Market, Los Angeles: “Tony was the greatest advocate for saying ‘yes.’ He wanted people to see the world through other cultures’ lenses and to open their hearts and minds to things they never thought were possible. Some would say he was fearless, but the way I saw it, he was something greater. He did it scared. He pushed forward in the face of the unknown. He continues to inspire me to live a little bolder each and every day.”

Jennifer Carroll, The Spice Finch, Philadelphia: “One of my favorite stories about Tony is the from the first time I met him. He walked into the kitchen at Le Bernardin in 2003 after a busy Saturday night service. We were all scrubbing our stations down and drinking a beer. He stopped to thank us for his meal but instead of continuing through the kitchen down to Chef Ripert’s office, he grabbed a beer, sat down in the pass and hung out with us while we cleaned.—all the while answering questions and dishing out plenty of sarcastic, hysterical comments. When he went to grab another beer, the ice bin was empty! We explained that we all got one beer on Saturday nights as a celebration of the week. He was like, “WTF Eric [not Chef Ripert] only gives you one beer!?” With that, he bought a round of beers for everyone. News traveled down to Chef Ripert that Tony was in the kitchen and causing trouble. When Chef Ripert came up, Tony put him through the ringer the only way a best friend can. It was hysterical to watch them go back and forth. A moment I will never forget.

“To me, Tony was a great equalizer—he treated everyone fairly. He was special in the way he was able to expose the human side and realness of everyone. Ego and celebrity didn’t exist in his vocabulary. He touched everyone he came across. Charisma oozed from him. You wanted to be around him. I am truly sad that I will never have another moment with him.”

Josh Sobel, Rose Foods, Portland, Maine: “I had no plan to go to college after high school. I hated academics and did not even bother taking the SATs. I was working in the kitchen at a local diner but I really didn’t take it too seriously. I wasn’t sure where I was headed or what the world had in store for me. I guess you could say I was a bit of a lost soul. I remember seeing Bourdain being interviewed on TV one night regarding Kitchen Confidential. He spoke with so much unabashed enthusiasm about the restaurant industry and life in the kitchen, I latched on to his every word. I felt like he was speaking directly to me. I picked up the book the next morning and read through it in about a day. I didn’t even finish the book before I decided that I wanted to cook professionally.

“I started to go into work every day and really take my job seriously. I wanted to be the cooks he wrote so earnestly about. I enrolled in culinary school soon after. Years later I was watching the New York episode of No Reservations, [in which] Bourdain goes to Marlow & Sons and Diner. I had never seen anything like those restaurants. When my wife and I made the move to Brooklyn, there was only one place I wanted to work. I walked into Diner one rainy Monday, ate lunch at the bar, and when I was finished asked if they were hiring. About a month later I was a cook at Marlow & Sons. I guarantee that every professional cook has Kitchen Confidential on their bookshelf. It is dog-eared, torn, bent, and frayed. For a generation of us, this book was our bible and our atlas. Before Kitchen Confidential no one cared much about the people cooking your food, but he made it cool. Bourdain made it okay to tell your folks that you wanted to be a chef. What saddens me the most is that he is no longer here to contribute new words to our ever-expanding dialogue about this life of ours.”