THIS AFTERNOON, IT was announced that Anthony Bourdain, the famed celebrity chef and broadcaster, had been found dead in his hotel room. He was 61 and the cause was suicide.
News of Bourdain’s tragic and untimely passing immediately sent shockwaves around the world. While he started his career as a chef, Bourdain was better known for his multiple travel series, which saw him eat and drink his way across the seven continents.
The likes of No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown followed Bourdain as he traveled to far-flung places like Jamaica, Peru, Kurdistan, Senegal, Georgia and many, many more.
Indeed, the latest series of Parts Unknown saw Bourdain travel to West Virginia, Uruguay, Newfoundland, Armenia, Berlin, Hong Kong, Louisiana and Bhutan. Few travel shows could boast such a diverse roster of locations, but Bourdain was a true global citizen with an insatiable curiosity. He was the wise, worldly uncle you fantasised about having a pint with.
Bourdain’s programmes were an education in food and different cultures. They provided viewers with insights into cities they could never fathom visiting or even picture in their mind’s eye. You came away from episodes feeling like you had the inside scoop on where to eat in Lagos, should you ever find yourself there. Your horizons were expanded from the comfort of your couch.
Crucially, his programmes were never dull, worthy or condescending. Rather, they were accessible and entertaining. He celebrated high-end and low-end dining in equal measure and was as likely to recommend a Michelin starred restaurant as he was a hole-in-the-wall taquería.
Take his Dublin episode of The Layover, for instance. Over the course of forty-two minutes, Bourdain tucks into a bowl of coddle and sinks pints of Guinness in The Gravediggers; inhales a Full Irish in Slattery’s on Capel Street; samples cuts of meat with restaurateur Joe Macken in Bear; eats a fine meal in The Chop House gastropub in Ballsbridge; downs shots of whiskey in The Long Hall; and sees out the night out in Hogan’s.
In Hogan’s, Bourdain is reunited with Macken. The pair strike up a conversation with a group of merry Dubliners about the filthy food they like to eat after a night out.
“What’s the worst scenario?” asks Bourdain.
“Taco fries,” replies one of the gentlemen with a hearty laugh. “It looks the same way in and out.”
The group of men then escort Bourdain to one of their favourite late-night establishments: Roma II on Wexford Street.
“Jedi masters, what should I order?” Bourdain asks the men.
“How drunk are you?” comes the response.
They settle on a decadent feast of spice burgers, taco fries, garlic cheese chips, and whirly burgers, which Bourdain eats and declares to be deeply satisfying.
It’s hard to imagine many chefs or self-proclaimed foodies getting down and dirty in a chipper in the wee hours, but that’s what set Bourdain apart from the rest of the pack. He was earthy, unpretentious and utterly unafraid of throwing himself into any situation. He recognised food as a unifying force and a tool for breaking down prejudice.
For sixteen years, we accompanied him on his jaunts across the world. He taught us, he fed our sense of wanderlust, and he encouraged us to say yes to eating whirly burgers after midnight. That he is no longer here is desperately sad, but I know I am not alone in being grateful that he shared this world with us for so long.
Safe travels, Anthony.
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