Coming to grips with the loss of Anthony Bourdain

Coming to grips with the loss of Anthony Bourdain
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, shown in 2014, committed suicide last week while in France filming an episode of his show “Parts Unknown.” He was 61. Courtesy photo

By the time you read this you may be a bit burned out on the Anthony Bourdain tributes and that is completely understandable. I wrote an homage to him and writer Jim Harrison in a 2012 column that celebrated his life while he was on his upward trajectory.

Part of me is confused on how a guy with so much going for him could be so depressed that he takes his own life. But I am not an expert on depression and his reasoning is something none of us will ever have full insight into.

All we can do is be grateful for the vastly entertaining, insightful, and no fluff body of work that he created. It is also an inspiration to know that his success came fairly late in life. It was not until his mid-40’s that he began his meteoric rise to full on celebrity.

As someone who dabbled in his world, he had my dream gig. He had the ultimate freedom to speak his mind in an unfiltered manner that did not have much patience for fakes, frauds and posers. He also had the opportunity to meet and eat with some of the most interesting people in the world. His lunch of noodles on plastic tables with then President Obama in Vietnam brought a tear to my eye. His love of Detroit, my hometown, and the several episodes he did there made me proud to be from there and love him even more.

I made it a point to turn my son Quinn on to his show early in his life and I feel lucky that he quickly embraced him. Quinn had a bit of an international upbringing to begin with and Bourdain helped instill a wanderlust in him that is in full force today.

I made it a point to spread the word of Bourdain on a regular basis as I felt that the more people who watched his show and were turned on to his style, the better off humanity would be for it.

On a lighter note, we both fancied the same blue and white gingham shirt for our eating adventures. He seemed to wear his in every episode and I’ve been through many over the years. The joke amongst my friends was who was copying whom. My sister dug up a photo from me as a little kid in one so I claimed victory in that fictional debate.

As I mentioned, Bourdain and Jim Harrison were both huge influences on me and Bourdain was a big fan of Jim Harrison, which brought me even more joy. They are both gone now but they left their individual marks in their own unique ways. Below are some excerpts from my 2012 column that convey what they both meant to me. The last line in one of the quotes from Bourdain is especially haunting given his cause of death.

“Culinary celebrities are a dime a dozen these days. Remember the guy who made it to the second round of Top Chef in season two? Me neither but you can bet he is milking his appearance for all it’s worth. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just dilutes the culinary celebrity stock a bit so to speak. I can count on one hand the TV chef personalities that I can take through an entire episode. Bourdain, Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, and Giada De Laurentiis are on my current list. OK, Giada may not be the grittiest of them but she sure looks good cooking and has a solid grasp of what she is doing.

“Anthony Bourdain and Jim Harrison are both straight shooters and great storytellers. There is no fluff with these guys. They tell it like it is and are astute observers of the human condition and never put themselves on a pedestal or claim to be without fault. In fact, it’s their faults that make them even more appealing. You can watch a conversation they had together on No Reservations by going go www.travelchannel.com and searching for “A chat with Jim Harrison.”

“We all know Anthony Bourdain and his well-chronicled rise from line cook in New Jersey to Chef at Les Halles in Manhattan to his best-selling first book ‘Kitchen Confidential’ that he parlayed into a very cool career eating around the world on his shows “No Reservations” and ‘The Layover.’ His star has risen dramatically over the past few years and he is often seen judging “Top Chef,” playing himself on the Simpsons, writing for the HBO show ‘Treme,’ while continuing to write. He announced recently he would be leaving the Travel Channel for a similar gig on CNN.

“A common thread shared between Bourdain and Harrison is their lust for life and ability to get better at what they do with age. They are both known for great quotes or passages from books so I’ve included a couple from each below.

‘Few things are more beautiful to me than a bunch of thuggish, heavily tattooed line cooks moving around each other like ballerinas on a busy Saturday night. Seeing two guys who’d just as soon cut each other’s throats in their off hours moving in unison with grace and ease can be as uplifting as any chemical stimulant or organized religion.’

“We know, for instance, that there is a direct, inverse relationship between frequency of family meals and social problems. Bluntly stated, members of families who eat together regularly are statistically less likely to stick up liquor stores, blow up meth labs, give birth to crack babies, or commit suicide.”  — Anthony Bourdain

Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at www.lick-the-plate.com

2 Comments
  1. E'Louise Ondash 7 days ago

    Nicely stated, David. Yes, it’s difficult to figure out why someone who seems to have it all decides to end it all. If we understood, perhaps suicide would be less of an option. Thanks for your tribute.

  2. Kenya 5 days ago

    Hello fellow Detroiter I too felt proud to be one because of the love he had for our city. Great article

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