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Portrait of a Culinary Rock Star

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • June 25, 2020

A Foodie Childhood

Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . .

The older of two sons born to Pierre and Gladys, Anthony Bourdain developed his love of food and travel from a young age. In an interview, his brother Chris explained that as a family living near New York City, they were adventurous eaters. "We ate Danish in New York, we went to Chinatown regularly. When Indian showed up in the 1970s, we tried it. When sushi was a new thing in the '70s, we tried it." Of trying his first oyster on a family trip to France, Bourdain wrote, "this was a truly significant event. I remember it like I remember losing my virginity—and in many ways, more fondly."

Developing his Craft

I had field experience, a vocabulary, and a criminal mind. I was a danger to myself and others.

After dropping out of Vassar College, Bourdain attended The Culinary Institute of America. Graduating in 1978, Bourdain would spend the next two decades making his way in the New York City restaurant scene. Always an aspiring writer, he published two crime novels in the early 1990s, Bone in the Throat* and Gone Bamboo, but they performed poorly in sales.

In 1999, his mother Gladys, a New York Times copyeditor, used her connections to help Bourdain publish his article, "Don't Eat Before Reading This," in The New Yorker. The piece served as a springboard for Bourdain's first memoir, the bestselling Kitchen Confidential, a rollicking exposé of his gritty, drug-fueled experiences working in New York City restaurants.

*Items noted with an asterisk in this blog have a limited stock at the time of posting, be sure to add to your wish list if they are not available!

Working His Way up the Food Chain

Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.

Starting in 1998, he served as executive chef at New York's Brasserie Les Halles. Infused with his signature audacious charm, Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook teaches you everything you need to know to prepare classic French bistro fare.

Several of Bourdain's other memoirs, like A Cook's Tour and The Nasty Bits, focused on his international culinary adventures. He promoted a position of fearlessness around experimenting with cuisine, claiming to have eaten "sheep testicles in Morocco, ant eggs in Puebla, Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of an Inuit seal hunt, and an entire cobra—beating heart, blood, bile, and meat—in Vietnam."

His immense success as food and travel writer led to an offer to host his own show, A Cook's Tour, on The Food Network in 2002. With subsequent shows, No Reservations and Parts Unknown, his star continued to climb as audiences fell in love with his intrepid attitude and brash, no-holds-barred voice.

The Chefs that Inspired Him

Good food is often, even most often, simple food.

Bourdain has famously skewered chefs whom he didn't favor, but, on the other hand, he has shown tremendous support for the ones who have inspired him. In Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, Bourdain takes aim at some of the biggest names in the foodie world, while lavishing praise on those he admires. Amongst the cookbooks he recommends:

The Books that Inspired Him

Writing anything is a treason of sorts.

Known to be a voracious reader, Bourdain had a long, diverse list of favorite titles. Here are several that he frequently cited as his favorites—plus his own descriptions of them:

His Lasting Legacy

Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom . . . is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.

At the time of his death, Anthony Bourdain had a flourishing career, many loving friends, and a seemingly fruitful life. He was survived by his mother, brother, and a young daughter. With so much to live for, it can be hard to understand why he chose to leave behind the bold adventurous life he had created. But his legacy of world travel, cultural exploration, and fully immersing one's self in every new experience lives on. His many devoted friends and fans will undoubtedly always miss his charismatic wit and his wildly insurgent spirit.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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