The city, the culinary world and global culture lost its coolest cat today. Anthony Bourdain was found dead by his buddy and head chef of NYC’s Le Bernardin Eric Ripert in a hotel room in France on Friday. CNN, Bourdain’s employer and enactor of sound journalism, has reported the cause of death was a suicide. Immediate thoughts go to Bourdain’s family, friends, crew and his personal struggle with demons, then to the impact his vacancy will leave on society at large.
Bourdain was an arbiter of the authentic. While he began his professional career slinging steak au poivre, his true calling was as a television host—admittedly if you missed dining at Les Halles during his tenure there, you didn’t miss much. Bourdain was akin to a sports commentator who was better in the booth than in his playing days on the field—his commentary on cooking was his real culinary curation. He traveled from Astoria to Antarctica in search of the real and the real good food.
While many will point out Kitchen Confidential as a seminal work of the crazy stuff that happens in the back of the house, his import was more cultural. He made moneyed New York confront that their favorite dishes in their coveted restaurants weren’t being crafted by chefs from Parisian cookery schools but by illegal immigrants who could cook circles around those with pedigrees and degrees. He was very vocal that if President Donald Trump deported all illegal immigrants in New York, the city’s restaurants wouldn’t be able to open for service.
Another part of Bourdain’s legacy is that he made it desirable to eat at places where your arm sticks to the table. We’re all into it now, but there was a time when the hip set only congregated in fine dining establishments and TV shows only visited multi-starred chefs. Bourdain was the one who gave the same amount of air time to greasy fried chicken shacks and dive bars. He was as comfortable sitting on a plastic stool slurping pho in a Hanoi alley as he was at chef’s table at the French Laundry.
While the incarnations of his television shows were nominally travel programs, he explored places in our New York City that, at the time, were as foreign as New Zealand. Have you ever been to Xi’an Famous Foods? Bourdain put them on. He found them thriving locally in Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall and truly made them famous as the shine he put on them allowed the hand-pulled noodles to permeate the city. He promoted mom and pop shops hundreds of times throughout his two-decade run in the public eye; he was, perhaps, the largest and loudest cheerleader of local businesses globally.
The collateral void his absence leaves is all of the still-hidden gems he had yet to uncover for us all. Time Out promises to keep his legacy alive by going deeper in the city, to introduce you to incredible food finds that you won’t read about anywhere and in turn support small New York businesses.
On a local level, Bourdain was a representation of the old authentic punk rock New York scene. He survived doing crack and heroin in the gritty Lower East Side’s devil-may-care party scene to becoming a key ambassador of culture’s globalization. He was sort of a warrior poet, king of cool, because he was genuinely hip.
While his beloved Siberia Bar closed a few years ago, you may honor his memory at the following places he’s blessed with his recommendation:
Gray’s Papaya (yes, a simple Gray’s hot dog was his guilty pleasure)
We’ll be at Desmond’s Tavern tonight, the dive bar on Park Avenue (yes, that’s right) where he drank around shifts at Les Halles.