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Remembering Anthony Bourdain, the chef who became a star

Remembering Anthony Bourdain, the chef who became a star
[Photo: Heathcliff O’Malley/REX/Shutterstock]

I had never eaten at Les Halles, the French brasserie in lower Manhattan, but after reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, I booked a table. I don’t eat steak or duck or any of the restaurant’s famous dishes, but I do eat fries and drink wine and I wanted to be where the action was—and it was clearly near Bourdain. He had a knack for making you want to be in the room with him, whether in a brasserie in Manhattan, eating fried chicken in Libya, downing pastrami sandwiches in Asbury Park, New Jersey, or tagging along with him and chef Daniel Boulud as they eat their way through Lyon on Parts Unknown.

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The death of the chef turned author turned television star was confirmed by CNN on Friday, who reported the cause of death as suicide. Bourdain was 61, and is survived by his daughter, two ex-wives, and legions of friends and fans who loved him. “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink, and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller,” the network said in a statement. “His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”

At the time of his death, Bourdain was in France working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning food lovers travelogue series Parts Unknown, which airs on CNN. His friend, chef Eric Ripert, reportedly found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room on Friday morning.

His death is hard to process, because for anyone who has read his books or watched more than an episode or two of his many, many TV shows, it may feel like you know him. He seemed to lay bare so much of himself, whether talking about his time at Vassar College and the Culinary Institute of America, his drugs-and-alcohol-fueled time in New York’s kitchens, chronicling Laos’s dark history, downing months-old rotten shark meat in Iceland and a still-beating cobra heart in Vietnam, or getting a tattoo in Thailand. He could make you laugh uproariously, like when Stephen Colbert asked him the most grotesque thing he had ever eaten and unhestitatingly answered, “Cinnabon.” He also managed the nearly impossible task of making working in a kitchen sound glamorous, while advocating for marginalized populations, calling out toxic kitchen culture, and campaigning for safer working conditions for restaurant staffs.

After parlaying a 1999 New Yorker article, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” into the best-selling book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” into a television career, first with the Food Network series, A Cook’s Tour, then his Emmy Award-winning Travel Channel show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, before moving to CNN with Parts Unknown, Bourdain took none of it for granted. He was an incredibly hard worker, arriving on set before anyone else, and slowly becoming “the future of cable news.

While Parts Unknown was ostensibly a food show, Bourdain would tackle broad political and socio-ecological issues through a lens of food and culture, whether in Cuba, Iran, Congo, Syria, or even Massachusetts, where he documented the stark realities of the heroin epidemic. When Parts Unknown took home the Peabody Award in 2013, the judges noted that he had expanded their “palates and horizons in equal measure.” Through his evocative, honest storytelling, Bourdain explored the human condition, finding the ties that bind most humans together in kitchens of the world.

The news of Bourdain’s death comes days after that of designer Kate Spade, who passed away by suicide on Tuesday. Suicide rates have increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016, according to research published Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds. More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC. Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. right now. In 2016 alone, about 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.

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