Anthony Bourdain shared his love for Detroit's culture and history

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News
Anthony Bourdain, who was found dead Friday, is shown here attending the Turner Upfront 2017 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 17, 2017 in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISSANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images

Late chef and television host Anthony Bourdain was a New Yorker to his core, but he was not shy about his love for the Motor City.

Bourdain — who was found dead of an apparent suicide in France on Friday morning — had visited Detroit many times for his travel and culinary shows for the Travel Channel and CNN. He also was working with the latter on a historical documentary series, “Detroit 1963: Once in a Great City,” which was reportedly scheduled to debut this year.

Between "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown," Bourdain featured the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit, Polonia Restaurant in Hamtramck, Al-Ameer in Dearborn, Duly's Place coney island in Detroit, a Guns + Butter pop-up dinner with Chef Craig Lieckfelt and more local haunts. 

The Travel Channel announced Friday it will air a marathon of "No Reservations" from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.

Bourdain, who would have turned 62 on June 25, also was a fan of the raw punk and rock music with which Detroit often is associated and was a big fan of Iggy Pop.

“(As if Detroit) needed a reason to be called great, Iggy alone is the reason,” he told The Detroit News in a 2016 interview to promote a Fox Theatre appearance. At the time, he called a recent Iggy Pop concert he attended “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

In the same interview, Bourdain said he was angry that anyone would be against the auto bailouts, calling them "unpatriotic." He also said Detroit, development-wise, was "in good shape" if we had national chains like Shake Shack interested in being downtown.

“I have a personal agenda about Detroit, I guess," he said. "It’s a city I really like and it irritates me that it doesn’t get enough attention and enough love.”

The Travel Channel will air a "No Reservations" marathon Sunday 7 a.m.-7 p.m. in honor of Bourdain.

A natural storyteller

Many people thought Bourdain, born in 1956 in New York City, had the most enviable career in existence. He didn’t deny it.

“I have the best job in the world,” the globe-trotting food-taster and culinary storyteller once told the New Yorker magazine, stating the rather obvious. “If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.”

Bourdain’s stunned fans were mourning the loss of that singular imagination on Friday, recalling everything from his fearless consumption of a beating cobra’s heart or a sheep testicle – “like any other testicle,” he remarked – to his outspoken support of the #MeToo movement, to his blissful paean to syrup-soaked pecan waffles at Waffle House.

“I want it all,” he wrote in his breakthrough 2000 memoir, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," which was in the top 20 on within hours of his death.

“I want to try everything once.” And it seemed that he pretty much accomplished that, traveling the globe some 200 days a year for his TV shows, reveling not in fancy tasting menus – which he scorned – but in simple pleasures like a cold beer and spicy noodles in Hanoi, which he once shared with former President Barack Obama. For him, food, though a huge pleasure, was more importantly a storytelling tool, and a passport to the world at large.

It was a lifestyle that, while undeniably glamorous, took a toll, he suggested in a 2017 New Yorker profile. “I change location every two weeks,” he said. “I’m not going to remember your birthday. I’m not going to be there for the important moments in your life.”

Not surprisingly, it was on the road, in eastern France, that Bourdain was found unresponsive Friday morning by good friend and chef Eric Ripert. He’d been working on an episode for the 12th season of his CNN show, “Parts Unknown.” A prosecutor said he had apparently hanged himself in a luxury hotel in the ancient village of Kaysersberg.

Bourdain left behind an 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, from his second marriage. In a 2008 interview with the Associated Press, Bourdain said his daughter’s birth had changed his outlook on life. “I feel obliged to at least do the best I can and not do anything really stupidly self-destructive if I can avoid it.”

While born in New York City, Bourdain was raised in Leonia, New Jersey. He had written that his love of food began as a youth while on a family vacation in France when he ate his first oyster. He was candid about his personal struggles, saying that drug use led to his dropping out of Vassar College after two years.

Working in restaurants led him to the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated in 1978, and began working in kitchens in New York City. He became executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in 1998.

Colleagues, friends and admirers shared their grief Friday. CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker sent a company letter calling Bourdain “an exceptional talent. A storyteller. A gifted writer. A world traveler. An adventurer.”

Obama shared a photo of their interaction on Twitter. “‘Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.’ This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food – but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”

At the time of his death, his girlfriend was Asia Argento, the Italian actress who has accused Harvey Weinstein of rape. In an essay written after fellow chef Mario Batali was accused of sexual assault, Bourdain wrote that “one must pick a side … I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women.” Argento wrote on Twitter Friday that Bourdain “was my love, my rock, my protector.”

Countless more wrote of their shock and sadness. Some noted that Bourdain’s death came just days after the suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade, also a great shock to those who knew her. Bourdain’s own mother, Gladys Bourdain, a longtime editor at the New York Times, said she had no indication that her son might have been thinking of suicide.

“He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” she told the Times. “He had everything. Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams.”

Local chefs, fans remember Bourdain

As the news of Bourdain's death spread on social media Friday, many fans and those in the industry opened up about what the chef with a rock and roll attitude meant to them. Fans and friends also shared the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-8255. (You can also text 741741.)

Report: Suicide rates inched up in nearly every U.S. state from 1999 through 2016

Chef James Rigato of award-winning Hazel Park restaurant Mabel Gray, who was hand-picked to serve food at a VIP event at Bourdain's 2016 Fox Theatre appearance, said he's been reflecting on the news.

"My cooking career is the same age as his journalism career, and he's an incredibly important figure for us young dirtbag cooks," said Rigato, who started his culinary career in a Howell diner. He said he's read all of Bourdain's books.

"He made it cool to be a dirtbag, to work in a (expletive) restaurant and be mediocre. Most cooks start off mediocre. He made it cool to be a bum and a burnout, a tattooed hard-working, two-DUIs, riding your bike to work ... he made it OK to be a normal-person chef."

"Part of me is frustrated, but I also feel sad for him," he said, adding that Bourdain built a lot of his persona on making fun of other celebrity chefs and calling people out for insincerity. "There's some kind of unrest. I think maybe he was dissatisfied or maybe lost. I feel like it's psychological ... definitely seems like a sadness or loss of self."

Local chef Justin Perry, who recently took over the kitchen at the Sports Channel bar and restaurant in St. Clair Shores, said he's changing all his specials to be Bourdain's dishes. Like many chefs in their 20s and 30s, Perry was introduced to the chef through his "Kitchen Confidential,"  which helped elevate Bourdain's public persona.

"Any time I’ve ever gotten discouraged and I was ready to give it all up, go find a desk job and live a normal life, all I had to do was flip through 'Kitchen Confidential' and I would become recharged," said Perry, who recently relocated to Metro Detroit after years of cooking professionally in Traverse City. "Behind the arrogance, bravado, and grittiness of that book was a man who truly loved the restaurant industry, and that love was infectious for anyone who spoke to him or read his works."

Chef Brendon Edwards of Corktown's Gold Cash Gold thought Bourdain's words were very true when he wrote about the connection between all creative people.

“Chefs, actors, painters, comedians … I believe we all put on a show to some degree. You see your demons in the rearview mirror but just keep going till your mind or body gives out. Currently, I’m lucky to have people that really support me, but I understand the emotion and struggle that puts so many talented people to rest.”

Detroit docu-series 'basically done'

Bourdain and CNN's historical documentary series, “Detroit 1963: Once in a Great City,” is based on the 2015 book "Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story" by David Maraniss.

It’s horribly sad,” Maraniss said of Bourdain’s unexpected death. “I respected everything about Anthony … Tony, and what he stood for. He was one-of-a-kind."

Maraniss said he met Bourdain, executive producer of the series, twice and e-mailed with him a lot. 

“I was delighted that he was the one that wanted to do this project and it was his initiate. He clearly loved Detroit. He read my book and wanted to do something with it. Sometimes as an author, you’re nervous about who wants to do what with your book, but when you hear it’s Anthony Bourdain, I was delighted."

The series was "basically done," Maraniss said in a phone interview Friday with The Detroit News. It includes interviews with people quoted in the book, such as Metro Detroit author and former Detroit News writer Susan Whitall. 

"David quoted me and my book, 'Women of Motown' in his 'Once in a Great City,' since so much of my book deals with that 1962-63 period that he focused on," Whitall said "So then the producers of the CNN project called and had me sit for an interview." 

Whitall connected producers with Motown Records' Claudette Robinson, who Whitall said was interviewed in Los Angeles. 

 It's unclear when "Detroit 1963" will air — Maraniss said political news and the upcoming midterm elections may be a factor in scheduling — but when it does, it's slated to air over two nights in two-hour segments.

 The original plan, Maraniss said, was to have a third night as a live event from the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

"Bourdain would have been part of that, I'm sure, along with people from the book," he said. "That was part of the plan from the beginning."

Twitter: @melodybaetens

Associated Press contributed.