Celebrity and TV chef Anthony Bourdain dead at 61
Paris – American TV celebrity and food writer Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room Friday in France while working on his CNN series on culinary traditions around the world. He was 61.
CNN confirmed the death, saying that Bourdain was found unresponsive Friday morning by friend and chef Eric Ripert, and the company called the death a suicide.
A prosecutor in eastern France said Bourdain apparently hanged himself in a luxury hotel in the small town of Kayserberg on the Alsatian wine route. French media quoted Colmar prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny du Fayel as saying that “at this stage” nothing suggests that another person was involved. However, investigators were verifying the circumstances of Bourdain’s death.
Widely loved and rarely afraid to speak his mind, Bourdain achieved celebrity status after the publication in 2000 of his best-selling “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” The book created a sensation by combining frank details of his life and career with behind-the-scenes observations on the culinary industry. Bourdain’s fame rose higher thanks to his CNN series “Parts Unknown.”
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.”
President Donald Trump tweeted his “heartfelt condolences” to Bourdain’s family, which includes his 11-year-old daughter, Ariane. Jamie Oliver wrote on Instagram that Bourdain “really broke the mould … he leaves chefs and fans around the world with a massive foodie hole that simply can’t be replaced.” Chef Yotam Ottolenghi tweeted “Shocking and sad!” while Nigella Lawson tweeted she was “Heartbroken.”
“Bourdain’s exceptional writing made this one formerly picky, fearful eater very brave and want to try everything and I’ll always be grateful for him and the worlds he opened,” tweeted “Hamilton” playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Bourdain’s death came three days after fashion designer Kate Spade died of apparent suicide in her Park Avenue apartment in New York. Spade’s husband and business partner said the 55-year-old business mogul had suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.
Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” seemed like an odd choice for CNN when it started in 2013 – part travelogue, part history lesson, part love letter to exotic foods. Each trip was an adventure. There had been nothing quite like it on the staid news network, and it became an immediate hit.
He mixed a coarseness and whimsical sense of adventurousness, true to the rock ‘n’ roll music he loved.
“We are constantly asking ourselves, first and foremost, what is the most (messed) up thing we can do next week?” he said in a 2014 interview with the Associated Press.
Besides showcasing food, a “Parts Unknown” trip to Japan in the series’ first season included an odd show with robots and scantily clad women, a visit with a death metal band and a meal shared with a woman involved in the city’s sadomachistic community.
In 2016, he sat down for some bun cha in Hanoi, Vietnam, with President Barack Obama.
As president, Barack Obama sat down for some bun cha in Hanoi, Vietnam, with Bourdain in an episode of “Parts Unknown” in 2016. On Friday, he shared a photo of the 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.”
Bourdain was reluctant to analyze why his series succeeded.
“If you think about who the audience is and what their expectations might be, I think that’s the road to badness and mediocrity,” he told the AP. “You go out there and show the best story you can as best you can. If it’s interesting to you, hopefully it’s interesting to others. If you don’t make television like that, it’s pandering.”
Bourdain was also a cheerleader for Detroit.
He visited the Motor City on a few high-profile occasions, starting in 2009 when his Travel Channel show “No Reservations” highlighted the Family Donut Shop and Polonia restaurant in Hamtramck, Al-Ameer in Dearborn and the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit.
In 2016, he said he was working on a project set in Detroit, but wouldn’t get specific.
“I am working on a very substantial, nonfiction project in Detroit,” he told The Detroit News, adding it was a “historical subject.”
“I have a personal agenda about Detroit, I guess. It’s a city I really like and it irritates me that it doesn’t get enough attention and enough love. Given any opportunity to talk up Detroit, or pay attention to it, I’m for it,” he said in 2017.
CNN announced in May of last year the project carried the working title “Detroit 1963: Once in a Great City,” and that it would premiere this year. The status of the production wasn't immediately known Friday.
The American chef, author and television personality was born in New York City and 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.
Bourdain also mentioned his youth was punctuated by drug use and he dropped 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.
In the preface to the latest edition “Kitchen Confidential,” Bourdain wrote of his shock at the success off his book, which he wrote by getting up at 5 a.m. in the morning to steal a couple of hours at the computer before appearing at the saute station for lunch.
He said he never intended to write an expose or to “rip the lid off the restaurant business.” He said he liked the restaurant business the way it was.
“What I set out to do was write a book that my fellow cooks would find entertaining and true,” he said. “I wanted it to sound like me talking at say … ten o’clock on a Saturday night, after a busy dinner rush, me and a few cooks hanging around in the kitchen, knocking back a few beers and talking.”
Bourdain said he really had no idea that anyone outside the world of chefs would even pay attention to his comments.
“The new celebrity chef culture is a remarkable and admittedly annoying phenomenon. While it’s been nothing but good for business – and for me personally – many of us in the life can’t help snickering about it,” he wrote. “Of all the professions, after all, few people are less suited to be suddenly thrown into the public eye than chefs.”
Bourdain’s introduction to “Kitchen Confidential: Insider’s Edition” was scrawled in his own hand in block letters – offering the sense of making it personal right away.
He wrote of the difficulty of long hours, hard work and poor pay, and said that one of the side benefits of his success was the ability to pay the rent. Yet there was more than a sense of wistfulness about times gone by.
CNN is currently airing the 11th season of “Parts Unknown,” and Bourdain was in France shooting an episode for the 12th season. CNN said it has not made a decision yet on whether it will proceed with the current season
Bourdain was twice divorced and has a daughter from his second marriage. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
Detroit News writer Melody Baetens contributed.
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