In lesser hands, a celebrity culinary travelogue series would have had some cliched scenes like a big-shot chef on an Eiffel Tower platform sampling crepes going "C'est Bon!" ad nauseum into the camera. It might seem glamorous to some, but it doesn't make for compelling television.
Anthony Bourdain was different. On such highly-lauded series as No Reservations and the warts 'n' all CNN documentary-oriented Parts Unknown, the rustic chef didn't treat food as a novelty, but a vital part of life. And every time he went on location, he profiled food as an essential part of its environment and an influential element shaping the lives of people who prepared and ate it. In short, food didn't have to be a delicacy to be a necessary part of the culture.
That's why Bourdain, who died in 2018, is so sadly missed in the culinary media world. No one else before or since has examined food with the same zeal as profiling the locals, traditions, upbringings, and surroundings at every locale he documented. For all that, Bourdain was an enigma even to those who worked with him, which is why some anecdotes and facts about his life were a surprise to many.
He Wasn't Great With His Finances
It might seem difficult to believe, but for at least half of his adult life, Bourdain was barely scraping by and claimed to not even have a bank account until he was 44. That was when his book Kitchen Confidential, which blew the lid off the culinary industry, became a big seller. With the proceeds, he approached the IRS and credit card companies he owed big time and worked out an agreement with them to get back into the black.
He claimed that he remained debt-free ever since, although his estate when he died revealed he was worth $1.2 million, according to Mashed. That isn't too shabby for ordinary working folks, but usually on the bottom rungs of celebrity financial rankings. Heck, even Pawn Stars hired hand Chumlee was worth almost five times more.
He Befriended Punkers But Feuded With Celeb Chefs
Bourdain may have been worldly, but he was anything but pretentious. He never left the streets of New York behind, despite the food junkets he embarked upon. His world was the punk scene cultivated by the Big Apple at such major hangouts as The Bottom Line and CBGB's. Small wonder why he was closer pals with the likes of Iggy Pop and members of the hard rock act Queens of the Stone Age, who did the theme for his Parts Unknown series.
But when it came to famous folks in his trade, Bourdain didn't hold back with the trash talk, especially taking aim at Guy Fieri for his flame outfits (and apparent love of the band Nickelback). He's also had run-ins with a slew of other kitchen icons that include Rachael Ray, Wolfgang Puck and Sandra Lee (calling her the "hellspawn of Betty Crocker and Charles Manson").
He Was Shy But Didn't Let On About His Depression
According to a number of accounts in Mashed, Bourdain was a jovial star hanging out with the crew on No Reservations. But by the time he started shooting Parts Unknown, he would rarely go out with his colleagues after hours, preferring hotel room solitude. It could have been the strain of celebrity or his drug-addicted past catching up to him as he grew older.
But a lot of producers found him withdrawn, except for the times the show's ensemble hit Vietnam, which had a rustic culinary environment that never failed to lift his spirits. Other times he kept his depression and psychological demons to himself, save for the occasional interview when he felt candid enough to let folks into his head.
Having a life of excesses certainly didn't help with his anger management and bipolar issues, although he was still in great physical shape when he died at 61.
He Had A Sideline Literary Career
Besides, being a chef, he fancied himself as a writer much more than a celebrity figure thanks to the shows that aired internationally. He took great pains to write his own voiceovers on the programs, for openers. And it was through the literary world with Kitchen Confidential that first made Bourdain a household name.
But he did a series of well-received crime novels, such as A Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, which did include some culinary references. Bourdain was also a huge comic book fanatic and even worked with a graphic novel artist to illustrate some of his other literary works like Get Jiro! and Hungry Ghosts.
He Loved Fast Food, But Hated Trendy Dishes
To the New York chef, a Nashville greasy spoon was every bit as significant as a Michelin three-star restaurant in Monaco if the locale's culture warranted the treatment. But he drew the line at ordering McDonald's cuisine, preferring fast food outlet In-N-Out.
He has also spoken out against food trends like pumpkin-spice meals and drinks, juice cleansing, and gluten-free items, especially for those who he felt didn't really need to eat them for medical reasons. Bourdain also didn't have much patience for vegans, calling them "self-indulgent."
Other dishes that didn't suit his eccentric palate included Ranch salad dressing, club sandwiches, and Frito pie.