Celebrated chef, author and TV star Anthony Bourdain died of a suicide in France, CNN reported Friday.
Bourdain, star of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” and author of many books, including “Kitchen Confidential,” was widely known for being a master storyteller with an adventurous appetite. He was 61.
His legacy will be largely defined by his love of food and travel, as well as his rebellious attitude. But Bourdain had a rather typical upbringing.
The celebrity chef was born in New York City, but grew up in New Jersey, he told The Guardian in 2013. Early on, his dad, Pierre, worked two jobs, one as a salesman at a camera store and another as a floor manager at a record store. He went on to work at Columbia Records. When Bourdain was a teenager, his mother, Gladys, worked as a copy editor at The New York Times.
“We were a pretty typical suburban family in most ways,” Bourdain said. “I was a reader. I lived in a house filled with good books. Both parents loved good movies — this was important.”
Bourdain’s father also had a taste for interesting food, according to The New Yorker. “Tony recalls travelling into New York City with his father during the seventies to try sushi, which at the time seemed impossibly exotic,” wrote the publication.
As a teen, Bourdain’s first restaurant industry job was as a dishwasher at the Flagship, “a flounder-and-fried-clams restaurant in Provincetown,” Massachusetts, according to The New Yorker. The job, he said, taught him much-needed lessons about hard work and discipline. Bourdain told NPR that he was a “happy dishwasher” and that he learned all the important lessons in his life as a dishwasher.
“This was the first discipline, the first organization because it is a very militaristic organization, the kitchen brigade, the first people whose respect I wanted and the first time in my life that — that I went home feeling respect for myself,” Bourdain told NPR in October. “I mean, I’d work — it was very hard work. You had to be there on time. There were certain absolute rules. And for whatever reason, I responded to that. It was a mix of chaos but also considerable order that I guess I needed at the time.”
“They were struggling to pay tuition, and my brother was about to start college, too. He was going to do well; I clearly was not,” Bourdain toldWealthsimple, referring to his younger brother, Chris. “I was a waste of money and of an education. So, when I said, ‘I’m going to drop out’ I’m sure they were relieved. Somehow they found the bucks to pay for cooking school tuition, which was also hard for them.”
While in school at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he worked weekends as a cook, getting paid around $40 a shift.
“I made extra money by playing poker and acey-deucey, another card game,” Bourdain said.
After graduation, he said he worked five to six days a week, often 12 hours a day, never going home with more than $120. In his early culinary career, Bourdain worked as a line cook and sous-chef at restaurants in the Northeast.
For many years, he had financial woes and was burdened with debt. (He didn’t have a savings account until he was 44 years old, he told Wealthsimple.) He also struggled with drug addiction, an issue he had long been open and transparent about: In 1997, he told The New York Times that from 1985 to 1988, he built his personality around the rock ‘n’ roll ethic of drugs and booze.
He was able to pick up the pieces though, and then an article he wrote changed everything. In 1999, he penned an essay titled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” giving advice to restaurant-goers, and at the encouragement of his mother, submitted it to The New Yorker.
“I wrote an article, my mom actually said, ‘You should send it to The New Yorker,’ and I mean, the next day, I got a call saying we’ll give you 50 grand to write a book,” Bourdain told Willie Geist on NBC’s “TODAY”in August. “I’m no dummy, I’m dunking french fries at age 44, I’ll write the damn book.”
That book was “Kitchen Confidential.” In 2000, it was described by “TODAY” as “pulling back the curtain on the restaurant industry.”
Still, “I held onto my job after Kitchen Confidential came out; I was hesitant about whether I should leave the kitchen, and I waited as long as I could. I was old enough to realize I’d been handed this incredible, lucky break and I was very unlikely to get another one,” Bourdain told Wealthsimple.
But the book launched Bourdain to culinary stardom.
After the book’s success, he landed his own TV shows on the Food Network, the Travel Channel and then eventually, his Emmy Award-winning show on CNN, “Parts Unknown.”
On “Parts Unknown,” which has aired for 11 seasons since 2013, Bourdain transported viewers to far-flung corners of the world, taking a look at not only the area’s best food, but also local political and social issues.
“It’s nice to know who we’re talking about when we talk about places with really complex problems,” Bourdain told Geist about the show. “Some knowledge of who people are when they’re sitting at home with their family eating, instead of just statistics.”
His passion for storytelling ran deep, and he not only gave people a glimpse into the lives of others on his TV show, but also among the pages of his many books. In March 2017, he told WealthSimple that his book imprint called Anthony Bourdain at Ecco Press “makes almost no money for me, but it’s deeply satisfying.”
“I do it for love, and for reasons of advocacy,” Bourdain told the site. “There are people out there whom I feel should champion. And it’s just creatively and personally satisfying to help people get heard. I bask in the collective glory when somebody puts out a good book on my imprint. But there’s no money in it.”
At the time of his death, Bourdain was reportedly working on an upcoming episode of “Parts Unknown” in Strasbourg, France.
“His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much,” CNN said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”