From deep-fried haggis in Scotland to the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, we look back at a career that was as much about humanity as it was food
Anthony Bourdain was often described as a “rock star” of the culinary world, but his defining characteristic was being a thoroughly decent human bloke. After writing a bestselling memoir, Kitchen Confidential, he moved into television, and used the travelogue format not only to explore global cuisine, but to give cultural clout to marginalized voices.
Here are a selection of clips that pay tribute to what he called “the best job in the world”.
Slurping noodles with Obama
A 2016 episode of Bourdain’s CNN show, Parts Unknown, featured the then president, Barack Obama, on his first trip to Vietnam. The pair memorably sat on plastic stools in a Hanoi cafe, drinking beer and talking about everything from ketchup on hotdogs to Obama’s childhood. Bourdain also taught Obama the art of the noodle slurp. On Friday, Obama paid tribute to Bourdain, tweeting a photo of the occasion. “He taught us about food,” wrote Obama, “but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”
Revealing chefs’ secrets to Oprah
Bourdain was well known for revealing the hidden secrets of the restaurant industry: he told people to go to restaurants on Tuesdays to get the freshest food and that old or unwanted cuts of steak were saved for when people ordered their meat well done. In this clip, he reveals to Oprah just how much butter you eat at a good restaurant – to audible gasps from the audience.
Eating street food in Queens
While Bourdain traveled the world, he also reminded us that you don’t need to go far from home to experience different cultures. In a 2017 episode of Parts Unknown, he took the 7 train to Queens, New York, and spoke to the borough’s many street food vendors.
Eating deep-fried haggis in Scotland
Bourdain was always a sharp critic of McDonald’s and KFC, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy delicious, unhealthy fast food. On a trip to Scotland he delighted in a menu of fish and chips and deep-fried haggis with thick curry sauce.
Reflecting on the opioid epidemic
Bourdain often used food as a way into bigger issues. His episode on Massachusetts hit all the normal beats (lobster, oysters, drinking) but also spoke tenderly and personally about the opioid crisis savaging the state and Bourdain’s own heroin use while working in Boston.
First trip to Waffle House
If you’ve never seen Bourdain visiting Waffle House for the first time, then you have never seen fine dining the way it is meant to be done. The southern chef Sean Brock shows him how to turn the southern fast-food institution’s offering into a tasting menu and Bourdain, initially suspicious, goes gooey over a burger patty and cheese between two slices of white bread.
Visiting Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant
In a clip from one of Bourdain’s early shows on the Food Network, he enjoys the food and foul mouth of a youngish Gordon Ramsay. Just before Ramsay serves Bourdain his third course, a shin of beef with grated truffle and seared foie gras, he says to camera: “That should stuff him, but knowing him, he eats like a fucking horse, so I know he’ll find room somewhere.”
Eating maqloubeh in the Gaza Strip
In 2014, the Muslim Public Affairs Council gave a “voices of courage and conscience” in media award to Bourdain for an episode of Parts Unknown in which he visited Palestine. Bourdain replied by saying: “It’s a measure, I guess, of how twisted and shallow our depiction of a people is that these images come as a shock to so many. The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics. That is all we attempted to show. A small, pathetically small, step towards understanding.” Here he is in the Gaza Strip, eating with a family and reminding the world that Palestinians are not just statistics.