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Need to Know: Chef, Author, and Activist Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61

Bourdain, who elegantly shuttled the gritty underbelly of restaurant life into mainstream American pop culture, passed away from an apparent suicide Friday morning.

by Zach Harris

Photo via Peabody Awards

Anthony Bourdain, whose culinary skill, honest writing, and vibrant television personality played a significant role in solidifying the chef as an integral part of pop culture, passed away Friday morning at the age of 61.

According to the New York Times, Bourdain was found deceased in a hotel room in the small French village of Alsace. The cause of death has been ruled a suicide by hanging.

Beginning his career as a teenager washing dishes at seasonal seaside tourist haunts in the Northeast, Bourdain dedicated his life to food at a young age, working 13-hour days as a prep worker, line cook, and eventually executive chef in Manhattan’s world-class restaurant scene.

In 1999, Bourdain, then head chef at Brasserie Les Halles, went out on a limb and submitted an unprompted essay to the New Yorker titled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” In the first-person peek behind the curtain, Bourdain let readers in on secrets of restaurant life that have since become common sense — most notably to avoid ordering fish on Mondays. The tough-talking Jersey native didn’t pull any punches in his writing, and quickly garnered the attention of media personalities and publishers.

A year later, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly — Bourdain’s memoir of New York restaurant secrets and back alley benders — hit the New York Times bestseller list and propelled him to international prominence.

In the decades that followed, Bourdain transitioned to television, hosting food-focused travel shows on both the Travel Channel and CNN. Over more than a dozen seasons of broadcasted international experiences, Bourdain amassed a reputation for showing unprecedented levels of respect for indigenous cultures and culinary history. Instead of offering his own takes or interpretations, Bourdain listened; giving a voice to grandmothers with centuries-old recipes ingrained in memory, immigrants fighting to feed their families, and cooks without Michelin stars on their resume.

"Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park,” Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential. “Enjoy the ride.”

Recently, as his television success continued to grow, Bourdain became a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement, calling out his culinary peers’ misdeeds and openly pushing to reform the restaurant industry’s often ignored culture of sexual harassment and abuse.

“I’ve had to ask myself, and I have been for some time, ‘To what extent in that book did I provide validation to meatheads?’” Bourdain told Slate last year. “If you read the book, there’s a lot of bad language. There’s a lot of sexualization of food. I don’t recall any leeringly or particularly, what’s the word, prurient interest in the book, other than the first scene as a young man watching my chef very happily [have a] consensual encounter with a client. But still, that’s bro culture, that’s meathead culture.”

Adding to his culinary and social activism, Bourdain lent his support to the fight for cannabis legalization. Over the years, Bourdain has consumed cannabis-infused pizza and rolled a joint on television.

Season 11 of Bourdain’s latest television show, Parts Unknown, debuted on CNN last month.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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