On TV shows such as âNo Reservationsâ and âParts Unknown,â chef Anthony Bourdain presented the image of an alpha male of the world.
Beneath the swagger and mischievous grin, however, loomed a history of lethally destructive behavior. Soon after his first marriage ended in 2005, as Bourdain related in his book âMedium Raw,â he was âaimless and regularly suicidalâ during a stretch in the Caribbean. He recounted getting drunk and stoned â âthe kind of drunk where youâve got to put a hand over one eye to see straightâ â and said he would âpeel outâ in his 4Ă4 on his way back from nightly trips to the brothels.
His state of mind improved upon meeting a woman in London. At that point, wrote Bourdain, âmy nightly attempts at suicide ended.â
But on Friday, the chef-turned-star was found dead from an apparent suicide in a room at the luxurious Le Chambard Hotel in Kaysersberg, France. He was 61 and had reportedly hanged himself with the belt of his bathrobe.
A self-acknowledged reformed addict of heroin and cocaine â âI would have robbed your medicine cabinet had I been invited to your house,â he confessed in a 2013 Ask Me Anything session on Reddit â Bourdain was loved by those in the food world and beyond.
âHe taught us about food â but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown,â Barack Obama tweeted. The former president made a memorable appearance on âParts Unknown,â joining Bourdain for noodles and beer in a Hanoi restaurant with plastic stools.
Adventurous, literary and real, Bourdain redefined the idea of the celebrity chef with his culinary travel shows âNo Reservationsâ on the Travel Channel and CNNâs âParts Unknown,â both of which emphasized the exploration of global cultures beyond just food. Characterized as âthe Hemingway of gastronomyâ by British chef Marco Pierre White, Bourdain brought Vietnamâs fetal duck eggs, Italyâs homemade pastas and Japanâs silkiest sushi into millions of homes with cable TV.
Bourdain was beloved in the culinary world and boosted the careers of younger chefs including Eddie Huang, Roy Choi and David Chang. Among his closest chef friends was Eric Ripert, co-owner and chef of the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin in Midtown. They two were often seen adventuring on Bourdainâs shows; they zipped through Marseilles on scooters, rode donkeys to a Grand Caymen beach cookout, and goofed around with blindfolded junk-food tastings.
Ripert, 53, was with Bourdain this past week, working together on a segment for âParts Unknown,â and it was he who discovered his longtime friendâs body on Friday morning.
Later that day, the chefsâ mutual pal, Jason Merder, formerly a tour manager for Bourdain, texted Ripert as soon as he heard the news. Ripert sent back emojis of praying hands and a dove.
âItâs hard enough to think about Tony going out that way,â Merder told The Post. âBut itâs even harder to imagine Eric finding him like that.â
âTony,â as he was known to friends and colleagues, was born in New York City in 1956, the oldest of two sons of Pierre and Gladys Bourdain, a music-industry executive and newspaper editor, respectively.
Raised in suburban New Jersey, Bourdain related in his 2000 memoir, âKitchen Confidential,â that his lifelong love affair with food began when he was a fourth-grader in the 1960s. He and his family embarked on a luxe ocean voyage aboard the Queen Mary, en route to his fatherâs ancestral home of France. At dinner one night, a waiter ceremoniously spooned vichyssoise into the young Bourdainâs bowl â and the cold, velvety leek-and-potato soup was a revelation for a kid used to eating Campbellâs cream of mushroom.
On the ground in France, he gorged on his first stinky, runny cheeses, as well as blood sausage and even horse meat. He drank watered-down wine and ate a raw oyster fresh from the sea.
Bourdainâs parents and brother blanched at the delicacy, while he reveled in appreciating something delicious, âvaguely sexual-lookingâ and complex that others could not understand. He wrote that the experience made him a man â and scarred him for life: âThe food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive search for the next thing, whether it was sex or drugs or some other new sensation, would all stem from this moment.â
He decided he wanted to be a chef while toiling during his late teens at a fried-fish spot in Provincetown, Mass., where he once spotted the chef having sex with a newlywed bride celebrating her wedding at the restaurant. He dropped out of Vassar College and went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
By his early 20s, Bourdain was hooked on both the rough-and-tumble kitchen life and a host of illicit substances. During an early job in Soho, Bourdain was, he wrote, âhigh all the timeâ â cooking meals while on speed, cocaine and, âincreasingly, heroin.â He would dispatch a busboy to Alphabet City to pick up bindles of smack. For kicks, the young chef and his crew would blast the soundtrack to âApocalypse Now,â soak the kitchenâs range in brandy and set it alight to mimic scenes from the Vietnam flick.
Bourdain burned the candle at both ends, toiling over that stove all day and night, then going to see punk bands and doing drugs in after-hours clubs downtown, âworking throughâ hits of blotter acid and shots of Stolichnaya.
Of course, it ended badly. On Reddit, Bourdain later recalled his worst moment as a drug addict: âCombing the shag carpet for paint chips in the hope that they were fallen crack bits. Smoking them anyway.â
Bourdain got straight, with the help of methadone, in the 1980s. His life took an upswing in 1998 when he was hired as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles on Park Avenue South. Itâs where Bourdain reached his peak as a chef â running his first restaurant in New York and even getting a Tokyo outpost off the ground.
It also served as his send-off from full-time restaurant work when he published 2000âs âKitchen Confidential.â Written in a confessional, wiseguy tone, it notoriously exposed what really goes on behind the scenes. It was a brutally frank tome, tackling such topics as why brunch is a meal to be avoided: âHow about hollandaise sauce? Not for me .â.â. Unfortunately, [its] lukewarm holding temperature is also the favorite temperature for bacteria to copulate and reproduce.â
The book became a New York Times best-seller and ushered in an age of chefs as rock stars. Director David Fincher optioned it, and Brad Pitt reportedly wanted to play Bourdain. But that never happened and âKitchen Confidentialâ wound up a short-lived 2005 TV series (starring Bradley Cooper before he became a huge movie star).
Bourdain himself wanted nothing to do with the food-TV revolution that was bubbling up around him on channels like the Food Network. As he wrote in his second book, âMedium Raw,â he actually made fun of TV chefs, even when they were accomplished in real life. âWhen Iâd see Emeril [Lagasse] and Bobby [Flay] on the tube, they seemed like creatures from another planet â bizarrely, artificially cheerful creatures in a candy-colored galaxy in no way resembling my own.â
He softened, however, when he was offered the chance to do a show his way.
âA Cookâs Tourâ debuted on the Food Channel in 2002 and ran for two seasons, showing Bourdain traveling the world in search of exotic eats. That led to âNo Reservationsâ on the Travel Channel, which ran from 2003 through 2012 and added social commentary to the culinary element. âParts Unknown,â which further focused on the world beyond food, premiered in 2013. In all instances, he practiced a form of gritty, chain-smoking, hard-drinking, bleep-filled participatory journalism that was initially new to the normally genteel genre of food TV.
âHe taught us about food â but more importantly, about its ability to bring us togetherâ
Over the years, Bourdain and his crews explored some 100 countries, taking viewers into pockets of cultural psyches typically off-limits to tourists. (Like the time, after downing vodka shots in St. Petersburg, Russia, he joined his new comrades for an icy dip in a nearby river.) Summing up his show for a story in The New Yorker, the chef recounted the original pitch: âI travel around the world, eat a lot of s-â-t and basically do whatever the f-â-k I want.â
On multiple occasions, it involved him getting tattooed on television. His first one was done privately, and âmy first wife was not pleased,â he told Maxim last year. âI just went out and did it to congratulate myself on my sudden change of fortune after 30 years toiling in obscurity.â
Bourdain last worked full time in a restaurant kitchen at Les Halles in 2000. By the end of his run there, he made only $800 per week and, until age 44, he had never had a savings account. Asked in 2013 if he missed the chefâs life, Bourdain cheekily replied, âHell no! I like farting through hotel sheets.â
Bourdain did not suffer fools, and, over the years, became known for calling out people who he felt were misguiding America or the world of gastronomy.
He called critic Alan Richman âa douchebagâ for writing a snarky story about the New Orleans food scene just one year after 2005âs Hurricane Katrina. He referred to Guy Fieriâs now-defunct Times Square restaurant, Guyâs American Kitchen & Bar, as a âterror dome,â and sniped at the heralded French chef Alain Ducasse for being âa f-â-kwitâ with âdangerously uncoolâ dining rooms.
He had a softer spot for kids. During a Q&A at the Prospect Park food festival Googamooga in 2012, Bourdain called on my 9-year-old daughter, who asked the best way to cook a unicorn.
Not missing a beat, Bourdain smiled and shrugged: âRare.â
He had a daughter of his own, Ariane, 11 years old, with Ottavia Busia, to whom he was married from 2007 until 2016. (Previously, Bourdain was married to Nancy Putkoski from 1985 until 2005).
Since 2016, Bourdain had been dating actress Asia Argento, 42. The couple often put up Instagram photos of themselves enjoying time together around the world. On her Instagram and Twitter pages Friday, Argento posted text that read in part, âHe was my love, my rock, my protector.â
Bourdain more than lived up to that assessment after Argento went public in October 2017 with accusations that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein had sexually assaulted her. An unflaggingly ardent booster of #MeToo, Bourdain relentlessly blasted Weinstein, tweeting statements such as, âCan we use the word ârapistâ now? #Weinstein.â
He didnât hold back against other famous names, either, when he felt they deserved it.
After fashion designer Donna Karan said, when asked about the Weinstein accusations, that women who dressed a certain way were asking for âtrouble,â Bourdain tweeted at her: âHow many seventeen year olds have you dressed like they are, in your words, âasking for itâ?â
His last tweet on the matter, posted on May 25 â the day Weinstein was arrested in New York City on charges of rape (although not against Argento) â was an image of a Federal Bureau of Prisons food menu. The chef wrote: âWhatâs on the menu for #Weinstein @AsiaArgento.â
It was classic Bourdain.