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Anthony Bourdain dies at age 61

The former fine-dining chef soared to fame with his revelations of what really happens in restaurant kitchens.
Photo by David Scott Holloway

Anthony Bourdain, the restaurant chef who became a media star after providing the public with an insider’s look at what really happens in fine-dining kitchens, has died at age 61.

The host of “Parts Unknown” was found dead in a hotel room in Strasbourg, France, where he was filming an episode of the popular CNN travelogue. In a statement, CNN indicated that Bourdain had taken his own life. Early reports said he was found by his friend and collegue Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin in New York City, but have not been confirmed.

Bourdain had left restaurant kitchens long ago, finding wider fame and financial success as a TV star known for his willingness to visit exotic locales and give anything a taste, regardless of how repulsive it might sound. But his roots were in the culinary world.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Bourdain said he became a food fanatic after tasting his first oyster, served by a fisherman who had just pulled it from the sea.  After dropping out of Vassar College, and before he’d been classically trained, the New Jersey native ended up working in a touristy seafood restaurant on the Massachusetts coast. He found that a life in the kitchen fit his rock 'n' roll lifestyle and disdain for conformity.

After culinary school, Bourdain bounced from restaurant to restaurant in New York City before landing at Brasserie Les Halles. It was there that he indulged a second passion, writing, snagging attention with a 1999 article in The New Yorker entitled “Don’t eat before reading this.” The piece aired some of the restaurant industry’s closely held dirty secrets. For instance, it advised readers not to order fish on a Sunday or Monday because the main ingredient was likely left over from a delivery the week beforehand.

The article’s reception led to a similar tell-all book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” published in 2000. The best-seller brought Bourdain instant fame and led to a number of follow-up book deals.

One, “A Cook’s Tour,” for which Bourdain visited various areas to sample the local cuisine, was made into a TV show, with Bourdain as host. Other travelogue-type series would follow, leading to “Parts Unknown” in 2013.

He also served as a judge on the popular cooking-competition show, “Top Chef,” and hosted a PBS series called “The Mind of a Chef.”

Bourdain became a mainstream star, appearing in programs because of his television notoriety rather than his culinary background. His on-air work reached as far as an episode of “Miami Ink,” a program that tells the stories behind the tattoos of celebrities.

He remained an iconoclast, blasting pop chefs such as Guy Fieri and disdaining the reverence shown for influential forces such as Alice Waters. Yet he effusively praised challengers of the status quo, including Ferran Adria and Jose Andres.

The circumstances leading to his death and the possible motivation for his suicide have not been disclosed.

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