42 Little-Known Facts About Anthony Bourdain

July 10, 2024 | Henry Gomes

42 Little-Known Facts About Anthony Bourdain

Little-Known Facts About Anthony Bourdain

"You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together." —Anthony Bourdain

For nearly two decades, Anthony Bourdain has thrilled readers and viewers with stories about the foods of the world, the people who grow, produce, and cook it, and the culture and circumstances that shape it. Bourdain’s unique perspective on food was heavily influenced by his decades-long tenure as a restaurant chef.

His early writings and television shows were the product of kitchen banter—confrontational, sardonic, and downright hilarious. As he became an experienced traveller, his tone became noticeably more empathetic and inquisitive, though he always maintained a sense of humor. 

Bourdain has taken us to far off lands and our own cities, dined at some of the most exclusive fine dining establishments and also in family homes in rural villages. As we still try to process his recent untimely passing, let’s look back on some fascinating facts that define a truly brilliant individual.

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42. Marilyn and Tony

In 2012, a positive review of a North Dakota Olive Garden written by 86-year-old restaurant columnist Marilyn Hagerty became a viral sensation. The review was widely derided for its unabashed affection for a chain restaurant. Bourdain, however, jumped to her defense on social media, stating that Hagerty’s reviews represented an important perspective on Middle American dining. The two eventually met in-person and became friends. Bourdain’s book imprint published a compilation book of reviews from Hagerty’s long career as a restaurant columnist.

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41. Getting Their Revenge on Tony

Early in his celebrity, Bourdain had a habit of tearing into various food personalities. Two of Bourdain’s targets of pointed criticism and mockery—Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray—were able to exact revenge at a charity roast of Bourdain.

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40. All Seven Continents

Very few people can say that they have travelled to all seven continents, let alone say they made episodes of television on all seven continents. Bourdain has travelled extensively throughout his long career as television travel host. In 2017, Bourdain and his crew were even invited by the National Science Foundation to remote Antarctica to film an episode of Parts Unknown. In preparation for the long trip and the arduous conditions, Bourdain and his crew had to undergo a series of rigorous medical exams.

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39. Emmy Award Winner

Emmy voters have recognized Bourdain’s work on television many times. Throughout his career he received 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won four. All four wins came in the Outstanding Informational Series or Special category for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which he shared with his fellow executive producers.

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38. Peabody Award Winner

In 2013, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown received a prestigious Peabody Award, which honors the most enlightening and evocative forms of storytelling in electronic media. In his acceptance speech during the ceremony, Bourdain summed up the show’s mission statement, “We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions. We tend to get some really astonishing answers.”

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37. The Book That Changed Everything

What truly put Bourdain on the map was his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. The book, written in what would become Bourdain’s signature confrontational and sardonic style, functioned as part memoir and part expose on the inner workings of a restaurant. The latter portion expanded on a 1999 essay Bourdain wrote for The New Yorker, entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” The book became a New York Times bestseller and propelled him out of restaurant kitchens and into a new career as professional traveller, eater, and writer.

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36. Budding Novelist

While still working long hours at restaurants, Bourdain started to devote time to another passion—writing. In 1985, Bourdain attended a writing workshop put together by editor Gordon Lish. In 1990, Bourdain received an advance from Random House to write a crime novel that takes place in the restaurant world. The ensuing novel was titled Bone in the Throat and released in 1995. A follow-up novel, Gone Bamboo, was released. The novels weren’t the blockbuster successes Bourdain was hoping for and would soon go out of print. However, they were reissued following the success of Bourdain’s later non-fiction books.

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35. Own Publishing Line

In 2011, Bourdain received his own publishing line with HarperCollins imprint Ecco Press. The books released under the banner Anthony Bourdain Books were specifically curated by Bourdain himself. After Bourdain’s death, HarperCollins announced that the imprint will be discontinued once all contracted books have been released.

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34. Tony Meets The Simpsons

One of the ultimate milestones in American celebrity is a guest spot on the long-running animated series The Simpsons. Bourdain achieved this hallowed milestone in 2011 when he appeared as himself in the season 23 episode “The Food Wife.” Bourdain appears in a food-centric episode that also has cameos from fellow celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Gordon Ramsay.

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33. Hanging With DJ Lance

Considering his penchant for foul language and his sarcastic sense of humor, it was a little bizarre to see Bourdain appear on the wacky and colorful Nickelodeon children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba!. Bourdain made his appearance in 2010, playing the part of “Dr. Tony.” Bourdain appeared on the show because his daughter was a big fan. Describing his affection for the show, Bourdain said, “I love Yo Gabba Gabba. I don't care what you say, DJ Lance, Muno, Broby, Foofa, Toodie and Plex have taught my daughter many valuable lessons--like the desirability of napping, for one. Not to throw objects at Daddy's skull. Not biting. The value of ‘trying again’ and ‘not giving up’.”

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32. Judging Top Chefs

Bourdain has appeared as a guest judge on various seasons of the popular cooking competition series Top Chef. For the show’s eighth season, which featured an all-star cast, Bourdain was a regular judge. During his stint as a judge on season three, Bourdain wrote a blog based on his experiences of being a judge on the show. Bourdain’s work on the blog got him a Webby Award nomination for Best Blog—Cultural and Personal.

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31. Savoring The Taste

After years of making television on cable, Bourdain made a foray into broadcast television as one of the judges and mentors on ABC’s cooking competition show The Taste. Bourdain appeared alongside other food personalities, and the show ran for three seasons from 2013-2015. For each of the show’s three seasons, Bourdain received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host.

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30. Le Chef de Les Halles

Bourdain’s biggest break in the restaurant world came when he was named as executive chef of New York City’s Brasserie Les Halles. Even after Bourdain retired his chef whites and his book and television careers took off, he maintained a relationship with the restaurant.

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29. Influence of Cinema

Bourdain was a major cinephile, and his love for movies is evident in many episodes of his show. He made the bold decision to shoot a Rome-set episode of No Reservations exclusively in black and white, evoking the films of Italian directors Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. In an episode of the latest season of Parts Unknown, Bourdain travelled to Hong Kong and extensively featured cinematographer Christopher Doyle, best known for shooting the Hong Kong-set films of director Wong Kar-wai. The episode included many locations that were popularized by films like Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love.

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28. An NYC-Born Jersey Boy

Bourdain was born on June 25, 1956 in New York City to Pierre Bourdain, an executive with Columbia Records, and Gladys Bourdain, an editor with the New York Times. Bourdain was raised in Leonia, New Jersey.

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27. Becoming a Father

In 2007, Bourdain married his second wife, Italian mixed martial artist Ottavia Busia. The couple had a daughter, Ariane, who was born in 2007. Busia made many appearances on Bourdain’s television series No Reservations, including an episode in her native Sardinia. Similar to his first marriage, Bourdain’s busy travel schedule was cited as the reason behind their separation.

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26. A Man of Ink

Bourdain was known for his fondness of tattoos. He received his first tattoo when he was 44, and became infatuated with getting inked. Some of his tattoos include an ouroboros on his left shoulder that he got in Malaysia, a skull on his right shoulder, and a chrysanthemum on his upper arm administered in the traditional Japanese tebori method.

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25. A Very VIP Guest

Over the years, Bourdain has dined with many distinguished celebrities from various industries on his television shows. Perhaps his most distinguished guest was then-President Barack Obama. Obama dined with Bourdain in a small, nondescript noodle shop in Hanoi, Vietnam for a 2016 episode of Parts Unknown. The two drank beers and ate the traditional Vietnamese rice noodle dish of bun cha, all while sitting on plastic stools. Following Bourdain’s death, the former President paid tribute to his one-time dinner companion on Twitter.

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24. Not a Fan of the Piano Man

Bourdain was not a fan of certain artists and banned their music from being played in his restaurant kitchens. These artists include Elton John, The Grateful Dead, and Billy Joel. Whenever Bourdain made an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, bandleader Questlove would amusingly play a Billy Joel song during Bourdain’s introduction. Bourdain did reveal that he and Billy Joel have a good relationship, despite their differences in musical taste, and have dined together on a couple occasions.

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23. High School Sweetheart

Bourdain’s first marriage was to his high school sweetheart Nancy Putkoski. They married in 1985. Bourdain dedicated his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential to Putkoski. Sadly, Bourdain’s new career as a globetrotting television host eventually led to the dissolution of their marriage.

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22. Close Call

While filming an episode of No Reservations in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, Bourdain and his crew were caught in a war zone, as tensions between Lebanon and Israel boiled over and the two countries exchanged missiles. The eventual episode on Beirut focused on the crew being confined to their hotel and trying to secure an exit out of the country. Eventually, through the help of a local fixer, they were evacuated by the United States Marine Corps.

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21. Musical Tribute

On the track “Ek Shaneesh,” rap group Das Racist gave a shoutout to Bourdain. Eventually, Das Racist would be featured on an episode of No Reservations. Group member Heems would make a few more appearances on Parts Unknown; he was featured in an episode set in Queens, and contributed music to episodes set in India.

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20. Going Hollywood

Bourdain made an appearance in the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short. The film is characterized by short vignettes where real-life celebrities like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie explain obscure finance practices. In Bourdain’ vignette, he explains the financial concept of collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, by comparing it to the long-held restaurant practice of using leftover fish to make a special of seafood soup.

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19. Cook Like Tony

Bourdain released two cookbooks in his lifetime. The first was Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, which was released in 2004 and includes recipes for popular French bistro dishes that were on the menu of his restaurant Brasserie Les Halles. In 2016, Bourdain released his second cookbook, Appetites. The book combines recipes from New York City and ones culled from his various travels around the world.

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18. Television Debut

Bourdain made his television debut on the Food Network with A Cook’s Tour. Each episode contained Bourdain sampling the cuisine of a particular location. The show ran for 35 episodes over two seasons. His travels for the show also inspired a non-fiction book, which was also titled A Cook’s Tour.

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17. No Reservations

After the end of A Cook’s Tour, Bourdain moved on to the Travel Channel and became the host of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The show spawned a spinoff program called The Layover, which also aired on the Travel Channel. On The Layover, Bourdain spends 24 to 48 hours in a single city, trying to fit in as much food and adventure as possible.

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16. Now Entering Parts Unknown

The next and final incarnation of Bourdain’s travel shows was CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. CNN offered more access to places that were previously or still troubled by conflict, like Myanmar, The DR Congo, Libya, and Israel. He explained to AdWeek in an interview, “There are a lot of places where me and my team have been wanting to make television for a long time and haven’t been able to. And CNN has the infrastructure and inclination to make those places doable.”

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15. Punk Rock Fan

Coming of age in the 1970s New York, Bourdain became a big fan of punk rock. He has featured both Marky Ramone of the Ramones and David Johansen of the New York Dolls on his shows. His 2006 book The Nasty Bits was dedicated to Ramones members Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee.

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14. A Sitcom Adaptation

In 2005, Bourdain’s bestselling book Kitchen Confidential was adapted into a sitcom for Fox. Bourdain’s character on the show was renamed Jack Bourdain, and he was portrayed by a then-relatively unknown Bradley Cooper. The show was not a success. 13 episodes were produced, but only four ended up airing.

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13. Bizarre Foods

Over the years, Bourdain has sampled many unique delicacies across the world. These include a seal eye, a cobra, and ant eggs. In a 2007 Q and A with Time, Bourdain revealed that the worst things he ever ate were fermented shark in Iceland and warthog rectum in Namibia.

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12. Writing Staff Member

Bourdain was a member of the writing staff for the HBO series Treme. Bourdain helped with developing the character of Janette Desautel, a New Orleans chef trying to resume her career after her restaurant was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Co-creator David Simon was a big fan of Bourdain’s and recruited him to be a part of the show’s writing staff over a meal of sushi.

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11. Started From the Bottom

Bourdain’s first job in a restaurant was as a dishwasher. Bourdain really valued his job and credits it with instilling a sense of discipline that he lacked as a “lazy” adolescent. In an interview with NPR, he said,  “I was a happy dishwasher. I jokingly say that I learned every important lesson, all the most important lessons of my life as a dishwasher.”

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10. Entering the World of Comics

Bourdain was a lifelong fan of comic books and graphic novels. In Kitchen Confidential, he recalls spending a good chunk of his vacations in France reading Tintin and Asterix comic books. As he grew older, Bourdain became a big fan of underground comic book publisher EC Comics. Later in life, Bourdain went into comic books himself. He co-wrote the chef-themed graphic novels Get Jiro and its sequel Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi. He also co-wrote an anthology series entitled Hungry Ghosts.

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9. Quitting Cigarettes

It was a common sight in the early episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s television to see him smoke cigarettes. In fact, during an episode of A Cook’s Tour, chef Thomas Keller prepared a special “coffee and cigarettes” break in the middle of a 20 course tasting menu. The dish was a coffee and tobacco-infused custard paired with a foie gras mousse. Upon the birth of his daughter in 2007, Bourdain decided to quit smoking cigarettes altogether.

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8. Bourdain Market

Throughout his travels, Bourdain always showed affection towards the large food hall markets that are so prevalent around the world. Bourdain was determined to bring that experience closer to home. He spearheaded efforts to bring a large food hall, tentatively named Bourdain Market, to the redeveloped Pier 57 on Manhattan’s West Side. Bourdain’s ambitious plan included bringing in some of his personal favorite food vendors from around the world. Unfortunately, it was announced in late 2017 that the plan was being cancelled, citing difficulties obtaining a lease and visas for prospective vendors.

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7. A Battle Inside

Bourdain has been very forthright about his many addictions over the years. He recounts his drug abuse extensively in Kitchen Confidential, “We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to 'conceptualize.' Hardly a decision was made without drugs.” He explored his history with drug addiction on a 2014 episode of Parts Unknown set in Massachusetts. In the episode, Bourdain explains how his drug problem started while living in the state’s seaside town of Provincetown as a young adult. He later attends a support group for drug addicts, where he shares his story with people affected by the recent opioid crisis.

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6. Death

On June 8, 2018, Bourdain took his own life in a hotel room in the French town of Kaysersberg. His longtime friend and fellow chef Éric Ripert found Bourdain’s body. The two were in the midst of filming an episode of Parts Unknown in the nearby city of Strasbourg. Bourdain was 61. His death stunned the world, and his good friend Michael Ruhlman revealed to Anderson Copper that "The last I knew, he was in love. He was happy," Ruhlman continued, "He said, 'Love abounds' -- some of the last words he said to me."

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5. It All Started With an Oyster

Every food lover can trace back to the exact moment that food became more than just a vehicle for sustenance. For Bourdain, that moment happened during a family vacation to France when he consumed his first raw oyster. Bourdain describes this life-changing experience in vivid detail in Kitchen Confidential. He wrote, “It tasted of seawater…of brine and flesh…and somehow… of the future. Everything was different now. Everything.”

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4. Roman Romance

Italian filmmaker and actress Asia Argento was featured extensively in an episode of Parts Unknown filmed in Argento’s hometown of Rome. The exchanges in the episode between the two seemed very flirtatious, and sure enough, the two had sparked a romantic relationship. Argento would go on to direct an episode of Parts Unknown in Hong Kong, which aired only a few days before Bourdain’s untimely death.

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3. Favorite Place

One of Bourdain’s favorite places to travel to is Tokyo. His first visit to the Japanese city was in 1998 to oversee the opening of a new Les Halles location. He was immediately taken by the city’s thrilling intensity. Bourdain once wrote, “I love Tokyo. If I had to eat only in one city for the rest of my life, Tokyo would be it…It's that densely packed, impenetrable layer cake of the strange, wonderful and awful that thrills. It's mesmerizing. Intimidating. Disorienting. Upsetting. Poignant. And yes, beautiful.”

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2. Bourdain the Grappler

Largely inspired by his mixed martial artist ex wife Ottavia, Bourdain became a practitioner of Brazilian jiu jitsu at an age when most people are usually hitting the golf course. In 2015, Bourdain attained a blue belt in the discipline, and in 2016 he won a BJJ tournament in New York in a 56 and older age division.

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1. CIA Trained

Following high school, Bourdain enrolled at Vassar College, though he would drop out after two years. During his summers off from Vassar, Bourdain started to work in kitchens in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Feeling the need to take his cooking expertise to the next level, Bourdain enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. He graduated from the “other” CIA in 1978.

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Sources:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

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