As one of the world’s best known celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain’s travels took him to the farthest reaches of the planet, and in so doing he became a champion of regional cuisines — including an intriguing list of Canadian favourites.
Bourdain, 61, was found dead Friday in his hotel room in France, where he was filming an upcoming segment of his award-winning Parts Unknown series for CNN. The network confirmed the cause of death was suicide.
Last fall, Bourdain travelled to Newfoundland, where he ate fish and chips in Petty Harbour, jigged for cod off the tiny fishing village of Quidi Vidi near St. John’s, and later hunted for moose in the province’s remote and rugged interior. In 2016, he said three Montreal chefs he’d featured on Parts Unknown should be declared national heroes.
“Anthony Bourdain was a real trailblazer in the culinary world and field. He was seen as a hero for young chefs,” Michael Bonacini, chef and co-founder of Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality told CBC News on Friday.
“The legacy that Anthony leaves behind is one that was so incredibly passionate about food and discovering food and sharing food with people and telling the stories of it. He seemed fearless wherever he went. He wasn’t afraid to try new things.”
‘They’re good for the world’
“I’m a huge fan and loyalist and evangelical on the subject of Martin Picard and Fred and Dave at Joe Beef,” the Emmy-winning Bourdain once told The Canadian Press about the trio of Quebec restaurateurs.
“I mean, I think they’re not just good for Montreal. They’re good for Canada. They’re good for the world.
“I’d put all three of those guys on the Canadian currency. If I were in charge of such things they would be national heroes. They’d be iconic figures. The Canadian version of Mount Rushmore would have those three guys up there and maybe Jen [Agg] from Black Hoof [in Toronto] also.”
In a series of tweets Friday, Agg recalled Bourdain’s humour and generosity.
“I’m in shock, devastated and at a total loss for words (the right and wrong ones),” Agg tweeted. “I’m so sad for his family. I’m so sad for his friends. I’m so sad for his colleagues. I’m so sad for me.”
Looking at our many email exchanges, often serious, sometimes gossipy and full of that trademark Tony humour–the kind that cuts through all the fat–I’m struck by his generosity. With his time, his words, his encouragement, in all things, he was so generous.
This is the worst. We’ve lost a brilliant story teller/writer and a great man, like to have tilted the world toward your way of thinking and to do it all while profoundly cool seems impossible, but he did it. I’ll miss him so much.
Bourdain’s love of Quebec and Montreal’s cuisine and some of its best known culinary figures were well established and he recorded three of his shows — No Reservations (April 2006), The Layover (December 2011), and Parts Unknown (May 2013) in the province.
Bourdain had credited Fred Morin and David McMillan of Joe Beef as the chefs who encouraged him to take a look at Newfoundland cuisine.
McMillan declined an interview request from The Canadian Press on Friday, but the Facebook account for the restaurant and his own personal Twitter account carried a black square to mark Bourdain’s passing.
Morin also tweeted cryptically about Bourdain without naming him Friday, describing him as loyal and kind and posting an image of an ice fishing cabin where they ate a sumptuous lunch during one episode.
In the Newfoundland episode broadcast last month, Jeremy Charles, head chef behind Raymond’s in downtown St. John’s, served Bourdain menu items and showed off the province’s splendours.
Culinary ‘rock star’ visits N.L.
Local foodies went wild when they heard that Bourdain — described by The Smithsonian as “the original rock star” of the culinary world — was touring the province.
“You know the … commercials about the most interesting man in the world? Bourdain is him in real life,” said one fan on Twitter.
“It was a real honour to show him my backyard, so to speak, you know. To bring him hunting and fishing and show him the lay of the land and bring him to the restaurant and show him what we’re doing,” Jeremy Charles, chef and co-owner of St. John’s restaurant Raymonds, told CBC News on Friday.
“He was super genuine and just made me realize we’re doing some good stuff. It was nice to hear that from someone … who has eaten all around the world and experienced so many restaurants. Just to hear that feedback was a beautiful thing.”
However, Bourdain’s foray to the East Coast was not without controversy — something Bourdain was used to as the culinary world’s “Elvis of bad boy chefs.” After the Newfoundland and Labrador episode aired, someone asked Bourdain on Twitter why the Montreal chefs were with him on the trip.
One user tweeted: “Why would Anthony Bourdain bring French Canadian snot chefs to Newfoundland? Anthony you did a diservice [sic] to the cuisine and hospitality of Newfoundland.”
Bourdain wasn’t impressed. He fired back, saying it was the two chefs’ “relentless advocacy for Newfoundland” that encouraged him to visit the province.
“Why were two ‘Frenchies’ on the last (episode) of Parts Unknown Newfoundland? Because they were solely responsible for enticing me there,” he said on Twitter.
However, Bourdain’s reference to “Frenchies” sparked more controversy, with some calling him “salty and rude.”
Others rallied to his defence.
“To the people upset about the Quebec chefs in Parts Unknown, first stop being so foolish,” Steven Davis tweeted in response. “Second, they are the ones who kept urging Bourdain to do a show in Newfoundland. Stop being a tool.”
Those behind the production of Bourdain’s show also took online heat for using the term “Newfie” in a tweet promoting the episode, with people informing Bourdain that many in the province consider the term offensive.
The official Parts Unknown Twitter account had shared an article citing Newfoundland-related books and local slang, saying “Embrace the Newfies as they are.”
The show acknowledged the criticism on Twitter and offered an apology.
In November 2014, Bourdain travelled to Wolfville, N.S., where he helped kick off the annual Devour! food and film festival. At the opening gala, he sampled offerings from a dozen chefs, and then proclaimed his fascination with the Halifax donair — a sweet and savoury meat-lovers treat that has since been declared the city’s official food.
“I look for unique foods, unique to the region,” he said in an interview with the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
“It is your most famous, it’s the signature dish — like the New York dirty-water hotdog.”