Good Food remembers Anthony Bourdain

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Evan Kleiman, Host: “Bourdain was always more than he seemed. And the public really started to see this, with the groundbreaking Beirut episode of “No Reservations ,” when Bourdain and his crew were stranded when the Israel-Lebanon conflict started. The meager edited footage turned the episode into a difficult-to-watch existential meditation on how awful the world can be even while people remain capable of bridge-building. His reporting became more pointed, idiosyncratic and fearless.” Read Evan Kleiman’s full thoughts on the passing of colleague Anthony Bourdain on the LA Times website.

Nick Liao, Managing Producer: I hadn’t heard of Anthony Bourdain until 2007, when an ex-girlfriend showed me an episode of “No Reservations.” It was the heyday of food blogs and message boards like Chowhound, and I was starting to become more curious about food. What began as mild indifference quickly accelerated into a full-fledged obsession, as I plowed through reruns. There was no turning back.

“No Reservations” was the thing that got me outside of my food bubble. I was a graduate student of limited means, so I began eating my way around places that I could afford, tracing Anthony Bourdain’s steps wherever possible. There was LA’s Thai Town, where I was unsettled by my first bowl of boat noodles, laced with beef blood. I walked the taco trail in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. I found culinary treasures in Houston’s unassuming strip malls.

The more I traveled and ate, the more I absorbed Bourdain’s expansive worldview. I came to see that food is foremost about human lives: history and politics, homes and neighborhoods. When Tony visited new places, he didn’t adopt the breathless cadence of a wide-eyed tourist or the authoritative tone of an expert, familiar to those of us who have watched countless food shows. Instead, he modeled a gracious, unflashy way of being in unfamiliar spaces—genuinely curious and ready to admit what he didn’t know. It was an object lesson in how food can be a bridge to the “other.” Many of Tony’s fans noted that he stopped describing food on his television show later on in his career. His priorities had shifted. Deliciousness had become secondary, as it should be—a lesson that those of us in food media are ever in peril of forgetting.

If not for Anthony Bourdain, I wouldn’t have gotten the nerve to fly to Mexico City (my first solo trip out of the country). One morning while it was still dark, I dragged my sleepy hostel roommate to Fonda Margarita, a breakfast spot I had seen on “No Reservations.” We rode the subway for well over an hour and walked the final couple miles through a maze of streets.

Arriving at the restaurant, our weary souls were gladdened by the smells wafting out of huge, beautiful cazuelas. I pointed at whatever looked good. I was deliriously happy, even if at times I didn’t know exactly what I was eating. An elderly diner nearby scooted a few seats over towards me. Producing a notebook from his tweed jacket, he wrote those dishes down on a scrap of paper, which I kept.

Romeritos and huauzontle, it said. It was a small, ordinary act of kindness. Thanks to Tony, I’ll always remember it.

Laryl Garcia, Producer: A diehard listener of Good Food for years prior, I started working on the show in June 2010. After interviewing for a coveted spot on the team, it was suggested that I should promptly visit the studio on a taping day to check out the legendary basement, hang with Evan, and get to know the key players. The caveat: “But not tomorrow, Anthony Bourdain will be there.” Wait, wha?!? I get it now, they didn’t really know me yet. I was the gal eager to produce my first piece on the most cherished foods of Samuel Clemens but I could also quite possibly be the chick who fangirled out over the guy with unarguably the best damn job in the world.

Understanding I hadn’t earned my dues, I put my nose to the grindstone and sunk my teeth into Mark Twain’s love of terrapin and black bass.

Years and many segments later, I was at the Lucky Peach party at the Ace Hotel celebrating their Los Angeles issue. Kim Gordon was there, I was stoked. The buzzing room hushed as Anthony Bourdain casually strolled in half a foot taller than anyone else. After exchanging pleasantries, he beelined for the French dip sandwiches that Cole’s was serving, stood at a high top table alone, and polished that sucker off. I have this bad, awkward iPhone photo to prove it:

Photo by Laryl Garcia. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

I realized then and there, nobody puts Tony in a corner but Tony. And also, that managing producer was right to save Anthony Bourdain from me in the halls of the basement so many moons ago. He was and will remain a culture maestro of and for the people, and I suspect would have appreciated Twain’s musing, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Rosalie Atkinson, Associate Producer: During college, I studied in Spain with only a California-understanding of Spanish and little-to-no idea about the variations of ham in the world. I pored over every episode of Anthony Bourdain’s television programs. They showed him eating sardines on a wooden bar stool, or leaving the countryside saying things like Spain is “The best place in the Western world to eat.” Hell yeah, I thought, let’s do this. Something in his “give no f*cks” demeanor took away my fear of being able to sustain myself in a foreign country. He made eating well and having fun somewhere new seem effortless. And at 21, I had never once felt effortless.

Getting ready to leave for Spain, his nomadic spirit imprinted itself on me and I scribbled down the names and translations of each tapas he ate on his shows. He taught me to order a drink, eat the free tapas that were placed in front of me, and notice the beauty in each dish. The olive oil drizzle atop freshly cut tomatoes, the bright yellow Spanish tortilla, the garlic crusted shrimp, so fresh they were practically still moving. But moreover, he taught me to be hungry for more than food. Traveling the stone streets of Granada, Seville, and Cordoba, I thought about the country’s culinary history: the Moors and the Romans, the olives, the bitter oranges, and the pigs. I was thinking about everything all at once, but also nothing as I took it all in. I was just present in Spain.

Now that Tony’s gone, I still feel the same when I look at pictures of him. Like looking at an uncle, the one that loaned me a car at 16 to go see my favorite band, never telling my parents. He gave me a taste of freedom by putting me in charge of my curiosities. No one was going to order the morcillo, or blood sausage, for me. Having read the books, watched the shows, and always hoping I’d bump into him in some dark bar, in some corner of the world– I’m not sure how to let go of the loudest culinary voice of my generation. But maybe one night, I’ll be in that dark bar and a Stooges song will come on the stereo and I’ll think to myself if his spirit could be anywhere, here isn’t a bad spot to be.

Ronny Mikkelsen, Engineer: As the post-recording mix-engineer at Good Food based in Denmark, I am sadly far removed from the many culinary heroes that grace the recording booth at KCRW and so never, to my deep regret, have I had the chance to meet Anthony Bourdain in person.

Yet, like many, his words have touched me variously throughout the years and from the very first paragraph of “Kitchen Confidential,” I found Tony’s words relatable, a rallying cry even.

Those words made me put on an apron, learn how to bake, work in professional kitchens, and later those very same words made me take that apron back off. They made me beam with national pride and tip my hat to a kindred spirit when they proclaimed “I’m learning Danes may be stiff, but they sure as hell know how to drink.”

And they broke my heart and robbed me of my dream job in one fell sentence, when they proudly snarked, in an episode of a show, that Tony’d quit the day the production team hired a sound guy.

I will miss Anthony Bourdain’s words, wit, snark, and quotable one-liners, but most of all I will miss the prophetic storyteller’s views of our weird, wonderful and often scary world.

Rest easy good sir and enjoy the great omakase tasting menu, you’ve earned it.

Joseph Stone, Market Report Producer: Back when high definition cable and televisions were becoming the thing, I first watched Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” on The Travel Channel. I was immediately head over heels hooked. It wasn’t just the beautiful cinematography that shined under the then-novel high definition or Bourdain’s intrepid exploration of the furthest corners of the world that made you wish you were along for the ride, but, strangely enough, I most loved his narration.

He had a perspective and a certain sophistication that you wished you had and said things the way you wished you said them. Also, an honesty that seemed quite palpable. I wildly admired everything about him and his show. I can remember thinking at the time if I could just work on a cool food show like that, I would be so happy. Looking back, it was the original seed that propelled me to work on this cool food show, Good Food, and, well, I’m so happy.

So thank you, Anthony Bourdain. It’s sad you’re gone and especially sad the way it all went down, but thanks for your life. Thanks for influencing me and all your other fans in all ways possible. You were definitely one of a kind. And I don’t know if there’s room for a quick sidebar, buuuuut , I got the chance to meet Anthony Bourdain at a Lucky Peach party at the Ace Hotel a few years ago. I was too awestruck and shy to really say anything to him, even though I wanted to thank him for being who he was, but I remember standing in his presence and thinking, “Wow, he’s got a humongous head. Maybe the biggest head I’ve ever seen!” I mean, he had a great head, a fine head. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a handsome guy. But I just kept fixating on the size of his head. As random as that little tidbit sounds, and maybe it was just a reflection of me standing in his towering presence, it’s something I will always remember.