Born in the summer of 1956, American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was a truly one-of-a-kind figure in the world of culinary art. Known equally for his talent and for his unique perspective and humor, his books and television programs were adored by many and secured him as a household name all over the world.
Born in Manhattan, Bourdain was of French and Jewish descent. He was raised in a non-religious household, but proudly claimed his Jewish identity independent of religion. According to Bourdain, his love of food began when he first ate a fresh oyster from a fisherman’s boat while vacationing in France as a child. He graduated from the Dwight-Englewood School in New Jersey and enrolled at Vassar College, though he dropped out after two years. During this time he began working in various restaurants, which kindled his interest in pursuing culinary arts as a career. This decision led him to attend The Culinary Institute of America, from which he graduated in 1978.
He ran various kitchens for several decades before becoming the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan. The restaurant also had locations in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Tokyo.
Bourdain’s first published work, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, was first published in 2000 and went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Bourdain’s 1999 essay for The New Yorker, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” served as the foundation for the book. It was a gritty, shockingly honest exposé of the culinary world, depicting the gourmet kitchen as an intense, unrelenting, dangerous environment that could only be survived by those with an immense passion for cooking plus a masochistic streak. He exposes the cost-cutting ways of many kitchens and himself as a former drug addict. It was culinary arts in the least refined package possible, shocking and mesmerizing readers and instantly establishing Bourdain as the eccentric, enigmatic rockstar of celebrity chefs. The success of the book led to his first show, Food Network’s A Cook’s Tour, which ran for 35 episodes between 2002 and 2003.
Bourdain’s 2004 book titled Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook was really a misnomer, featuring far more than one would expect from an installment in the cookbook genre. It was a memoir, a collection of funny and insightful anecdotes, and a source of guidance for aspiring chefs all in one garnished with a healthy dose of Bourdain’s world-famous recipes. Inspired by his time at Les Halles in Manhattan, it is still broadly recognized as one of his best works.
Though he is best known for his nonfiction, Bourdain’s creative streak led him to write several works of fiction as well. In 1995, he published Bone in the Throat, an exciting crime thriller set against the background of a New York City restaurant kitchen.
In 1997 came a second novel titled Gone Bamboo, another crime thriller much like his debut novel. A raucous feast of murder, hitmen, and the hit-women they love, Bourdain’s second novel firmly established his reputation as an author with a uniquely comic vision and a taste for the depraved.
Though his novels were not as well-received or financially successful as his nonfiction and television programs, they serve as yet another glimpse into the complicated world of culinary characters much like Bourdain himself. 2006’s The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones was something of a blend of styles; it was nonfiction, but told in the form of 37 humorous anecdotes and essays that read like a mesmerizing collection of short stories.
The following year, Bourdain published No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, which told the behind-the-scenes story of his experiences filming his television program of the same name.
More than just a companion to the hugely popular Travel Channel show, No Reservations is Bourdain’s fully illustrated journal of his far-flung travels. The book traces his trips from New Zealand to New Jersey and everywhere in between, mixing beautiful, never-before-seen photos and mementos with Bourdain’s outrageous commentary on what really happens when you give a bad-boy chef an open ticket to the world.
As a follow-up to Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain wrote Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010). In it he expands on his experiences, adds new insight and memories, and revisits old opinions with an older, more mature outlook. Though it received somewhat mixed reviews upon release, it is hailed today as yet another fascinating peek into the strange, amusing, tortured life of a professional chef.
Bourdain’s wild, colorful life came to an abrupt and tragic end when he was found dead of an apparent suicide while filming on location in France in June of 2018. The widespread love and admiration for Bourdain was emphasized by the torrent of condolences expressed by public figures such as chefs Andrew Zimmern and Gordon Ramsay, astronaut Scott Kelly, then-president Donald Trump, and former president Barack Obama.
Bourdain’s legacy is secured in history through his books and various television programs still enjoyed by many worldwide. His unique sense of humor, deeply philosophical spirit, and priceless contributions to the world of literature, television, culture, and culinary arts far outlive him and continue to amuse and inspire.
Browse our complete collection of Anthony Bourdain’s works here.