Chicago chefs, others react to Anthony Bourdain’s death
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News of the death of celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain shook the restaurant world and beyond Friday, with chefs’ reflections on the 61-year-old’s impact echoed by expressions of grief and gratitude from entertainers, politicians and other cultural icons.
Bourdain was found unresponsive Friday morning in a hotel in Strasbourg, France where he was filming an episode of his award-winning CNN series “Parts Unknown.” CNN called his death a suicide.
Chicago chef Rick Bayless said the loss of Bordain is“sad and so difficult to understand.”
“I struggled with Bourdain sometimes — his brashness and one-liner quips — but I also know that more than anyone else he inspired millions of people to break out of their shells and experience the fullness our world has to offer,” said Bayless, whose restaurants include Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. “And I know he is the reason that thousands of young cooks have pursued a career in the kitchen. He made loving and cooking food one of the hippest things anyone could dedicate themselves to. For years to come, his loss will be palpable in the culinary world.”
Stephanie Izard, the Chicago restaurateur and chef famous from TV’s “Top Chef” and as one of the Food Network’s “Iron Chefs,” said: “Tony was very supportive of me since the first time we met on the set of ‘Top Chef ‘12 years ago. When he paid me a compliment, it made a long lasting impact because, simply, he was never full of s—.”
Izard called Bourdain “more well-spoken than I could keep up with. Out living life and exploring the world, as I wish I could. I will always admire him and be thankful I got to spend a little time with him.”
And on the Far South Side, where Bourdain once stopped in at the shack-like Calumet Fisheries for his show “No Reservations,” they were mourning his loss.
Business more than doubled after Bourdain showed up to sample the joint’s famed smoked fish, which he called “some of the finest and freshest … you’ll find anywhere.”
“He actually got to know the people behind the counter,” said the Calumet Fisheries manager Carlos Rosas, who was there in 2008, when Bourdain arrived. “It wasn’t like, ‘This is my job, I’m here to do it and bye.’ He actually wanted to know the people.”
In a statement from the Illinois Restaurant Association, president and CEO Sam Toia said, “Anthony Bourdain’s contributions to our understanding of food and culture are too many to enumerate. Through his gifted storytelling, he brought us all on a journey that truly connected food to geography, politics and society in all parts of the world. He leaves a legacy that inspires us all to travel adventurously, eat with curiosity and think more deeply about the world around us.”
In 2016, Bourdain and President Obama slurped noodles over a $6 meal in Vietnam. The YouTube video of the meal quickly went viral.
Chef Fabio Viviani, another “Top Chef” alumnus who owns Chicago restaurants Siena Tavern and Mercato, recalled a conversation he had shared with Bourdain about the death by suicide of fellow Chicago restaurateur Homaro Cantu in a post on Instagram. “It’s a sad day for anyone that loves food and loved you and your work as much as I did,” Viviani wrote. “The culinary world lost his biggest fan today.
David Axelrod, who was a top adviser to former President Barack Obama and who founded the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, noted that Bourdain’s death follows the death of designer Kate Spade by suicide days earlier.
“Now, Anthony Bourdain,” Axelrod tweeted. “How terribly sad! Please, please, let us treat mental illness, depression and suicide as health issues, not defects of character. That stigma is part of what prevents people from getting help they need. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.”
Chef Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago said he was “heartbroken” at the news of Bourdain’s passing. “So sad. He was the voice of the culture of chefs. He lifted the curtain and showed the world what it was like before celebrity chefs. Everyone chef I know respected the s–t out of Anthony,” he said via email.
Chef Art Smith, who was Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef and is co-owner of several Chicago restaurants, met Bourdain in Florida in 2014, when Bourdain came to support a marriage equality event that Smith, who is gay, hosted.
“One thing that Anthony taught us all is that you may be a chef, but you’re more than that,” Smith said, speaking from his home in Florida. “We all have a message. Anthony, with his work, had this wonderful story line and really captured the essence of humanity.”
“It’s severely tragic because he had so much more to give,” said Purple Pig Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. “He really spoke to what it’s like to be a chef, what goes on in our heads. He gave the public a real understanding of what we have to go through to consistently produce really great food. … In the restaurant industry mental health is something that’s just not discussed. And it’s a topic that needs to be addressed. There’s an immense amount of pressure in [the culinary industry]. People are ashamed to talk about mental health and that sucks. That has to change.”
Chef Gordon Ramsay tweeted that he was stunned and saddened by the loss. Ramsay wrote that Bourdain “brought the world into our homes and inspired so many people to explore cultures.”
“Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern wrote that a piece of his heart “is truly broken.” Zimmern said “the sad cruel irony” is that in the last year, Bourdain had never been happier.
Chef Devon Quinn, of Chicago’s Eden restaurant in the West Loop, said via statement: “He was an inspiration to young cooks everywhere including myself. He did more for this industry than most, portraying the good and bad realities that we experience daily. It is a hard job in a cutthroat world that he never sugar coated. I will be forever grateful for his contributions to the advancement of our trade.”
Actor and former “Man v. Food” host Adam Richman tweeted “Why?” Richman said his heart was with Bourdain.
Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill., tweeted that Bourdain brought “happiness” to millions of people through his cooking.
Sociologist and University of Chicago professor Eve L. Ewing tweeted that Bourdain often gave credit to the people who created the food he talked about on his show.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Sun-Times staffers Miriam Di Nunzio, Evan F. Moore, Lizzie Schiffman Tufano