Admittedly, I hopped on the Bourdain Train a little late. By the time I had made my discovery, he had been around the world and he’d been player hated. Plus, he already had a few bestseller books and multiple television shows under his belt.
As the bad boy of the culinary world, Anthony Bourdain is known for telling it like it is and ripping a new one to anyone who deserves it. One quick Google search and you’ll find a long list of fights he’s picked: Guy Fieri, Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Alice Waters, et al.
But beneath that prickly exterior and dagger tongue, this man is lover. He loves food (of course) but he also loves people. You can see it in the way he easily connects with strangers in far-off places or how he dotes on beloved chefs and restaurant staff in his books. Bourdain certainly hooked me with his bad-assery, but it’s these tender moments put me in his #1 fan club.
The list below may seem like a lot but I promise I left some stuff out. You’ll also notice I spend a lot of time on Parts Unknown; it was the show that got me hooked on Tony and makes me the most nostalgic.
Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw
Written ten years apart, Kitchen Confidential is the book that sparked Bourdain’s career as a writer slash TV personality while Medium Raw is the book that proves he’s still got it. Both are page-turners full of satisfying rants, raves, and food porn. One of my favorite chapters in Medium Raw is where he describes the immaculate and inspiring world of Justo, a man who guts fish for a living.
My two great passions in life are food and travel, and Bourdain happily marries the two in Parts Unknown. This show ain’t no Rick Steves; it explores the unknown, politically corrupt, and economically destitute.
Los Angeles (Koreatown) from Season 1 is one of my favorite episodes. References to the LA Riots hit an emotional chord for me but were balanced by fun food adventures with Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ food truck fame. I also now understand my family’s visits to Sizzler during childhood and my weird love for low riders.
From political and religious contention to the controversy of falafel and an all-girl Palestinian racing crew, the Jerusalem episode from Season 2 is eye-opening to say the least. One scene from the Gaza Strip is memorable: Elders gather to make a dish by stringing tiny, raw watermelons on a wire hanger and cooking them in hot coals. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Finally in Vietnam from Season 4, Bourdain pays tribute to his self-proclaimed “first love” and favorite place on earth. This episode could have easily been shot upon shot of mouth-watering Vietnamese food, but the sobering account of a country still scarred by war is what really gets you.
Friends, Parts Unknown is travel journalism at it’s finest. Watch it soon and watch it all.
Every bad cop needs a good cop, and Bourdain’s best friend is the yin to his yang. Ripert not only runs a 3-star Michelin restaurant but also chairs a nonprofit that fights hunger. Did I mention he’s a practicing Buddhist who quotes Dalai Lama on Instagram? Yup, Bourdain may be the best, but Ripert is certainly his better half.
Mind of a Chef
Even though this TV series focuses on other chefs, it has Bourdain written all over it (he’s a producer and the main narrator). Prepare to be astonished by the first season where David Chang explores every nook and cranny of Japan in search of deliciousness, but also look forward to Sean Brock’s explosion of Southern food and Magnus Nilson’s gentle giant ways in his remote Swedish kitchen. A special nod goes to the designers for their creative interludes and themed graphics.
Roads and Kingdoms
Though not borne from Bourdain’s brain, this digital magazine didn’t really take off until it got his stamp of approval. Matt Golding, one of the creators, reportedly wrote a passionate email after a night of debauchery that helped cement the partnership.
The concept is to share smartly written pieces of parts of the world that are largely unknown. It is really well executed, and I can’t stop reading it. Look for Dispatched by Bourdain, a selection of series curated by the man himself.