Remembering Anthony Bourdain, and his place on the TV Calendar
Anthony Bourdain, award winning chef, writer and TV host, was found dead on Friday. He was 61.
While very sad, why is this being covered here, on the TV Calendar News section? You may not realise, but Bourdain might just have more entries on this site than any other. Despite being "back of house" in his chosen career, he was a larger than life figure, a renowned public speaker and a skilled wordsmith. These qualities made him perfect for a dry but open and welcoming style of TV host.
Starting his extracurricular pursuits as a food columnist writer, this soon blossomed into a fully fledged non-fiction bestselling side line. His first book, a hard hitting look at the food industry and a do's and don't's for restaurant clientele, was titled Kitchen Confidential. In 2005, FOX bought the rights to turn into a comedy, based on the chefs life. Bradley Cooper, not yet a movie star, played Jack, a recovering alcoholic given a second chance at running his own kitchen. Bourdain himself was a prolific drug user in the 80s; the show tempered this, but it still had its darker moments.
Unfortunately, the show only managed to attract about 4 million viewers for its first 3 episodes (at the same time, LOST was pulling in 23 million), and then it ran up against the networks coverage of Major League Baseball. It aired one more episode after 2 months off air, and dropped another half a million viewers. It was cancelled by FOX that week. No more episodes aired (in the US). It wasn't until 2 years later that a DVD of the 13 episodes produced was released. If you've never heard of it, my recommendation would be to check it out, it was a great show that happened to land at the wrong time.
Bourdain was finding his feet in the TV arena at this time. After the critical acclaim of his memoir, the Food Network signed him for his first run as show host. The show was A Cook Tour (not on the Calendar), named after his second book which was current at the time. It established his ongoing format of travelling to a different country each episode, sampling local cuisine and bonding with the native people. The show aired 35 episodes over 2 seasons.
Just prior to Kitchen Confidential on FOX, Bourdain moved to the Travel Channel and started the show he would be best known for: No Reservations. His more rough and ready approach coupled with his professionalism brought a somewhat more authentic experience to the audience than most similar shows. One particular episode, where he and the crew were stranded in Beirut at the start of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, was nominated for an Emmy Award. While the show was not usually this outrageous, it veered away from the clean cut aesthetic you would find elsewhere.
After Season 7 of No Reservations, The Travel Channel added yet more Bourdain to its roster, in the form of The Layover. This show was more sedate than its predecessor, and featured the host finding things to see, do and eat in the time of a 24-48 hour layover. Running concurrently, both shows would end when Bourdain left the network at the end of 2012, over internal conflicts with the new owners and how they used his image.
Over the years he had been a guest judge on many reality cooking shows and competitions, and in 2013 took top billing on The Taste, as judge and mentor on screen, while also being an executive producer. The show lasted 3 seasons.
2013 would also see him move to CNN to host Parts Unknown. Despite being a self proclaimed "leftie", Bourdain also claimed his politics were his own, and that he definitely wasn't a journalist, so the move to a news network took most by surprise at first. 11 seasons over 5 years proved him right though. Politics rarely touched the show, although one memorable episode involved sitting down in a back alley cafe in Hanoi with Barak Obama. He was filming an episode for this show in France when he was found by friend, colleague and collaborator Eric Ripert. The cause of death is an apparent suicide by hanging.
Anthony Bourdain has been a part of the TV Calendar since its inception. 255 episodes and another 13 as a vaguely fictional character over nearly 14 years. I've enjoyed his outlook and considered take on everything from local foods to the sheer determination of peoples, no matter which country he was in. I've never met the man, but I will miss him.