The world got a little less interesting today, with the sad news that celebrated chef and author Anthony Bourdain took his own life, at the age of 61. He was found in a hotel room in the Alsace region of France, the New York Times reports, where he’d been traveling to film a segment for his popular CNN series, “Parts Unknown.”
The chef made a name for himself with his debut novel, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which hit the world of fine dining like a wrecking ball. In the 1999 New Yorker piece “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” that would eventually become Kitchen Confidential, he exposed the dirty secrets of high-end dining, warning customers never to eat fish on a Monday and venting his spleen about brunch, vegetarianism, and people who order their steaks well-done.
“Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional,” he wrote, in that piece. And it was, in fact, his love of dysfunction, of life’s messy possibilities, that made his stardom so enduring. After the success of his first book, he went on to write several more, and to host the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” a show that was more about living vigorously than anything else.
He outlined his basic philosophy on life thusly, in Kitchen Confidential:
“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds?” Mr. Bourdain wrote in the memoir. “Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
Thus, it’s not exactly surprising that he appreciated a toke or two. While he wrote of overcoming drug addiction issues in Kitchen Confidential, he rightfully considered cannabis to be part of a good, indulgent life, like foie gras or a fancy pinot. Visiting Seattle for “Parts Unknown,” he stopped by The Hollingsworth Cannabis Company to film a segment. And, of course, to sample the product.
Describing the all-in-the-family operation of the farm, he says, “Mom fills the pre-rolls and assists in quality control. As I will. And have. And will again!”
Later, dining with Hollingsworth’s owners at Seattle’s Mamnoon restaurant, he jokes that, “Well I’ve been smoking some of your product, so if I’m a little unfocused…uh, what was that?”
However, his embrace of pot also led to some highly inappropriate post-mortem criticism from Stop Pot, a prohibitionist organization.
Contrary to that extremely misguided belief, cannabis has shown potential as an effective treatment for anxiety and depression. Bourdain’s suicide underscores the fact that depression is an epidemic, and that you’re never too famous to get help for it. “My heart pours out for his family and loved ones,” wrote New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner, a friend of Bourdain’s. “Please, if you have thoughts of killing yourself, tell someone. You are never alone.”
Bourdain was also remembered for his staunch support of his girlfriend Asia Argento, who spoke out about being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, helping spark the #MeToo movement. Argento posted a short message on Twitter, memorializing him and asking for privacy.
CNN also released a statement, saying, “It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain. His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”