He is a 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of numerous professional kitchens, including many years as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles. He has been noted as one of the most influential chefs in the world. He first became known for his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. His first food and world-travel television show was A Cook's Tour, which ran for 35 episodes on the Food Network from 2002 through 2003. In 2005 he began hosting the Travel Channel's culinary and cultural adventure programs Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (2005–2012) and The Layover (2011–2013). In 2013, he switched to CNN to host Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
Though best known for his culinary achievements and television presentations, along with several books on food and cooking, Bourdain's lesser-known writings include both fiction and non-fiction.
Anthony Bourdain was born in New York City, and grew up in Leonia, New Jersey. His parents were Pierre Bourdain (d. 1987), a classical music industry executive for Columbia Records, and Gladys Bourdain (née Sacksman), a staff editor for The New York Times. Bourdain has said he was raised without religion, and that his ancestors were Catholic on his father's side and Jewish on his mother's side. His paternal grandparents were French: his paternal grandfather emigrated from Arcachon to New York following World War I, and his father grew up speaking French and spent many summers in France.
Bourdain has written that his love of food was kindled in his youth while on a family vacation in France, when he tried his first oyster on an oyster fisherman's boat. He graduated from the Dwight-Englewood School in 1973. He attended Vassar College, dropping out after two years, and at the same time working in Provincetown, Massachusetts, seafood restaurants, which sparked his decision to pursue cooking as a career. Bourdain went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America, graduating in 1978.
From there Bourdain went on to run various restaurant kitchens in New York City—including the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and Sullivan's. In 1998 he became executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles, based in Manhattan with additional locations at the time in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Tokyo, Japan. He remained executive chef there for many years. Though Bourdain is no longer formally employed at Brasserie Les Halles, he maintains a relationship with the restaurant, where he was described as recently as January 2014 as their "chef-at-large".
Bourdain's New York Times bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly was an outgrowth of his article in The New Yorker called "Don't Eat Before Reading This." A sequel to Kitchen Confidential was published in 2010, called Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.
Bourdain wrote two more New York Times bestselling nonfiction books: A Cook's Tour (2001), an account of his food and travel exploits across the world, written in conjunction with his first television series of the same title, and The Nasty Bits (2006), another collection of essays mainly centered on food. Bourdain's additional books include Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, the culinary mysteries Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, a hypothetical historical investigation, Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, and No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach.
Bourdain's articles and essays have appeared in many places, including in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Times, Los Angeles Times, The Observer, Gourmet, Maxim, Esquire (UK), Scotland on Sunday, The Face, Food Arts, Limb by Limb, BlackBook, The Independent, Best Life, the Financial Times, and Town & Country. On the Internet, Bourdain's blog for Season 3 of Top Chef was nominated for a Webby Award for best Blog – Cultural/Personal in 2008. In 2012, Bourdain co-wrote the original graphic novel Get Jiro! for DC Comics/Vertigo along with Joel Rose, with art by Langdon Foss.
A Cook's Tour (2002–2003)
The acclaim surrounding Bourdain's memoir, Kitchen Confidential, led to an offer by the Food Network to host his own food and world-travel show, A Cook's Tour, which premiered in January 2002. It ran for 35 episodes, through 2003.
No Reservations (2005–2012)
In July 2005, Bourdain premiered a new, somewhat similar television series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. As a further result of the immense popularity of Kitchen Confidential, the Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential aired in 2005, in which the character "Jack Bourdain" is based loosely on the biography and persona of Anthony Bourdain.
In July 2006, Bourdain was in Beirut filming an episode of No Reservations when the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out. The unexpected conflict broke out after the crew had filmed only a few hours of footage for the food and travel show. Bourdain's producers compiled behind-the-scenes footage of Bourdain and his production staff, including not only their initial attempts to film the episode, but also their firsthand encounters with Hezbollah supporters, their days of waiting for news with other expatriates in a Beirut hotel, and their eventual escape aided by a fixer (unseen in the footage), whom Bourdain dubbed Mr. Wolf after Harvey Keitel's character in Pulp Fiction. Bourdain and his crew were finally evacuated with other American citizens, on the morning of July 20, by the United States Marine Corps. The Beirut No Reservations episode, which aired on August 21, 2006, was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2007.
The Layover (2011–2013)
The Travel Channel announced in July 2011 that it would be adding a second one-hour ten-episode Bourdain show to be titled The Layover, which premiered November 21, 2011. Each episode featured an exploration of a city that can be undertaken within an air travel layover of 24 to 48 hours. The series ran for 20 episodes, through February 2013.
Parts Unknown (2013–present)
In May 2012, Bourdain announced that he would be leaving the Travel Channel. In December he explained on his blog that his departure was due to his frustration with the channel's new ownership using his voice and image to make it seem as if he was endorsing a car brand, and the channel's creating three "special episodes" consisting solely of clips from the seven official episodes of that season. He went on to host a show titled Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown for CNN. The program focuses on other cuisines, cultures and politics and premiered April 14, 2013. President Barack Obama was featured on the program in an episode in Vietnam that aired in September 2016. As of 2017 the show has been set in places such as Libya, Tokyo, Punjab, Jamaica, and Ethiopia.
Bourdain has appeared five times as guest judge on Bravo's Top Chef reality cooking competition program: first in the November 2006 "Thanksgiving" episode of Season 2, and then again in June 2007 in the first episode of Season 3, judging the "exotic surf and turf" competition featuring ingredients including abalone, alligator, black chicken, geoduck and eel. His third appearance was also in Season 3, as an expert on air travel, judging the competitors' airplane meals. Bourdain also wrote weekly blog commentaries for many of the Season 3 episodes, filling in as a guest blogger while Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio was busy opening a new restaurant. Bourdain next appeared as a guest judge for the opening episode of Season 4, in which pairs of chefs competed head-to-head in the preparation of various classic dishes, and again in the Season 4 Restaurant Wars episode, temporarily taking the place of head judge Tom Colicchio, who was at a charity event. He is also one of the main judges on Top Chef All-Stars (Top Chef, Season 8).
Bourdain made a guest appearance on the August 6, 2007 New York City episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and Andrew Zimmern appeared as a guest on the New York City episode of Bourdain's No Reservations airing the same day. On October 20, 2008 Bourdain hosted a special, At the Table with Anthony Bourdain, on the Travel Channel. In 2013 he was an executive producer and appeared as a judge and mentor in ABC's cooking competition show, The Taste.
Other series and animation
Bourdain appeared in an episode of TLC's reality show Miami Ink, which aired August 28, 2006. Artist Chris Garver tattooed a skull on Bourdain's right shoulder. Bourdain, who noted it was his fourth tattoo, said that one reason for the skull was that he wished to balance the ouroboros tattoo he had inked on his opposite shoulder in Malaysia, while filming Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. He was a consultant and writer for the HBO series Treme.
In 2010, Bourdain appeared on Nick, Jr.'s Yo Gabba Gabba! as Dr. Tony. In 2011 he voiced himself in a cameo on an episode of The Simpsons entitled "The Food Wife", in which Marge, Lisa, and Bart start a food blog called The Three Mouthkateers. In 2013 Bourdain appeared in FX's animated show Archer voicing chef Lance Casteau, a parody of Bourdain and other aggressive chef personalities.
Ecco Press, a division of HarperCollins, announced in September 2011 that Bourdain would have his own publishing line, which would include acquiring three to five titles per year that "reflect his remarkably eclectic tastes". The first books that the imprint published, released in 2013, include L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi, Tien Nguyen, and Natasha Phan, Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn, and Pain Don't Hurt by Mark Miller. Bourdain has also announced plans to publish a book by Marilyn Hagerty.
In describing the line, Bourdain said, "This will be a line of books for people with strong voices who are good at something—who speak with authority. Discern nothing from this initial list—other than a general affection for people who cook food and like food. The ability to kick people in the head is just as compelling to us—as long as that's coupled with an ability to vividly describe the experience. We are just as intent on crossing genres as we are enthusiastic about our first three authors. It only gets weirder from here."
Bourdain appears as himself in the 2015 film The Big Short, in which he uses seafood stew as an analogy for a collateralized debt obligation.
Bourdain has a public persona that has been characterized by Gothamist as "culinary bad boy". Because of his liberal use of profanity and sexual references in his television show No Reservations, the network has placed viewer discretion advisories on each segment of each episode.
Known for consuming exotic local specialty dishes, Bourdain has "eaten sheep testicles in Morocco, ant eggs in Puebla, Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of a traditional Inuit seal hunt, and an entire cobra—beating heart, blood, bile, and meat—in Vietnam," reported the Daily Freeman in 2010. According to Bourdain, the most disgusting thing he has ever eaten is a Chicken McNugget, though he has also declared that the unwashed warthog rectum he ate in Namibia and the fermented shark he ate in Iceland are among "the worst meals of [his] life."
He has been known for being an unrepentant drinker and smoker. In a nod to Bourdain's (at the time) two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, renowned chef Thomas Keller once served him a 20-course tasting menu which included a mid-meal "coffee and cigarette": a coffee custard infused with tobacco, together with a foie gras mousse. Bourdain stopped cigarette smoking in the summer of 2007 because of the birth of his daughter. He is also a former user of cocaine, heroin, and LSD. In Kitchen Confidential he writes of his experience in a trendy SoHo restaurant in 1981: "We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to 'conceptualize.' Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Cannabis, methaqualone, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, secobarbital, tuinal, amphetamine, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get." In the same book, Bourdain frankly describes his former addiction, including how he once resorted to selling his record collection on the street in order to raise enough money to purchase drugs.
Bourdain is also noted for his put-downs of celebrity chefs, such as Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Sandra Lee, and Rachael Ray, and appears to be irritated by both the overt commercialism of the celebrity cooking industry and its lack of culinary authenticity. He has voiced a "serious disdain for food demigods like Alan Richman, Alice Waters, and Alain Ducasse." Bourdain has recognized the irony of his transformation into a celebrity chef and has, to some extent, begun to qualify his insults; in the 2007 New Orleans episode of No Reservations, he reconciled with Emeril Lagasse. He has been consistently outspoken in his praise for chefs he admires, particularly Ferran Adrià, Juan Mari Arzak, Mario Batali, Fergus Henderson, José Andrés, Thomas Keller, Martin Picard, Eric Ripert, and Marco Pierre White, as well as his former protegé and colleagues at Brasserie Les Halles. Bourdain has also spoken very highly of Julia Child, saying that she "influenced the way I grew up and my entire value system."
Bourdain is also known for his sarcastic comments about vegan and vegetarian activists, saying that their lifestyle is rude to the inhabitants of many countries he visits. Bourdain says he considers vegetarianism, except in the case of religious strictures as in India, a "First World luxury." He has clarified that he believes Americans eat too much meat, and admires vegetarians who allow themselves to put aside their vegetarianism when they travel in order to be respectful of their hosts.
Bourdain's book, The Nasty Bits, is dedicated to "Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee" of the Ramones. Bourdain has declared fond appreciation for their music, as well that of other early punk bands such as Dead Boys, and The Voidoids. Bourdain has said that the playing of music by Billy Joel, Elton John or Grateful Dead in his kitchen was grounds for firing. Billy Joel, however, is a fan of Bourdain's and has subsequently visited the restaurant. In the 2006 No Reservations episode in Sweden, Bourdain proclaimed that his all-time favorite album (his "desert island disc") is the groundbreaking punk record Fun House by The Stooges; and he made it clear that he despises the Swedish pop group ABBA. On both No Reservations and Parts Unknown, he has dined with and interviewed many musicians, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, with a special focus on glam and punk rockers such as Alice Cooper, David Johansen, Marky Ramone and Iggy Pop. He featured contemporary band Queens of the Stone Age on No Reservations several times.
Bourdain is an advocate for communicating the value and tastiness of traditional or "peasant" foods, including specifically all of the varietal bits and unused animal parts not usually eaten by affluent, 21st-century U.S. citizens. Bourdain has also consistently noted and championed the high quality and deliciousness of freshly prepared street food in other countries—especially developing countries—as compared to fast food chains in the U.S.
Bourdain often acknowledges and champions industrious Spanish-speaking immigrants—from Mexico, Ecuador, etc.—who are cooks and chefs in many U.S. restaurants, including upscale restaurants, regardless of cuisine. Bourdain considers them to be talented chefs and invaluable cooks, underpaid and unrecognized even though they have become the backbone of the U.S. restaurant industry.
Bourdain married his high-school girlfriend, Nancy Putkoski, in 1985, and they remained together for two decades, divorcing in 2005. On April 20, 2007 he married Ottavia Busia. Together, they have a daughter, Ariane, born in 2007. Busia appeared in several episodes of No Reservations—notably the ones in Sardinia (her birthplace), Tuscany (in which she plays a disgruntled Italian diner), Rome, Rio de Janeiro, and Naples. Bourdain and Busia divorced amicably in 2016; he noted that having to be away from his wife and child for about 250 days a year working on his television shows became a strain. In 2017 he has been dating actress Asia Argento, whom he met when she appeared on the Rome episode of Parts Unknown.
Bourdain received a blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu in August 2015 and won gold at the IBJJF New York Spring International Open Championship 2016, in the Middleweight Master 5 (age 56 and older) division.Bourdain was named Food Writer of the Year in 2001 by Bon Appétit magazine for Kitchen Confidential.A Cook's Tour was named Food Book of the Year in 2002 by the British Guild of Food Writers.The Beirut episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which documented the experiences of Bourdain and his crew during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Programming in 2007.Bourdain's blog for the reality competition show Top Chef was nominated for a Webby Award for best Blog – Culture / Personal in 2008.In 2008, Bourdain was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.In 2009 and 2011, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations won a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfiction Programming.In 2010, Bourdain was nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming.In 2010, Bourdain was awarded an Honorary CLIO Award, which is given to individuals who are changing the world by encouraging people to think differently.In 2012, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations won the Critics' Choice Best Reality Series award.In 2013 and 2014, Bourdain was Emmy nominated for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for The Taste.Each year from 2013 to 2016, Bourdain won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.In 2014, Bourdain won a Peabody Award for the 2013 Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.