Among the many labels applied to Anthony Bourdain, the chef/author/documentarian who died Friday by his own hand, is “storyteller.” For good reason, a quick Google reveals:
A few years ago, for another series, we filmed a show called “The Rust Belt” but which we jokingly referred to as “The ****ed Up Cities Show.” We spent time in Buffalo, Baltimore and Detroit.
When the show aired, the responses from Baltimore and Buffalo were mostly outrage:
“Why didn’t you show our new symphony hall?,” “That’s not the city I live in! Why didn’t you show the positive side? There are great craft breweries in the hipster district!”
Detroiters, however, reacted differently.
“We’re WAY more ****ed up than those punks,” many told me, with the straight on, confrontational, slightly injured pride that makes Detroiters so, well, awesome. “What are THEY whining about?”
That’s from an essay Bourdain wrote — and you know he wrote it, not some intern tasked with producing something for the website — to go with the episode of his CNN series “Parts Unknown,” the one where he visited Detroit. He ate barbecue, he ate coneys, he ate pupusas in an underground restaurant, because if anyone would find and appreciate a culinary blind pig, it would be the most high-profile, adventurous eater in America, who loved the city as much as its natives.
He visited several times, and last year announced he was producing a four-part documentary for CNN, “Detroit 1963: Once in a Great City.” That status of that project is unclear; representatives for CNN and the production company did not immediately return email messages.
Many Detroiters turned to social media as the news of the 61-year-old Bourdain’s death spread Friday morning, tweeting dismay and excerpts from the essay above. Elsewhere you can read the piece that started his career as a food celebrity, a New Yorker essay that became the seed for “Kitchen Confidential,” his best-selling memoir of backstage life in the restaurant industry.
Or you can read two recent interviews Bourdain gave about the city. From the Detroit News’:
“I’m still angry about the fact that there were people walking around at one point saying we shouldn’t bail out the auto industry and that we should let Detroit sink,” he says. “This strikes me as the height of anti-Americanism and just downright unpatriotic and suicidally stupid and in hideous taste to start with.
“Given any opportunity to talk up Detroit, or pay attention to it, I’m for it.”
And with the Free Press:
Q: How do you describe Detroit to others?
A: Beautiful. Magnificent. The boundless hope and dreams and optimism of its builders is reflected in the architecture. I feel anger seeing the extent to which it has been allowed to crumble. I feel hopeful. And I feel a tremendous appreciation that people have stuck it out and are proud of their city. They’re loyal to it. It’s truly a great city and the font of so many important American economic and cultural improvisations and movements. That it could have been allowed to come close to failing is a national disgrace.