Chef Born and Raised in Leonia, NJ Will Forever Be Memorialized in Hearts and Plates Around the Globe
****By Contributing writer Emily Colby****
On Friday morning, CNN announced that celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain had been found dead after committing suicide in his hotel room in France. Bourdain was well known for his show on CNN, Parts Unknown. Bourdain’s good friend and fellow celebrity chef, Eric Rippert was the first to find Bourdain in his hotel room where Bourdain had reportedly hung himself.
Bourdain was born in 1956 in New York City, but was raised in Leonia, New Jersey, a suburb just West of Washington Heights. In a 2013 interview with The Guardian, Bourdain described a loving home life in the picturesque suburb, amidst a backdrop of a rapidly shifting culture. “I grew up in the Mad Men era-I watched my family, my neighbors and my parents’ friends live a similar story arc — struggling with rapidly changing social mores, the Vietnam war.” In the same interview, Bourdain went on to describe a childhood home full of “good books and films.”
The young Bourdain took a particular interest in his mother’s collection of Julia Child cookbooks. His family raised him to develop a sophisticated palate as a child, making frequent visits to restaurants specializing in cuisine from around the world. (Keep in mind, this was well before the “foodie-era” we live in today. The idea of international cuisine was still obscure to most.) There is no doubt that this familial influence alongside his younger years in New Jersey-a city with its very own food culture, were major key players in Bourdain’s career aspirations.
Bourdain made a name for himself traveling to every corner on the globe to bring Westerners new food for thought on his CNN series. Combining cuisine with travel, Bordain’s show was an excellent illustration of food as culture.
That said, Bourdain never found himself too good for the New Jersey food he grew up on. In one episode in 2015, Bourdain traveled back home to New Jersey to introduce his audience to some of the first restaurants he dined at as a child, and remained among his favorites into his adult life. “I’m here to feed my soul, the cultural wellspring that is New Jersey,” Bourdain said of the Garden State in the episode.
And in that lay Bourdain’s charm. His show painted him as the chef who was anything but afraid to try new things and travel to new places, but who never forgot the importance of the familiar New Jersey childhood that led him to his passions for culinary exploration in the first place. In this sense, Bourdain was a figure that could appeal to a broad spectrum of society, from the hip Manhattan socialite eager to book her next extravagant weekend getaway, to the suburban housewife looking for meal planning ideas to feed her family.
Bourdain was a beloved figure in the American cultural landscape and had also made a name for himself internationally. The world mourns the news of his loss. His memory will go on to imprint itself in the hearts and dishes of people from all walks of life.