Philly food industry reacts to Anthony Bourdain’s death

From left: Anthony Bourdain, John Martin Taylor, Terry McNally, Chef Dennis Heslin and others dining at the Blue Angel in 1999. | Provided by Terry McNally
Provided by Terry McNally

Anthony Bourdain, beloved chef, travel host and author, was found dead this morning in France and CNN later confirmed the cause of death as suicide.

The loss of such a larger-than-life figure has sent shockwaves throughout the food world and beyond, as Bourdain inspired millions of people to be curious, passionate and explore the world around them.

For food industry professionals, however, the loss of Anthony Bourdain hits especially hard and in a food city like Philadelphia, it’s a very sad day. 

Chef Kevin Sbraga remembers cooking for him when he was on “Top Chef.”

“I was lucky enough to cook for Anthony Bourdain on an episode of ‘Top Chef’ back in 2010,” he says. “He had a reputation for speaking his mind, and that was no different with his comments on my food. That signature trademark of his will be missed by myself and many others. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his friends, and especially Chef Eric Ripert.”

James Beard-nominated chef of Fork, Eli Kulp, says reading “Kitchen Confidential” gave him the courage to move to New York City to pursue cooking.

“It’s very sad and shocking. He had such an envious life from the outside perspective, but yet the darkness prevailed. I would say this. If my brother never bought me ‘Kitchen Confidential’ to read back in 2001, I would’ve never had the courage to move to New York City to pursue my cooking career,” Kulp says. “His writing convinced me to pick up my belongings in Seattle and move across the country to start a new life in food. Tony always had a sense of accessibility to him. I remember sitting down with him after they filmed an episode of ‘No Reservations’ at Torrisi in NYC, and it just seemed like every word that he spoke was so profound.”

Kulp adds, “Whether or not we selfishly want more of him, he lived life on his terms. All the way till the end.”

Kelsey Bush, chef-partner of Green Engine, says that Bourdain had a unique talent for putting words to feelings as well as food.

“I know so many friendships, marriages and families who are centered around Anthony Bourdain and his career. Vacation destinations have been picked solely because he said it was a place everyone needed to experience in their life,” Bush says. “He paved the way for young chefs with the mentality that cooking is life, especially after writing about his time at the Culinary Institute of America. He put the school on the map for everyone to understand the food world. He was able to put words to feelings a chef has only ever been able to express through food. Lastly, he made it cool to cook and be who you are without excuses and we truly lost someone special.”

Chloe Grigi, general manager of The Good King Tavern calls him a legend who never lost his grit.

“We all lost a legend this morning. He was a giant in this industry. I think for the first time in American history, he shed light on the inherent significance of food and drink  — of its capacity to bring people together, to understand one another more fully,” Grigi says. “Despite his rise to fame, he never lost that deep-rooted grit of which we all have to call upon in this business. There is a quote of his I love: ‘Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.’”

Judy Ni, owner/co-chef of bāo • logy, reveals that Bourdain inspired her to take the leap into the food industry.

“We all owe a great debt to Anthony Bourdain for shining his light so that we could see and learn about so many different places and their various food cultures. He was able to bridge the divide between so many groups of peoples and showed us how very much in common we all had with one another,” Ni says. “For a girl like me who dreamed about joining the restaurant world, he was one of the major influences who made me believe all things were possible and helped me take the leap into one of the greatest adventures of my life.”

Michael Schulson, founder/CEO of Schulson Collective (which includes Philadelphia’s Sampan, Double Knot, Harp & Crown and Independence Beer Garden), laments the loss of Bourdain and encourages people to reach out if they need help.

“It’s an extremely sad day whenever you lose someone. My thoughts and prayers go out to Anthony’s family, friends and loved ones,” Schulson says. “At a time like this, it’s so important to stress that if you’re struggling, please ask for help because people will help – and you may be surprised at how many will be willing to do so.”

Some Philly food industry folks remember Bourdain from the earlier days of his career.

Co-owner of the London Grill, Terry McNally, admits that he got nicer with age.

“I cut his article out of the New Yorker. I knew Michael (Chef Michael McNally) and the kitchen guys would drool over it. As a front of the house person, and a female, I kinda didn’t love the complete idolization of the back of the house. We were struggling for respect up front,” she says. “Suddenly all the ‘Mario Bros’ were tattooing themselves and behaving like they were in a motorcycle gang. [I had crushes on all of them!] We went to Blue Angel to meet him and get books signed. He was an a—hole. (laughs) I had drinks with him years later at the Raleigh back bar in South Beach. He did become nicer and nicer. We were down and out together, all of us restaurant workers.”

Other food industry luminaries took to Twitter to express their condolences to Bourdain, including Stephen Starr, who admits that the late icon helped inspire him to open the James Beard award-winning Le Coucou in New York.

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