Fans, and much of the culinary world in general, are in mourning after the death of Anthony Bourdain was reported Friday in France.
As a world-renowned chef, author and television host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain travelled the world giving viewers a glimpse of places and cuisines many could otherwise only dream of witnessing.
So, it was with a lot of excitement that many people in Newfoundland and Labrador met the news he would be filming a segment of his show in the province. N.L. was now to be one of those places — another step forward for the local culinary scene, which has garnered the province acclaim and provides many people with work, entertainment, good food and a sense of pride in this place and its traditions.
“I’m so sorry for his loss,” said Karen Lambert, the owner of the Big R on Harvey Road, who cooked Jiggs’ dinner for Bourdain when he was in St. John’s.
“He done me an awful lot of good,” she said, referencing how busy the restaurant has been since the episode aired.
Melissa Lee, who served Bourdain at the Big R that day, remembers him fondly and was shocked by the news.
“He was very quiet, very polite,” Lee said. “He was a nice man … It’s heartbreaking. It’s incredible. … You don’t know what people are going through.”
"Sharing a meal is the most basic common denominator we have as humans, and Tony was able to use that in a positive way — regardless if you agreed with his opinion or not — he did so intelligently and with respect.” — Steve Lee, Mallard Cottage. St. John’s
In the Newfoundland episode of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain travelled with two of his friends, Fred Morin and David McMillan of the Montreal restaurant Joe Beef. Once here, they met up with local chef Jeremy Charles and sommelier Jeremy Bonia to take in what this land and the surrounding sea have to offer.
Though their moose hunting expedition proved unfruitful, Bourdain enjoyed a number of traditional Newfoundland dishes. They cooked up some fish and brewis in a shed, much to Bourdain and Co.’s delight, especially with regard to the scrunchions.
Steve Lee (no relation to Melissa Lee), who owns Mallard Cottage with Todd Perrin and Kim Doyle (Perrin’s wife), had the chance to meet Bourdain and share a bottle or two with the man Lee affectionately called “Tony.”
“As a chef and author, Tony removed pretension from how we look at and critique food while giving insight to the not so glamorous underbelly of the restaurant industry,” Steve Lee wrote in an email. “He humanized his experiences and influenced a lot of cooks and chefs to set their bar higher and learn from his struggles with addiction.
“Tony was able to break through societal constraints and the human condition by simply breaking bread without discrimination. Sharing a meal is the most basic common denominator we have as humans, and Tony was able to use that in a positive way — regardless if you agreed with his opinion or not — he did so intelligently and with respect.”
Bourdain’s recent trip to Newfoundland wasn’t his only tie to this province. In 2013, Bourdain — never one to hold back his opinion — spoke up on behalf of the seal hunt after about 40 chefs signed a petition calling for the hunt to be banned.
Taking to Twitter, Bourdain sent out a series of statements saying a total ban on the hunt would “condemn the indigenous people of (the) Arctic Circle to death or relocation.”
“How about letting the Inuit make a living? Or is it just leave them enough to eat?” one of the tweets said.
While his experience with the seal hunt was with the Inuit of northern Quebec, the sentiment wasn’t lost on those in the province like Perrin, who is also a supporter of the hunt, and has been known to serve seal at Mallard Cottage.
As often is the case when someone dies unexpectedly, many are asking questions as to how and why this happened, urging others to be kind to their fellow man.
Steve Lee hopes we can at the very least, learn from this loss.
“In death, I hope he shines his light on mental illness,” Steve Lee said. “I truly believe his cause of death was not suicide; Anthony Bourdain died because of mental illness.”