Obit Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in France, while working on his CNN series on culinary traditions around the world.

I remember when “Kitchen Confidential” came out. I was on a hiatus from working at restaurants, swinging a paintbrush and playing in rock bands. But when I read Anthony Bourdain’s stories of long hours, impossible workloads, camaraderie and (in retrospect) the brutal nature of kitchen work and the hedonistic after-hours behavior I, along with countless others of my generation immediately recognized ourselves and the truth and accuracy of his storytelling. Whether or not the anecdotes themselves were 100 percent true.

He was one of us! He was telling our story, unvarnished and raw. We knew nothing of “celebrity chefs” coming up in the ‘70s and ‘80s — or that that was even a vague possibility. All we knew was this refuge for misfits, marginal characters and screw-ups called “the kitchen.” He made us incredibly proud. He made it; made it out of the kitchen, lived a life most of us — cooks or not — can only dream of. And he brought us all along with him.

We met a long time ago in Portland, while he was on a book tour doing a dinner and talk. Tony was not yet totally gray on top. He still had the earring, the cigarette in his mouth and was probably a bit high — not yet truly TV famous. During the after-dinner talk at the Heathman, I asked him a question and he looked at me from across the room and said “You’re a cook, aren’t you? How are you, brother?” He saw me as I saw myself in his stories. And that is why cooks loved him.

He saw us, knew us. He always did no matter how big his celebrity became or how tired he got of young bucks coming up to him and wanting a piece of him, wanting to party or talk about kitchens, show him their tattoos or whatever.

Tony and I met again later on, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with him on a few occasions. Most notably, a week-long romp through Chiang Mai and environs for an episode of “Parts Unknown,” loosely based on what would become a book: The Drinking Food of Thailand. At that time, he was grateful for his life. He told me he woke up every day and thanked the cosmos for being alive, to have a family, a daughter who meant everything to him and a career that can only be described as The Best Job in the World. He knew how good he had it.

From what I witnessed, Tony was remarkably consistent on and off camera. What you saw was what you got. A consummate pro at being himself. Generous with his celebrity and power as a media figure, he lifted those around him, gave exposure and voice to those less fortunate than him, always loyal to his friends, equally at ease at a black-tie function or on a plastic stool in the streets of the world. A true mensch.

I myself owe a debt of gratitude for his benevolence. Two appearances on his shows. Blurbs on two books. Advice, both personal and professional, when asked. Public support of the restaurants. But I was only one of literally hundreds he did this for, some of whom might read this someday. You know who you are.

His presence on this earth will be missed dearly by so many, but no one as much as his daughter and family. My heart goes out to them. I lost a champion, an itinerant friend and a role model. They lost a father, a partner, a family member. The two cannot compare, but it does not make it easier to countenance.

Safe travels, Uncle Tony.

Andy Ricker is a Portland chef, restaurant owner and author.

Gerry OBrien, Editor