Like the rest of the world, Boston’s culinary community was shocked to learn of Anthony Bourdain’s death on Friday. The acclaimed chef, author and television personality was an inspiration to millions across the globe, and had a significant impact on many members of the Hub’s food scene.
“Tony was uniquely gifted; a great storyteller who was unafraid to share a strong opinion, ask a tough question, take a risk or admit when he was wrong,” local chef and James Beard Award winner Michael Schlow tells Metro. “We were lucky to have him for the time we did. He showed us the world through his lens, always making us hungry for just a little more. He will be missed.”
Massachusetts always had a special place in Bourdain’s heart, as he began his career as a restaurant dishwasher in Provincetown nearly four decades ago. He returned to the Cape Cod town for a 2014 episode of his CNN series “Parts Unknown,” where he opened up about his past struggles with heroin addiction, using it as a springboard to examine opioid addiction in the Bay State and beyond.
While that episode had a notably somber feel to it, his trip to Boston for his Travel Channel show “No Reservations” in 2011 was radically different, filled with nothing but unbridled joy. The experience allowed Bourdain a rare opportunity to showcase all of his passions–punk rock, martial arts, crime novels and, of course, his love for food and a good drink.
“I like any excuse to come to Massachusetts. I have a lot of history here,” Bourdain told Metro in 2017. “I just feel really comfortable in this state. I love it. I like coming to Boston. I tend to not make the shows that people want me to make when I come here, but I enjoy doing that as well.”
Bourdain was never one to take the obvious approach, so he scoffed at the idea of doing an episode on “Boston’s top 10 restaurants” or “hidden treasures of Boston.” Instead, he wanted to find the Boston that he knew from “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” which he called “the greatest crime novel ever written in the history of the English language” during the Boston installment of “No Reservations.” The episode mostly focused on Southie and other areas of the city that were “uniquely, weirdly Bostonian.”
As far as food was concerned, Bourdain indulged on quite a bit of seafood while he explored the city, including lobster rolls and fried dishes at Belle Isle Seafood before it moved from East Boston to Winthrop. Bourdain had serious opinions when it came to seafood, especially clam chowder. He loathed the Manhattan style, calling it just a soup, while praising the New England version as being superior.
While the Boston episode featured the requisite seafood feast, Bourdain also chose to highlight the city’s Portuguese roots, an aspect of the Hub that often gets overlooked due to people usually focusing on Boston’s Italian and Irish populations. Bourdain fell in love with Azorean Portuguese cuisine during his time in P-town, which is why he made a stop at the now closed Snack Bar (O Senhor Ramos) in Cambridge.
Beyond great meals, Bourdain showcased his obsession with punk rock, tapping Mike Ruffino of The Unband to be his tour guide for the trip.
“I know I’m a Yankees fan, the bleed pinstripes kind, and that Boston and their beloved Red Sox are our historic enemies,” Bourdain says in the episode. “But, it’s complicated. I started cooking not all that far from here, mostly with Massachusetts people. Some of my favorite bands–The Modern Lovers, The Remains, The Unband–came out of here or near here.”
Bourdain’s punk side shines in the episode, as he and Ruffino travel across the city to visit watering holes like Dorchester’s Eire Pub, Southie’s Murphy’s Law and the famed L Street Tavern, throwing back pints of Guinness, glasses of whiskey and shots of Dr. McGillicuddy with local patrons. The duo stopped at the now closed Quencher Tavern as well, and were pelted with snowballs by a young troublemaker on the streets before heading indoors for another round.
“It was built into a row house in Southie. It was incredible,” Bourdain revealed to Metro last year. “A perfect bar is a rare and beautiful thing, and Boston has a good bunch of them, as well as a lot of really old school, dinosaur places that do old school s–t without any irony, which I like too.”
Even though Bourdain was passionate about his beliefs and once shared a cheap meal of bún cha and Hanoi beer in Vietnam with Barack Obama, he made time to chat with right-wing radio and newspaper personality and ardent Donald Trump supporter Howie Carr (as well as “uncle” Ted Nugent) during his trip to Boston for “No Reservations.” The moment was a prime example of how Bourdain preferred to have an open dialogue with people on all sides.
“You might well ask, ‘What’s with all the right-wing radio hosts on your show?'” Bourdain says in the episode. “Answer: Hanging out only with people who agree with me is about a boring a prospect as I could imagine.”