It’s been two years since beloved celebrity chef, storyteller and author Anthony Bourdain died at the age of 61.
Known to millions as one of the first rock star of the food world, Bourdain remained humble about his later-in-life success. His vibrant legacy continues to live on in the many shows he hosted, books he wrote and words of wisdom he passed on to others.
Here are 10 important lessons Bourdain taught the world about food and the importance of making connections with others.
1. An incredible experience doesn’t have to cost much
In one of the most memorable episodes of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain shared a meal with then-President Barack Obama. “I spoke to him as another father of a young girl, as a Southeast Asian enthusiast, as a guy who’s happy to sit on a plastic stool eating noodles with chopsticks drinking a cold Hanoi beer,” Bourdain told People, “and I think the president enjoyed that experience too.” The two chowed down on a meal of noodles and drank cold beer while sitting on plastic stools. The grand total for the dinner? $6. Bourdain picked up the check and later recalled to Anderson Cooper that he had “never seen a guy enjoy a cold beer and a low plastic stool more than President Obama.”
2. Good criticism can come from anyone
In a 2016 interview with TODAY’s Willie Geist, Bourdain chatted about how his then 7-year-old daughter Ariane had already developed an amazing palate. “She’s brutal, I can’t get anything past her,” Bourdain told Willie of his daughter critiquing his cuisine. “‘No, Daddy, it’s too salty!’” Bourdain, however, admitted that she was often right and would adjust the seasoning of his dish. He told Willie that many of the meals he made at home helped inspire his final cookbook.
3. Never take yourself — or food — too seriously
When Bourdain visited a Waffle House for the first time in 2015, it solidified his status as a truly unpretentious food snob. “It is indeed marvelous. An irony-free zone where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts,” Bourdain said of the beloved diner chain. During his meal, he tried the pecan waffles, slathered with butter and syrup. “This is better than The French Laundry, man!” he exclaimed after a bite. He declared the meal “marvelous” and many of his fans applauded the candid episode as one of the celebrity chef’s finest TV moments.
4. Savor the local culture wherever you are
“What do they do there that is unique to that place, that they inarguably do better than anywhere else in the world?”
In a video posted by Tech Insider, Bourdain uses hot dog carts as an example of great New York fare to prove a point about going local. Sure, there are great upscale restaurants in New York City, but if you only have a few days in town, stick to what the city does best: pizza, bagels with smoked salmon, hot dogs, halal food, pastrami on rye, soup dumplings and bodega sandwiches. He applied similar principles to every country he visited.
5. Sometimes it’s OK to follow the crowd
Throughout his career, Bourdain traveled all over the world, eating in all sorts of food stalls and out-of-the-way spots. But how did he know where to go? Sometimes, he didn’t! “If the local people are eating it, and a lot of them are eating it … we [his “Parts Unknown” crew] will eat that, and we will eat it with gusto,” he told CNN. When searching for spots to dine at or feature, Bourdain and his crew often looked for places with long lines. Word-of-mouth recommendations were also treasured. Eating at popular local places may have had an added benefit: If a lot of people love an eatery, it’s probably not making them sick.
Said Bourdain, “We have found over many years experience that you are far more likely to get ill from the breakfast buffet at the Western-style hotel, or the tourist friendly restaurant that tries to be everything to everybody.”
6. Leave your steak alone
Cooking a great steak is an important skill any meat lover should master. And while it seems simple enough, it’s shockingly easy to ruin a great cut of meat after you take it off the grill or remove it from the pan. According to Bourdain, one of the worst crimes committed against steak isn’t overcooking it — it’s not letting it rest before cutting into it.
“This magical period immediately following its removal from heat, it should rest for 5-7 minutes. Don’t touch it. Don’t poke it. Don’t slice it.” Bourdain said.
Said “magical period” allows the meat’s juices to redistribute throughout the flesh so they don’t come gushing out of the steak. “All the difference in the world between a good steak and a totally messed up steak is going on in that period of time of just doing nothing.”
Anthony Bourdain’s Italian Sunday Gravy with Sausage by Checka Ciammaichelli
7. Your meal is trying to tell you something
During a January 2018 appearance on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” Bourdain said that food tells a story and everything on our plates has a story behind it. “The history of the world is on your plate. All food is the expression of a long struggle and a long story,” he poetically stated. His point? Every type of cuisine represents the triumphs and the struggles of those who made it.
“Good, old American Southern food as we know it, ya know classic Americana, wouldn’t exist,” said Bourdain when asked what he thought food in the U.S. would be like today without any foreign influences. “If you’ve spent any time in Ghana, you see exactly where food that we tend to associate on Food Network with old white ladies is — it’s African food!”
8. There’s a reason home-cooked dishes don’t taste like restaurant food
In glorious vintage clip from “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Bourdain revealed the real secret ingredient that most restaurant chefs keep up their sleeves is probably something we all have at home. “[Butter] is usually the first thing and the last thing in just about every pan. That’s why restaurant food tastes better than home food a lot of the time. Butter!” the chef revealed. Bourdain wasn’t trying to scare people away from dining out but he did shed light on why home cooks shouldn’t beat themselves up if something doesn’t taste just like it did whenever they first ate it.
9. Sometimes moms give great advice
In a 2017 interview with Fast Company, Bourdain talked about his many past failures as well as his career highlights. His biggest break in the media world came while he was really struggling as a chef — “massively in debt,” in his own words — in the late 1990s. “I wrote a short piece for a free paper in New York called New York Press,” Bourdain said. But the editors kept delaying its publication date for weeks.
While considering other options, Bourdain took a leap of faith — thanks a little push from his mother. “In a moment of hubris, I listened to my mom’s completely unreasonable suggestion that I send it to the New Yorker.” The magazine ran the story in April 1999 and within 48 hours, an editor from Bloomsbury Publishing called him with an offer for $50,000 (a staggering amount of money for most chefs) to turn that article into a book.
That book became the best-seller “Kitchen Confidential” — and the rest is history.
10. Never underestimate the power of food
While many people inherently know that food brings people together, Bourdain’s legacy is an ever-present reminder about the importance of breaking bread with others — even if they’re not your friends. He often visited places around the world that were politically or ethnically divided, and proved time and time again that food is a common denominator that can help bridge those gaps.
People find comfort and commonality when they share a love for the same cuisine. Speaking to PBS News in 2016, Bourdain said, “Food may not be the answer to world peace, but it’s a start.”