clock menu more-arrow no yes

5 Anthony Bourdain quotes that show why he was beloved around the world

He was an ally to marginalized communities and called out powerful leaders for their hypocrisy.

Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations," poses in a New York restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007.
Associated Press

Anthony Bourdain, the legendary chef and tv personality, died on Friday morning — and people around the world are mourning.

Bourdain was a best-selling author and was known for various TV shows, like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and the CNN series Parts Unknown. But he’ll be remembered for more than introducing Americans to regional cuisines in far-flung places.

Bourdain was also known for his willingness to stray from the confines of mainstream media norms and highlight the struggles of marginalized people everywhere.

To Bourdain, regional cuisine wasn’t just food — it often reflected cultural mores and told us something very important about the people who lived there. Food was a binding force that drew people together and reminded us of our collective humanity.

But Bourdain stood for a lot more than Kumbaya-style celebrations of togetherness.

He also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind about controversial world leaders, saying that he would kill former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger if he could, and calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a “chubby little evil fuck” who ate while the rest of his country starved.

And in recent years, Bourdain became a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement, often lending his voice to support women’s right to be free of sexual harassment and rape culture.

The following quotes are peak Bourdain — and show why so many considered him a true citizen of the world.

Bourdain on the West Bank and Gaza

For one episode of his show Parts Unknown, Bourdain traveled to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and interviewed Laila El-Haddad, co-author of the award-winning cookbook The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey.

The episode, which aired in 2013, focused on the humanity of the Palestinians he met, cooked with, and ate with. The Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American Muslim advocacy group, gave him the Voices of Courage and Conscience award for his work. The quote below is from his acceptance speech:

I was enormously grateful for the response from Palestinians, in particular, for doing what seemed to me an ordinary thing, something we do all the time: show regular people doing everyday things. ... The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics. That is all we attempted to show.

When news of Bourdain’s death broke, people flooded Twitter with tributes praising his work and lamenting that Palestinians “have lost a good friend in Anthony Bourdain.”

Bourdain on Henry Kissinger and Cambodia

In his 2001 book Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, Bourdain wrote: “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands.”

Bourdain is referring to Kissinger’s role overseeing a secret, massive bombing campaign of Cambodia, which left thousands dead, between 1965 and 1973. It destabilized the government and led to the Khmer Rouge taking power — who then launched a genocidal campaign. Kissinger has been called a war criminal for this and other actions he oversaw while in office but is still lauded as a premier statesman by many.

Bourdain on refusing to visit North Korea

One of the only countries Bourdain failed to visit was North Korea. During an impromptu interview with TMZ, he voiced why.

“There’s nothing they’re going to let you see in North Korea. It’s an unpleasant government. Most of the population are starving. Don’t you think that would be in kind of bad taste?” he said.

And when asked about the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Bourdain had this to say: “He’s a chubby little evil fuck. Nobody else eats.”

Later, the reporter asked what he would serve at a summit between Donald Trump and Kim. “Hemlock,” Bourdain said.

Bourdain on filming in Namibia

While Bourdain was being interviewed by Dave Davies on NPR about his experiences filming abroad, Davies recalled a particularly memorable moment — when Bourdain was handed an “unwashed warthog rectum” by the chief of the tribe that he was eating with. Davies asked him what he was thinking at the time.

Here’s how Bourdain responded:

What am I going to do, refuse him, embarrass him in front of his people, look ungrateful? That changes the whole tenor of the relationship. I mean, when somebody’s offering you food, they’re telling you a story. They’re telling you what they like, who they are. Presumably, it’s a proud reflection of their culture, their history, often a very tough history. You turn your nose up at that important moment, the whole relationship changes, and it will never be the same.

Bourdain on how immigrant workers are undervalued

Over the course of his career, Bourdain frequently pointed out how restaurant industry employees from Mexico and Central America are undervalued and treated poorly, and has also said that it’s racist for people to expect to pay very little for Mexican cuisine. Here’s one example from his blog, which he posted in 2014:

Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy — the restaurant business as we know it — in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are ‘stealing American jobs.’ But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position — or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.