food & drink

The Bourdain way

Last week marked the first anniversary of the death of Anthony Bourdain, without doubt the most flamboyant character that has appeared on the gastronomic scene this century. When he hanged himself in a hotel room in Alsace, he was 61 years old.

Renowned Danish chef René Redzepi ('Noma') defined him as the most important person in our industry: "He was the Milky Way, and we around him were nothing more than specks."What differentiated Bourdain from his contemporaries was his high regard for exotic dishes from whatever kitchen in whichever country.

His career started in the grimy kitchens of third-rate New York eateries, and the experience made him a heroin addict. The publication of his first book, Mind of a Chef, literally saved his life. It caught the attention of TV producers and once Bourdain morphed into a presenter of his own TV programme, there was no stopping him.

In 18 years he recorded in 80 countries, some of them at war, and scenes in which he drank recently-killed goat's blood or ate the still beating heart of a boa constrictor made television history. The initial programmes were travelogues, but it soon became clear that the main interest was in Bourdin as an individual.

Bourdain was happiest when eating in restaurants with authentic national cuisine, even if they had plastic chairs and paper tablecloths, or eating street food and drinking Vietnamese beer. He loved to eat stimulating food in any form, exotic fishes and meats, dependable ethnic cooking from Vladivostok to Cuzco. Unpretentious was Bourdin's middle name.

His favourite dish was spaghetti pomodoro, and his friends used to say that he really did seem happier eating in a modest family-run restaurant than in a three-star Michelin one.

There has been much speculation about the reason he took his own life when it seemed as if he had everything going for him. The most commonly-accepted explanation is that he suffered an attack of insecurity and decided to end it all. But who knows?