Anthony Bourdain felt a connection with Chicago, and many of the city’s residents are reeling on Friday morning after hearing of his death. Bourdain brought the national spotlight to Burt’s Place’s pizza in the suburbs, the South Side’s mother-in-law sandwich, and Hot Doug’s gourmet sausages. Back in 2009, when No Reservations aired its Chicago episode, he called the city “a colossus right smack in the middle of the country” with “everything that I love about a city — tall towers, hard corners, and sharp elbows. And, of course, food.”
Before trying Burt Katz’s wizardry, Bourdain described Chicago deep-dish pizza as “a concoction I’ve always strongly believed to be lasagna in a crust [more] than anything that could bear the proud name of pizza.” He later admitted that deep dish was delicious — he just struggled with calling it pizza.
While Bourdain held conflicted feelings about Chicago deep dish, he admitted that the city’s hot dogs were superior to New York’s, as Chicago serves “the finest hot dog on the planet. There, I said it, and I meant it. Now fuck off.”
His impact on chefs was tremendous. Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat) got to know Bourdain.
“Tony was very supportive of me since the first time we met on the set of Top Chef 12 years ago,” she said via a spokesperson. “When he paid me a compliment it made a long-lasting impact because simply — he was never full of shit. “
Bourdain also befriended Old Town Ale House owner Bruce Cameron Elliott. He devoted two segments on two TV shows to the iconic dive. “It’s really what’s missing in my life,” he said. “I need an old man bar.”
For the 2009 episode, he called the duck-fat fries served at Hot Doug’s “french fries cooked in the nectar of the gods.” When reached on Friday morning, Doug Sohn said it was too early to comment and he needed time to process the news.
During that same visit, Bourdain tolerated an appearance on controversial shock-jock Mancow Muller’s show and took him to Silver Palm in West Town, where he called the diner’s Three Little Pigs sandwich one of the country’s best.
Looking back at that episode, which was filmed in 2008, Bourdain visits Homaro Cantu at Moto, the late chef’s West Loop restaurant. Like Bourdain, Cantu died by suicide. Tribune reporter Louisa Chu appeared in that No Reservations episode. She helped facilitate the visit to Chicago after meeting Bourdain in 2004 in Paris.
“The saddest part, I think, is his legacy was that he had the best job in the world,” Chu said on Friday. “Often I remember when he shared that comment when we were out in public together. He looked at me and gave me the look where it was the best job in the world, but it was also one of the hardest.”
Chu filed a story Friday morning for the Trib where she talks with Cantu’s widow Katie McGowan. Bourdain’s death serves as a reminder about mental health, something that heavily affects the food industry.
“We should all know at this point it is a disease and that suicide can be the result,” Chu said. “It’s important to remember there are resources available.”
Here are more of Bourdain’s most memorable quotes about Chicago.
“I’ve done shows in LA, but LA’s a fantastic sprawl. San Francisco? A great town. New Orleans? A state of mind. Chicago? Chicago is a city.” — No Reservations, 2009
“Chicago is big — not just any kind of big — I’m talking major metropolis big. I love this city. In my opinion, it’s the only other real metropolis in America.” — No Reservations, 2009.
“You wake up in Chicago, pull back the curtain, and you KNOW where you are. You could be nowhere else. You are in a big, brash, muscular, broad shouldered motherfuckin’ city. A metropolis, completely non-neurotic, ever-moving, big hearted but cold blooded machine with millions of moving parts — a beast that will, if disrespected or not taken seriously, roll over you without remorse.” — Medium essay for Parts Unknown, 2016.
“It is, also, as I like to point out frequently, one of America’s last great NO BULLSHIT zones. Pomposity, pretentiousness, putting on airs of any kind, douchery and lack of a sense of humor will not get you far in Chicago. It is a trait shared with Glasgow — another city I love with a similar working class ethos and history.” — Medium essay, 2016
“Chicago is a town, a city that doesn’t ever have to measure itself against any other city. Other places have to measure themselves against it. It’s big, it’s outgoing, it’s tough, it’s opinionated, and everybody’s got a story.” — Parts Unknown, 2016
Here’s some local reactions. This post will be updated later in the day with more.
Depression does not discriminate. RIP to Anthony Bourdain who used his platform in ways that transcended food.— kevin boehm (@kevinboehmboka) June 8, 2018
“I struggled with Bourdain sometimes — his brashness and one-liner quips — but I also know that more than anyone else he inspired millions of people to break out of their shells and experience the fullness our world has to offer. And I know he is the reason that thousands of young cooks have pursued a career in the kitchen. He made loving and cooking food one of the hippest things anyone could dedicate themselves to. For years to come, his loss will be palpable in the culinary world.” — chef Rick Bayless, as told to the Sun-Times.
“I first met Anthony 18 years ago at Blackbird, just after the release of Kitchen Confidential. Even though I didn’t know him that well, Paul [Kahan] was out of town and one of the cooks happened to recognize him, so I went over and introduced myself. After his meal, he asked if he could go back in the kitchen to chat and thank the cooks on the line. He spent about a half an hour with them. Everyone admired him; he was approachable and engaging, and he made a big deal thanking the team for cooking for him. At the time, everything in Kitchen Confidential was considered taboo. He took a big risk sharing his perspective — not only with the restaurant community, but with a broad audience that probably didn’t know a lot about back-of-house kitchen culture or even how restaurants operated. All of my interactions with him over the years have been positive. He was influential in the restaurant world as well as the world itself. Bringing people together, that’s what he did.” — Donnie Madia, partner at One Off Hospitality
“I was lucky enough to hang out with Anthony on a couple of occasions. He was always really witty and brought a controversial voice to our industry, which I think is important. He was a big fan of Avec, and at one point, he even stood up in the restaurant and said ‘this is the future of dining in America!’ That meant something to me. This is incredibly sad for me personally.” — Paul Kahan, chef and partner at One Off.
This is one of the few times since I became a writer, or really since I learned how to talk, that I don't think I know what to say. I don't think I will be able to say anything for a very long time, if ever, other than thank you, Tony, #RIP— Michael Nagrant (@MichaelNagrant) June 8, 2018
Tonight, let's all go eat at a restaurant run by immigrants— Kevin Pang (@pang) June 8, 2018
He made Momma happy! thats a lotta points.— COBRA|Soul Food (@LupeFiasco) June 8, 2018
May God have mercy on your soul Chef!
RIP Anthony Bourdain. World Class. Solid. Inspirational. Soul.
The best thing I know how to make (Spaghetti w Onions!!!) I learned/stole from your show #AnthonyBourdain #NoReservations pic.twitter.com/gt4UmDkccm
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.