Anthony Bourdain’s Inquisitive Media Career

Let’s take a look back at Bourdain’s incredible career, from his socially conscious food and travel shows to the docuseries he produced, and the comic book he co-wrote.
Anthony Bourdain Cuba
By  · Published on June 14th, 2018

Let’s take a look back at Bourdain’s incredible career, from his socially conscious food and travel shows to the docuseries he produced, and the comic book he co-wrote.

Last week, the world lost Anthony Bourdain, an incredible figure in food and television. Our hearts remain broken that this incredible man who celebrated wonderful cultures and their diverse food is gone. He traveled the world, championing diverse cultures and their people. Certainly an inspiration to many, his television presence will be missed. Although his travel shows remain his most prominent pieces of work, he has been successful in other areas of television and media writing as well. Let’s take a look back at his eclectic career.

Food and Travel Shows

Most people know Bourdain from his food and travel shows. A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown all showcase his vast love for diverse people and new foods. He always sought to experience different cultures and explore how incredible food can come from tragedy and passion. His first show, A Cook’s Tour, on Food Network, proved to be less successful than his later shows, but it laid the groundwork for Bourdain’s rise to prominence with a travel and exploration formula that is beloved today.

No Reservations, on the Travel Channel and Parts Unknown, on CNN, flipped the script on food and travel shows. The shows provided a profanity-laced introspection on the human condition through the foods that different cultures ate. Bourdain was inquisitive. He desired to know what drove different societies to find joy in life and create delicious cuisine. His ventures to Armenia and Cambodia show Bourdain’s curiosity to see how countries that have been affected by mass genocide can still live victoriously through their food and culture. His visits to Cuba, Lebanon, and Ethiopia showed oppressed people living in communist, war-torn, and impoverished countries who demonstrated indomitable strength through their adversity, finding happiness in their traditions and cuisine. For Bourdain, it wasn’t about food or travel––it was about celebrating the people and their drive to overcome oppression. 

Bourdain traveled the world with an open and socially conscious mind, seeking to know how the labor of survival could produce joy and gratefulness. He was passionate about passionate people. He spent his whole career traveling and exploring different cultures to expose American audiences to different worldviews and patterns of thinking. No Reservations and Parts Unknown certainly showcase beautiful cultures and their food, but they also explore tough topics about our humanity and our response to adversity.

The Layover followed a different approach to the travelogue format. The show is centered around what a traveler can do in 24-48 hours during a layover stop. Bourdain focused on eating the best foods and seeing the best parts of a city in a mere matter of hours. Layovers can often be boring and long, but this hectic and fast-paced show sought to maximize your time and take advantage of the layover. The show didn’t last long, but Bourdain’s quick wit and thoughtful commentary prove to be worth watching. 

Other Television Work

His television work goes beyond just food and travel shows. He produced shows like The Mind of a Chef, The Taste, and Raw Craft, all of which continued to showcase his love for passionate people. He produced and narrated the award-winning docuseries The Mind of a Chef, which picks and prods the minds of chefs, exploring their philosophies and passions behind cooking. Each season follows chefs like David Chang or Ludo Lefebvre to analyze their mindsets and beliefs on different foods, food cities, and other food-related topics.

Bourdain also judged and produced The Taste, a cooking competition with a similar format to The Voice, but centered around food. Each judge has to coach their chefs through the competition, teaching their chefs to cook delicious and inspired food. The show is full of laughs and quippy quarrels between judges and provides a nice twist on traditional cooking shows, differentiating it from competitions like Top Chef or Iron Chef.

One of his final projects, Raw Craft, was a YouTube series from The Balvenie which showcases handcrafted work and those who crafted them. From goods like cast iron skillets to skills like tattooing, Bourdain explores the world of hand craftsmanship and explains that these dedicated and hardworking people need their stories told and their products displayed. Each episode runs from 6-16 minutes and all are available now on YouTube.

Written Work

Alongside television, Bourdain has also found success in writing. Among the books he has published, his first book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” is a New York Times bestselling memoir that details how a professional kitchen can be an intense and hazardous workplace. It takes real dedication to cooking to survive in the cutthroat nature of a professional kitchen. He has published many other books that examine different foods, serve as companion pieces for his shows, and that provide a commentary on the culinary world.

Lastly, the strangest, or most interesting, piece that Bourdain has published is “Get Jiro,” a comic book that takes a look at a future society overrun by gangs of chefs. Who knew Bourdain would actually write a comic book? It just shows that he’ll use any medium to have fun and tell stories. Check it out, our very own Brad Gullickson liked it.  

Bourdain’s media career was diverse and thoughtful. It’s heartbreaking that he’s gone, but he left an incredible legacy that we can still enjoy. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out No Reservations and Parts Unknown because they immerse you in beautiful cities, cultures, and food while confronting our responses to the adversity we face.

Thank you for always challenging us, inspiring us, and teaching us. You’ll be missed.

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Lover of coffee, the emdash, and General Hux. Journalism student at Biola University in Los Angeles.