Despite controversy, Bourdain wasn’t shy about championing Canadian cuisine

As the world’s best known celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain’s travels took him to the farthest reaches of the planet, and in so doing he became a champion of regional cuisines — including an intriguing list of uniquely Canadian dishes and venues.

Bourdain, 61, was found dead Friday in his hotel room in France. He was in Strasbourg filming an upcoming segment of his award-winning “Parts Unknown” series for CNN, now in its 11th season. The network confirmed the cause of death was suicide.

Last fall, Bourdain travelled to Newfoundland, where he ate fish and chips in Petty Harbour, jigged for cod off the tiny village of Quidi Vidi near St. John’s, and later hunted for moose in the province’s remote and rugged interior.

It was to be his last Canadian foray in a career full of them.

In 2016, he said three Montreal chefs he’d featured on “Parts Unknown” should be declared national heroes, including Fred Morin and David McMillan of Joe Beef.

“I’m a huge fan and loyalist and evangelical on the subject of Martin Picard and Fred and Dave at Joe Beef,” the Emmy-winning television personality told The Canadian Press. “I mean, I think they’re not just good for Montreal. They’re good for Canada. They’re good for the world.

“I’d put all three of those guys on the Canadian currency. If I were in charge of such things, they would be national heroes … The Canadian version of Mount Rushmore would have those three guys up there and maybe Jen (Agg) from Black Hoof (in Toronto) also.”

In a series of tweets Friday, Agg — who has announced she is shuttering The Black Hoof restaurant after 10 years — recalled Bourdain’s humour and generosity.

“I’m so sad for his family. I’m so sad for his friends. I’m so sad for his colleagues. I’m so sad for me,” Agg tweeted.

“He was my champion, when almost no other high-profile dudes would be. He, by example, forced them to pay attention, even if they really didn’t want to. I’ll always be grateful for that. It meant not just a lot, but everything.”

Bourdain’s love of Quebec and Montreal’s cuisine was well established. He recorded three of his shows — “No Reservations” (April 2006), ”The Layover” (December 2011), and ”Parts Unknown” (May 2013) in the province.

Joe Beef’s McMillan declined an interview request Friday, but the Facebook account for the restaurant and his own personal Twitter account carried a black square to mark Bourdain’s passing.

Morin also tweeted cryptically about Bourdain without naming him Friday, describing him as loyal and kind, posting an image of an ice fishing cabin where they ate a sumptuous lunch during one episode.

In the Newfoundland episode broadcast last month, Jeremy Charles, head chef behind Raymonds in downtown St. John’s, served Bourdain menu items and showed off the province’s splendours.

Local foodies went wild when they heard that Bourdain — described by the Smithsonian as “the original rock star” of the culinary world — was touring the province.

“You know the … commercials about the most interesting man in the world? Bourdain is him in real life,” said one fan on Twitter.

Toronto celebrity chef Mark McEwan said Bourdain was well-known for his edgy, swaggering style.

“I’ve never seen anyone drink more tequila on air, or smoke as many joints on air,” said McEwan, who had his own show on Food Network Canada called “The Heat.”

However, McEwan stressed that Bourdain never lost sight of his belief that simple, regional dishes make for the most satisfying meals.

Bourdain’s journey across Newfoundland highlighted that approach, said McEwan, also head judge on “Top Chef Canada.”

“He loved the tactile nature of it, and that they were real people of substance and character — and they live their lives more to the simple side than the glam side,” said McEwan.

“He really enjoyed that aspect of it.”

However, Bourdain’s foray to the East Coast was not without controversy, something Bourdain was used to as the culinary world’s ”Elvis of bad boy chefs.”

When a Twitter user asked why two Montreal chefs were with him on a trip to Newfoundland, Bourdain wasn’t impressed. He fired back, saying it was the two chefs’ “relentless advocacy for Newfoundland” that encouraged him to visit the province.

“Why were two ‘Frenchies’ on the last (episode) of Parts Unknown Newfoundland? Because they were solely responsible for enticing me there,” he said on Twitter.

Those behind the production of Bourdain’s show also took online heat for using the term “Newfie” in a tweet promoting the episode. The show acknowledged the criticism on Twitter and offered an apology.

In November 2014, Bourdain travelled to Wolfville, N.S., where he helped kick off the annual Devour! food and film festival. At the opening gala, he sampled offerings from a dozen chefs, and then proclaimed his fascination with the Halifax donair — a sweet and savoury meat-lovers treat that has since been declared the city’s official food.

“I look for unique foods, unique to the region,” he said in an interview with the Halifax Chronicle Herald. “It is your most famous, it’s the signature dish — like the New York dirty-water hotdog.”

Lia Rinaldo, managing director of the festival, said Bourdain made a special trip to attend the event, which celebrates cinema, food and wine culture.

“I was always amazed at how he could take and intensive political situation and translate it through food,” she said, citing a program he produced in Iran.

“Street food was one of those things that he always embraced … He was always looking for the core of whatever culture he was in. I’ll miss that part of it.”

In 2013, when Bourdain accepted a Peabody Award for his TV work, he said his storytelling was based on asking simple questions.

“What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions, we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”

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