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Five TV Episodes That Capture the Blazing Spirit of Anthony Bourdain

Remembering a legend through his work on television

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CNN/Parts Unknown

This post originally appeared on June 7, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.


This is a really rough day for food TV fans. We lost an amazing talent, the guy who changed the game and inspired so many people along the way. Rest in peace Anthony Bourdain. There will never be another one like you.

Tonight, June 8 at 10 p.m., CNN, the current home to Bourdain’s long-running hit show Parts Unknown, will air a tribute to the host. Bourdain filmed so many incredible hours of TV — which influenced countless programs after them — that it’s hard to whittle his work down into a “best of” list that could be viewed in an evening or afternoon. But here are five episodes that give a good look back at the arc of his iconic presence on screen.

CNN/Parts Unknown

A Cook’s Tour, “A Taste of Tokyo”: This is the episode where it all started. Bourdain’s New York accent is a bit thicker here, and his manner of speaking feels even more off the cuff than usual. But what is most distinctive is his giddy excitement for exploring a new city and its cuisine. This spark, this burst of enthusiasm, is what would inform his entire TV career.

No Reservations, “Into the Fire”: After he was a bona fide TV star, Bourdain went back to the site of his last chef job, Les Halles steakhouse in NYC, to check in with is old teammates. This is a good example of how, even after he became a household name, Tony never lost track of where he came from, and he always showed his respect to the hardworking people in the kitchen.

Parts Unknown, “The Bronx”: Increasingly, over the course of his TV career, Bourdain began focussing his attention on food communities that don’t often get featured in glossy mags or travel shows like the ones that he hosts. The Bronx episode, part of Parts Unknown Season 4, is a great example of the host immersing himself in a place that he knows very little about, while letting the people in these communities tell their stories. “The Bronx is, let’s face it, a big blank space in a lot of people’s minds,” Bourdain admits at the beginning of the episode. “Even people like me who live, what, 10 minutes away, we don’t know anything about that big area between Yankees Stadium and the Bronx Zoo.”

Tony, Christopher Doyle, and director Asia Argento at Leaf Dessert Noodle shop in Parts Unknown: Hong Kong CNN

Parts Unknown, “Swiss Alps”: Bourdain had magical on-screen chemistry with his old friend Eric Ripert. The six television episodes that they filmed together, spanning across both No Reservations and Parts Unknown, are worth their own mini-marathon if only because they constitute a unique genre for food TV: the zen buddhist buddy comedy. In the Alps installment, in Parts Season 10, in between feasting on raclette and trading barbs on the ski slopes, Bourdain and Ripert also debate the ethics of eating meat, asking each other if the joy that they get from consuming animals outweighs the environmental side effects.

Parts Unknown, “Hong Kong”: Bourdain was a major cinephile who loved meeting and working with his idols. On the last episode to air before his death, Bourdain got a chance to work with his movie hero Christopher Doyle, as well as another cinema icon who he tremendously admired, Asia Argento, his girlfriend. Tony also ate some incredible food, including a pig brain dish that he called “truly, stunningly delicious.” It may be impossible to truly say goodbye to Bourdain, but this episode, where he’s among his heroes and loved ones, eating food that truly excited him, is a nice way to remember this titan of TV.

Please take care of yourself this weekend: 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.

We’ll be back to the usual TV recommendations and news next week.

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