Remembering Anthony Bourdain, Who Helped Share the Stories of Hawai‘i
The chef, writer and TV host filmed episodes of “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” in the Islands.
For nearly two decades, Anthony Bourdain, the chef-turned-writer-turned-travel TV host, reminded his audience that many of the world’s greatest meals—and cooking pros—weren’t found solely at Michelin-starred and James Beard award-winning restaurants. They were also found at the hole-in-the-wall eateries, in diners and prepared by family. He was a champion of street vendors and dishwashers, forever advocating for refugees and immigrants and underdogs who carved a life out for themselves in the kitchen.
Bourdain was a snarky raconteur and a rockstar of the culinary world, known as much for being a celebrity chef as he was for loudly criticizing the rampant commercialism of the celebrity cooking industry. He was a drinker and a smoker, loved punk music and hated vegetarianism. He was found dead early Friday morning.
Bourdain visited Hawai‘i on numerous occasions—most notably for his television shows. He came to the Islands for a 2008 episode of No Reservations, where Bourdain explored Hawai‘i’s Spam fixation with food writer Dave Choo at New Uptown Fountain in Kalihi; drank zombies at La Mariana with Don Tiki musician Lloyd Kandell; picked up an aloha shirt at Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts; and sat down for pūpū and drinks at Side Street Inn with chefs and local food figures Colin Nishida, Alan Wong, Chuck Furuya, Dean Okimoto, Fred DeAngelo, Russell Siu, Donato Loperfido and Betty Shimabukuro.
“How long have you all known each other?” Bourdain asks in the episode. The chefs just laugh, as if they know something he doesn’t.
When Bourdain returned to Hawai‘i in 2015 for Parts Unknown, he took a deeper look and explored the Islands in a way that few outsiders—especially those shooting a syndicated television show—would dare.
He talked about Hawai‘i’s colonial past (“There was the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani, and the U.S. takeover of the Hawaiian government …”), the military presence in the Islands (“Beginning in 1941, and continuing into the ’70s and beyond, the U.S. Navy had been using the beautiful neighboring island of Kaho‘olawe as a bombing range. You could feel the shockwaves as far away as Maui and Moloka‘i …”) and Hawai‘i’s current status as a multicultural mixing place (“Hawai‘i is America. As American as anything could possibly be. Yet it also never shed what was there before, and the layers and layers that have come since.”)
On this second trip, Bourdain dined with travel writer Paul Theroux at Town restaurant in Kaimukī and questioned the meaning of words like “paradise” and “aloha.” He ate tripe and taco rice and oxtail soup with chefs Andrew Le and Mark Noguchi at Ethel’s Grill, and hamburger steak and chicken katsu plate lunches with Contrast Magazine’s Daniel Ikaika Ito and discussed what it means to identify as a local versus a Native Hawaiian and what it means to share and preserve local resources.
Bourdain visited with Walter Ritte, who protested the military bombing of Kaho‘olawe in 1976, and Guy Hanohano Naehu, caretaker for the 800-year-old Keawanui Hawaiian fish pond on Moloka‘i. The chef visited legendary navigator Nainoa Thompson, to talk about his 1976 voyage to Tahiti aboard the Hōkūle‘a and about the Second Hawaiian Renaissance that followed.
“Those of us who were not born in Hawai‘i, who do not live there, can be forgiven, I hope, for imagining it a paradise,” Bourdain wrote for CNN.com after the Parts Unknown episode. “I was treated with enormous kindness and generosity everywhere I went … my ignorance and naive preconceptions tolerated with patience and good grace. This is one haole who feels very, very honored and grateful for the many kindnesses shown me.”
Local chefs and writers took to social media today to pay tribute to Bourdain.
Hard to describe the sadness I feel. Having met you several times, I was always in awe, & a tad bit envious because I still want to see & taste & swallow the world the way that you did. Thank you for being an inspiration, a raconteur, & an ambassador for humanity. #RipBourdain— Lee Anne Wong (@leeannewong) June 8, 2018
I gifted my mom Kitchen Confidential, she read it in a day, and was smitten with Anthony Bourdain forevermore. Her time spent with him at Town was a bright shiny moment on the bumpy road fighting cancer. Look at her smile. He had that effect on all of us. I find peace knowing she’s welcoming him right now with a pack of cigarettes and a six pack.
When I was a student at San Diego Mesa College and writing for the San Diego Mesa Press a classmate of mine suggested I watch “No Reservations.” * I remember watching Anthony Bourdain in my grungy two-bedroom apartment that I shared with three other Hawai‘i boys and saying, “I’ll feel like I made it as a journalist if I ever get to have a beer with Anthony Bourdain.” Fast forward 13 years, and I had the honor and privilege of sharing a six-pack of Bikini Blondes with the great chef while being interviewed about the difference between Hawaiian and local culture on “Parts Unknown” as the editor of Contrast magazine. * To make a long story short, Bourdain said something to me in the interview that made me feel even more proud to be kanaka maoli than I already was. If you ask me about it in person I’ll tell you the whole story, but this post is to “MAHALO” Anthony Bourdain for making a journalism major’s dream come true. My aloha goes out to his ‘ohana and the good people at ZPZ Productions. * Rest In Paradise, Tony 🙏🏾 📸: Kasey