Fellow Chefs Pay Tribute to Anthony Bourdain at Citymeals on Wheels Event

Kris Connor/Getty Imagesl; Courtesy of Dana Stoddard
Citymeals Board co-president Daniel Boulud; inset: goat cheese tortellini by New American food trailblazer Alfred Portale, who recalls “sitting on the beach eating Iberico ham topped with ossetra’’ with Bourdain

NYC's 33rd Annual Chef’s Tribute to Citymeals on Wheels on Monday night hosted chefs who reflected on their memories of Bourdain. "We assumed he conquered his demons," said 'Chopped' judge Scott Conant. "This has affected me more than I expected."

The 33rd Annual Chef’s Tribute to Citymeals on Wheels held Monday night at Rockefeller Center honored chefs from around the world, who joined some of America’s most celebrated whisks in a feast that raised about $1 million. But it was Anthony Bourdain, a culinary figure who no longer cooked, that was on the minds of many.

Just three days earlier, Bourdain died by suicide while in Alsace, France, to film Parts Unknown with fellow chef and TV personality Eric Ripert, who discovered his close friend in a hotel room. But the chef at Le Bernardin wasn't behind his station, nor serving up seared hamachi with avocado and kimchi broth as presented by his Grand Cayman restaurant, Blue. It was his chef de cuisine Thomas Seifried doing the honors. "Eric is not here; he will need weeks, months, even years," said Seifried. Everyone at Blue knew Bourdain well, as Ripert helped host an annual Grand Cayman Cookout, and the Parts Unknown star usually attended along with his pal, Momofuku founder and pyrotechnics master David Chang. 

Daniel Boulud, Citymeals board co-president and creator of two-Michelin-starred Daniel restaurant in NYC,  told The Hollywood Reporter of Bourdain: "We had many great memories. I remember one night at [Boulud's D.C. spot] DBGB we sat with [former New York Times food critic and current Times op-ed columnist] Frank Bruni and ate sausage and drank beer all night. Tony was grilling him. He liked that Bruni wrote about subjects other than food and we talked politics and culture. In Lyon, we did a show for CNN and went wild eating a whole hare at Bocuse. It was braised for 10 hours, but served with ears and everything so it looked like it was right off the field. Tony was really getting high on the food!"

Chopped and Top Chef judge Scott Conant, dressed in a black leather apron, also paid tribute. "I’ve known Tony for years and we assumed he conquered his demons. We all work to overcome our own stuff, and here’s a guy who could articulate it better than all of us and made it to the top, and still he’s unhappy, so what’s the fucking point? This has affected me more than I expected," he said.

Last night’s host and owner of the Rockefeller Center restaurants, Nick Valenti, addressed the mood: "I know everyone is sad tonight, but the important thing is that we are here raising money to feed 19,000 homebound elderly."

Other chefs chimed in, with California cuisine pioneer Jonathan Waxman remembering talking music ("Coltrane, Miles Davis. [Jimi] Hendrix, Bill Withers") with Bourdain: "We talked about how musicians seem to age better than chefs. I told him I saw Hendrix at Monterey Pop and Otis Redding came on after. Tony reacted like a little kid!"

Double Michelin–starred Michael White shared recollections of a trip to Imola with Bourdain while shooting No Reservations: "Tony never wanted to go in ahead to see the balsamic factory or whatever it was we were shooting, so that he would be seeing things for the first time and his reactions on camera were fresh and real; it wasn’t very prepared or scripted. Every night we had amazing dinners, and I remember one freezing night after a lot of libations, riding back to the hotel on a freezing night in the back of a pick-up truck."