Mocked Olive Garden Reviewer Remembers Meeting Anthony Bourdain Who "Came to My Rescue"

Marilyn Hagerty_Anthony Bourdain_Split - Publicity - H 2018
Screengrab; Steve Mack/FilmMagic

The North Dakota food columnist talks with The Hollywood Reporter on the day of the chef's death and recalls having coffee with him where he discussed his daughter: He was "such a good-looking person" and "easy to visit with."

For 92-year-old Marilyn Hagerty of North Dakota, her one meeting with Anthony Bourdain was an event to remember. She had coffee in 2012 with the late television chef in New York while making the talk-show rounds after the viral internet mockery of her glowing review of the new local Olive Garden; Bourdain had come to her defense. At the coffee chat, he asked if he could publish her hometown food columns.

After the Grand Forks Herald weekly food columnist called the new, "impressive" Olive Garden the “largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks,” she received online criticism for not covering high-end restaurants, she tells THR

“Some kind of wiseacres somewhere around the country got ahold of one of them and was making fun of me for writing a food column about the Olive Garden,” Hagerty says. “Anthony Bourdain came to my rescue by saying I was providing a service for people who eat in small towns and all over the country, and I was showing how people eat in the Midwest and in this area.”

Hagerty then went to New York on a press tour and was invited to television shows, fine restaurants in Manhattan and tours of The New York Times, Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal newsrooms. She says that while she was in the city, Bourdain invited her to meet with him for coffee, which was at the Hudson Hotel near Columbus Circle.

Bourdain asked if he could publish her columns in a book, which he did: Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews, published in August 2013. "We just had a long coffee and chatted. He did talk about the book and he told me about his daughter, who was five years old at the time." 

Bourdain himself wrote the book's foreword, saying Hagerty provides “a fascinating picture of dining in America, a gradual, cumulative overview of how we got from there... to here. Grand Forks is NOT New York City. We forget that — until we read her earlier reviews and remember, some of us, when you’d find sloppy Joe, steak Diane, turkey noodle soup, three bean salad, red Jell-o in OUR neighborhoods.” 

She adds: "Then the tide sort of turned and then people began to compliment me. I thought it was very good of him to do that, and of course I was very flattered."

They stayed in contact during the publishing process, but she never met the Parts Unknown host again. Of her lasting memories of the acquaintance: "It was just how pleased I was that he was such a good-looking person, easy to visit with, very pleasant to meet.”