Food & Drink

Remembering Anthony Bourdain's 2010 visit to Sacramento

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain dead at 61

Bourdain achieved celebrity status after the publication in 2000 of his best-selling book "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly." Bourdain went on to achieve widespread fame thanks to his CNN series "Parts Unknown."
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Bourdain achieved celebrity status after the publication in 2000 of his best-selling book "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly." Bourdain went on to achieve widespread fame thanks to his CNN series "Parts Unknown."

Celebrity chef, author and TV show host Anthony Bourdain inspired countless numbers of people to travel and expand their culinary horizons — including some in Sacramento.

Bourdain, who died at age 61 of an apparent suicide Friday, spoke at Memorial Auditorium on Sept. 17, 2010, about his life tasting dishes across the world and what happens behind kitchen doors. He was touring to promote his then-new book "Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and People Who Cook," which debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times' bestseller list.

Tickets for the talk ranged from $36.50 nosebleeds to $85 VIP meet-and-greet book signing packages. Dressed in a navy blue sports coat, button-up shirt and dark jeans, Bourdain paced across the stage as he talked about his recent appearance as a guest judge on Bravo's "Top Chef."

"What's great to watch on the show is ... there is that center of moral gravitas," Bourdain said. "It's 'what have you done for me lately?' Worst dish today gets you sent home today, best dish today gets you the win."

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee leading up to the event, Bourdain described the people who came to his appearances — a random grab-bag on Fridays and Saturdays followed by a crowd of cooks on Sundays and Mondays — and made clear he wasn't interested in a calm, sit-down book signing.

"I don't know if I have an act, but I hope it's entertaining and funny," Bourdain said in the 2010 interview. "I walk out on stage and I talk. It's a one-man show. When I run out of stuff, I run the floor for some Q&A. A lot depends on how much the audience has been drinking. The more, the better. But I've done a number of gigs with other chefs, and we've sold out 2,000 (-seat venues). It's a strange world."

Former Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en co-owner Adam Pechal, 42, met Bourdain while competing on "The Taste," a short-lived cooking competition between chefs selected by Bourdain and three other judges. Restaurateur Brian Malarkey selected Pechal for his team, and the young chef rarely spoke to Bourdain throughout weeks of filming despite his best efforts.

At an after-party following 12 hours of season finale filming, Pechal looked across the room and saw Bourdain holding a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Pechal immediately grabbed a can himself and elbowed his way over to Bourdain, who had attracted a small crowd as he excitedly talked about upcoming opportunities he'd have to taste food in Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a new CNN series called "Parts Unknown."

Cooks, writers and people in all walks of life adored Bourdain for his willingness to seek out delicious eats in shabby settings and no-holds-barred looks at the restaurant industry in books such as "Kitchen Confidential," Pechal said. He didn't shed a tear when Prince or David Bowie died in 2016, but welled up on phone calls with friends Friday morning.

"It's amazing how far his reach is," said Pechal, a Kennedy High alumnus now working in Point Richmond with plans to return to Sacramento. "It's like one of my really good friends died, and I'd be lying if I said wasn't choking up right now talking about it."

More recently, Bourdain told acclaimed chef Jeremiah Tower's story in "The Last Magnificent," a documentary that chronicled Tower's influence on the slow food movement as Chez Panisse's executive chef in Berkeley, 15 years spent running one of the world's best restaurants in San Francisco and subsequent disappearing act until he resurfaced in 2014. Tower, who will headline this year's Tower Bridge Dinner in Sacramento, spoke at the film's Crest Theatre screening on April 9.

Though "Parts Unknown" never made it to California's capital, Bourdain stopped off at Swan Oyster Depot and Coi in San Francisco and Juhu Beach Club in Oakland in 2015.

Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine will donate all tips received at its late-night izakaya, titled "Ngo Reservations" in a riff on Bourdain's show and founder Billy Ngo's last name, toward the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for the rest of June.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.

The Bee's Benjy Egel is launching a new effort to cover Sacramento's dining and beer scene. Please send tips and story ideas by email at, on Twitter @BenjyEgel or by phone at (916) 321-1052.

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