Anthony Bourdain revealed to us the world and ourselves


My wife and I went to Thailand last year on our honeymoon. Had we never known of Anthony Bourdain, we might have just headed for Hawaii (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But Bourdain changed me. And not just me. Bourdain changed the restaurant world. He changed the travel world. And he changed the media world. In no small way, he helped change the world at large. He made it feel simultaneously much smaller and much bigger. He died from an apparent suicide last week, and the world will be less colorful and feel slightly less accessible without him.

The brash chef, a bubbling cauldron of irreverence and respect, made the foreign familiar, dissolving borders both physical and literal with his works of New Journalism for the Travel Channel (“No Reservations”) and CNN (“Parts Unknown”). But before he created the platform which celebrated, investigated and marveled at cultures ranging from Iceland to Malaysia and West Virginia to Tokyo, he revealed a world equally as foreign to so many: the professional kitchen. His 2000 book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” pulled back the curtain on the rebellious, creative, hard-working and sometimes destructive cast of characters that found refuge and purpose in cooking. As he would later do traveling the world, Bourdain helped his audience understand a culture beyond their own personal experience, and he allowed his subjects to be truly seen and heard.

Bourdain spent the better part of 20 years showing us to ourselves, helping us recognize that behind every great bowl of stew or plate of noodles, there is a person, a culture and a story. Yes, he had what seemed the enviable job of traveling the world, constantly maintaining a childlike wonder on a very grown-up budget, but he was not trying to be an exalted rock star; he was simply a searcher, and our proxy.

A brilliant wordsmith, underrated filmmaker and reluctantly vulnerable humanist, Bourdain re-calibrated the way we thought about food. He wasn’t a vamping chef in pristine whites jazzing up meals you can cook at home or a clown peddling in redundancy with how “delicious!!” every bite of chicken-fried steak was that he encountered across the country. He was a storyteller, a raconteur, an excited student of the world that reminded us that connection with another person or culture is often just one meal or bite of food away. He made you want to head to the airport with just your wallet and travel to Bangkok or Dublin, hungry for a meal, a conversation, an adventure, a lesson in life.

I didn’t know Bourdain, though as with any great artist you feel you come to know at least a layer or two of the person, and I am in no place to make judgments about how his life ended. I just know that I have never endured the crippling despair of depression, and can only imagine its dark grip. His daughter and dearest loved ones have my deepest sympathy. If you or anyone you know is battling depression or thoughts of suicide, please know there is help out there and recovery is possible. And please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number at 1-800-273-8255. Chefs with Issues is also a resource if you are struggling and work in the food world. Locally, you can call 512-472-4357 to connect with mental health services.

Closed

In a sign of the shifting landscape of the Austin dining scene, Shawn Cirkiel has closed his modernist Spanish restaurant, Bullfight . The restaurant, which opened in September 2015, landed the number 25 spot in our annual Austin360 Dining Guide in 2017 based on the solid execution of seasonal dishes inspired by the chef’s trips to Spain.

Dishes like branzino crudo with peach and corn, grilled octopus with squid ink bourride and roasted mushrooms topped with a Jamon Iberico-cured egg displayed the kitchen’s appreciation for ingredients and its touch with building flavors.

Though Bullfight is closing, Cirkiel said he still has plans for the space built on the spot next door to where his grandfather, Gene Johnson, once owned a service station.

Many diners likely saw the upmarket Bullfight as a destination location. Cirkiel said he intends to rebrand the spot as a neighborhood restaurant with a menu better suited for daily and weekly dining. He is partnering with a friend, whose name he did not disclose, for the new venture but has not announced a name or an estimated opening date for the new restaurant.

“Bullfight is an emotional and romantic project for me, but we had a unique opportunity to do something that fit in with the neighborhood,” Cirkiel said. “I continue to be excited about the Austin restaurant scene and what it all means. And what I’m most excited about is introducing something new that will work well with the neighborhood.”

Following the closure, Cirkiel said he will place former Bullfight staff at one of his other concepts around town, with Bullfight general manager Tara Davies and many of her crew headed downtown to Parkside. A native Austinite, Cirkiel also owns and operates the restaurants Backspace and Olive & June, as well as downtown juice bar Jugo.

Now open

Hip new Austin boutique hotel the Line Austin has officially opened Arlo Grey, the upmarket restaurant from “Top Chef” season 10 winner Kristen Kish.

Kish, who has a fine dining background, has devised a menu that looks to be both chef-driven and full of populist appeal. The menu starts with dishes like beef tartare with grated egg and caper aioli and grilled acorn squash with cashew butter, and ranges to larger offerings like steamed snapper with sorrel velouté and Buffalo short rib with horseradish.

The Michigan-raised chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago worked at the Michelin-starred Sensing in Boston before becoming an integral part in the demi empire of Barbara Lynch, the 2014 James Beard award winner for best restaurateur in the nation, eventually serving as chef de cuisine at Lynch’s Menton, a nationally lauded French restaurant celebrated for its technique, seasonality and sophistication.

Kish left Menton in 2014 and has spent the intervening years traveling the world, writing her first cookbook (“Kristen Kish Cooking”) and appearing on Travel Channel’s “36 Hours.”

Dinner initially will be from 5 to 10 p.m. and in these early stages is by reservation only, which can be made on Open Table or by phone at 512-478-9611.

The new Whitfield’s barbecue trailer in South Austin has some heavy hitters on board, figuratively and literally. The barbecue trailer at 9001 Brodie Lane in South Austin is run by a team that includes former Carillon and Driskill Grill chef Josh Watkins and Kasey Studdard, a former offensive lineman and national champion with the Texas Longhorns.

Watkins, who also briefly ran Chavez at the Radisson on Lady Bird Lake, spoke to the Statesman years ago about the possibility to get into the global barbecue game, so it is not a total surprise to see the talented chef pop up in such a venue, where he is joined by Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ veteran Scott Fogle.

Watkins told Eater Austin that the menu, which includes ribs, sausage, brisket and pulled pork, will eventually expand to include dishes like smoked beef cheek croquettes, smoked duck confit and smoked shrimp ceviche.

Whitfield’s is initially open from 4 p.m. until sold out on Thursday and Friday and from 11 am. until sold out on Saturday and Sunday.

If you’ve been to Wu Chow, you know the best part of the restaurant is the dim sum menu served by chef Ling Qi Wu on weekends. Now, the native of the Fujian Province in China has her own stage for her masterworks. The chef, who previously worked at La Traviata, has opened Lin Asian Bar + Dim Sum Restaurant on 1203 W. Fifth St. in the old Rounders location.

The restaurant serves lunch, which includes limited dim sum service, Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Sunday. Also Sundays, dim sum is served exclusively from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a menu that includes all manner of dumplings, shumai and more. Check out the menu at linasianbar.com.

Reopened

One of the best places in Austin to watch World Cup action has returned for the biggest sporting event in the world. Mexican restaurant Takoba, which closed in January, reopened Thursday. The restaurant at 1411 E. Seventh St. will be open for every day of World Cup matches. For the record, Mexico’s first match, versus Germany, is June 17 at 10 a.m.

Looking ahead

Almost 20 years after it opened its first location, Austin-based Tacodeli will open in downtown Austin for the first time. The restaurant from chef/founder Roberto Espinosa and partner Eric Wilkerson will be located at 301 Congress Ave. and is expected to open early next year.

The downtown location will be open for breakfast and lunch and serve a menu of 40 made-from-scratch tacos. This will be the sixth Austin location for Tacodeli, which originally opened in 1999.

We told you in March that the owners of Ramen Tatsu-Ya had taken over the lease at the old Qui/Kuneho spot at 1600 E. Sixth St. And, now, we know what they have in store: another Ramen Tatsu-Ya.

It will be the fourth location for the restaurant, which has two locations in Austin and one in Houston. The East Austin location will serve the same menu as the other spots along with craft cocktails and will offer late-night hours on Friday and Saturday. It is expected to open this summer.

Staffing news

Chef de cuisine James Dumapit and Loro, the Asian smokehouse from Hai Hospitality in collaboration with Aaron Franklin, have parted ways. Dumapit previously served as the opening co-executive chef at Old Thousand before returning to the Hai Hospitality team for which he once worked as executive sous chef at Uchiko. The departure of Dumapit leaves a vacancy that the Hai team says it is not currently considering filling. The casual restaurant opened at 2115 S. Lamar Blvd. on April 4.

“Chef James Dumapit is a very talented chef and we are grateful for his contributions to Loro. We wish him all the best and future success,” Hai Hospitality president John Baydale said. “We do not have plans for a replacement at this time but are happy with the amazing team we have in place “



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