Exactly two years ago to the day, Anthony Bourdain was in Houston shining a light on Space City’s stunning and unrivaled culinary diversity.
The wayfaring chef, author, and food personality, who did this work in Houston and countless other cities, died on Friday. Bourdain was found unresponsive in a hotel in Strasbourg, France, where he was shooting an episode of Parts Unknown, the CNN television show that he used to champion the food of immigrants and encourage people to step outside their own bubbles.
In 2016, Bourdain’s visit to Houston included a meal at Plant It Forward Farms, a refugee-run organization that grows both fresh produce for restaurants across the city and job opportunities for those who work there. He danced with teenagers in the aisles at Keemat Grocers, and took part in a pani puri eating contest. He went from one end of the city to the other, dining on barbecue with rapper Slim Thug and heading to Palacios to visit a restaurant that serves both Vietnamese pho and Texas-style breakfast tacos.
Even the moments that didn’t end up on camera were meaningful. He ate a serendipitous meal at Udipi Cafe, owned by Sathish Rao, who worked with Bourdain in New York before moving to Houston. “He remembered me! He’s so down to earth,” Rao said. “I’ve known him for a long time, but I didn’t know how down to earth he would be now that he’s so famous.”
In Houston, Anthony Bourdain did what he did in far-flung locales across the world. He shined a light on the hardest-working corners of the city’s scrappy culinary community, those that don’t always get glossy magazine features or James Beard Award nominations.
His visit may have been brief, but Anthony Bourdain’s impact on Houston will be lasting — after years of toiling away in relative obscurity, this city’s chefs have finally gotten the shine they deserve.
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.