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His first cooking job was on Cape Cod.
Born in New York City, Bourdain spent many summers with his family in France while growing up, which is where he tried his first oyster. He later spent his vacations working in kitchens at various seafood restaurants in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which sparked his interest in becoming a chef.
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He dropped out of college and struggled with drugs.
After two years pursuing a degree at Vassar College, Bourdain called it quits, later continuing his education at the Culinary Institute of America instead. In his first book, he talks openly about his long-time addiction to cocaine and heroin, which he eventually recovered from.
“I understood that I got a pretty lucky break here, and that it was statistically unlikely to happen again,” he told Men’s Journal. “I’ve been pretty careful about not f*cking up the opportunities that have come since.”
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But he was firm about staying drug-free.
While Bourdain still drank alcohol, he quit smoking after becoming a father and stopped doing drugs before that. Of his former addiction, he wrote on Reddit: “Most people who kick heroin and cocaine have to give up on everything. Maybe ‘cause my experiences were so awful in the end, I’ve never been tempted to relapse.”
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His books are bestsellers.
Bourdain’s nonfiction book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, stemmed from an article that was originally published in The New Yorker. After it landed on The New York Times bestseller list, he penned two more that also made the cut in 2001 and 2006. More recently, Bourdain co-wrote a graphic novel, Get Jiro!, as well as Appetites, a cookbook.
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He ate his way around the world.
Make no mistake — Bourdain could cook — but he spent plenty of time eating out, too. Through his own travels and during filming, Bourdain circled the globe, slurping noodles in Hanoi, scarfing hummus in Beirut and drinking with the locals in Borneo. He was always the guy to ask for recommendations, no matter where you were vacationing.
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He was best friends with a Michelin-starred chef.
After Bourdain mentioned chef Éric Ripert in Kitchen Confidential, he got a call from the Le Bernadin owner, inviting him to lunch. The two were best friends, and Ripert often traveled with Bourdain to China and beyond during filming. Ripert was in France with Bourdain when he passed away.
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His second wife was a restaurant hostess.
Bourdain’s second wife, Ottavia, was a hostess at one of Ripert’s restaurants when her whirlwind romance with Bourdain began. On their second date, the pair got matching tattoos of a chef’s knife, and after their daughter Ariane born in 2007, they tied the knot within 11 days. The pair split in 2016, but remain on good terms, despite the new woman in Bourdain’s life.
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He was a devoted father.
Bourdain and Ottavia had a child — his first and only — in 2007. After the birth of Ariane, now 11, Bourdain decided to live more cautiously, at least compared to his old daredevil ways. He told PEOPLE, “In retrospect, I don’t know that I would do that today — now that I’m a dad or reasonably happy,” when talking about jumping off cliffs into water for The Travel Channel.
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And was very much in love.
Bourdain began dating actress and director Asia Argento in early 2017. In an interview with PEOPLE earlier this year, Bourdain said he was “happy in ways that I have not been in memory,” and “happy in ways I didn’t think I ever would be, for sure,” in reference to Argento.
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He had an impressive tattoo collection.
Bourdain’s “bad-boy chef” image didn’t just come from his past — his sharp tongue and tatted-up skin added to it as well. In addition to the chef’s knife, he had a skull on his right shoulder and an ouroboros — a snake swallowing its tail — on his left shoulder that he got while filming No Reservations in Malaysia. There was also one on his arm that reads “I am certain of nothing,” in ancient Greek, and a scorpion tat that he got at a house party while filming Parts Unknown in Nashville.
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He was also a producer.
Bourdain began hosting Parts Unknown in 2013 after leaving Travel Channel, but he wasn’t just the star of the show. He was an active producer who wrote his own voiceovers, and helped select the music for each episode. He also had a hand in producing films including the documentaries Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent and Wasted!
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He had no patience for clueless cooks.
In Bourdain’s opinion, any human worth their salt is smart enough to throw some standard dishes together in the kitchen. “In an ideal society, everyone over 12 should be able to cook a few basic things reasonably well,” he told Men’s Journal. “Everyone should know how to make an omelet. Everyone should know how to roast a chicken, properly, how to grill a steak properly, how to make a basic — very basic — stew or soup, prepare basic vegetables and pasta.”
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He steered clear of airport food.
“There’s almost never a good reason to eat on a plane. You’ll never feel better after airplane food than before it,” Bourdain told Esquire. We can’t argue that airline food generally sucks, so we love his tip for fueling up before flying. “If there’s food available I’ll load up on whatever the local specialty is. In Tokyo I’ll get ramen, in Singapore I’ll get something from the airport’s hawker center. Shake Shack at Kennedy airport is the best.”
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He had a genius trick for finding the best food in town.
When it comes to places he hasn’t been (there aren’t many), Bourdain had a clever way to get tips on the go-to food stops: “provoke nerd fury online,” he told Esquire. “Go to a number of foodie websites with discussion boards. Let’s say you’re going to Kuala Lumpur — just post on the Malaysia board that you recently returned and had the best rendang in the universe, and give the name of a place, and all these annoying foodies will bombard you with angry replies about how the place is bullsh*t, and give you a better place to go.”
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He always knew what the next big food trend would be.
If you ever wondered which dish would be all over restaurant menus next, Bourdain had a prediction. In 2017, he bet that the Filipino dish, sisig — a pork dish made with various parts of the pig — will soon be in high demand in the U.S. “It’s hot, sizzling, crispy, sticky, delicious bits of pork with many textures,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines.