During his all-too-brief time here on Earth, Anthony Bourdain was a fountain of wisdom and wit—not just about food, but about life. However, as much as he shared with the world, he also kept a lot hidden. Who was the man behind the wry smile and deep voice? From his wild youth to his tragic end—and its devastating aftermath—Bourdain was an endlessly fascinating figure. Here are little-known facts about the beloved chef that go beyond the kitchen and right into the confidential.
1. Their Luck Changed
When Anthony Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, his father was working two jobs to make ends meet. But as Bourdain grew up, his parents went from working class to cultural elite—his father became a record company executive and his mother, an editor at The New York Times. While he would eventually make his mark in the same realm, one experience as a teen forever changed the course of his life.
2. He Forged His Own Path
While visiting France in his youth on a family vacation, a local fisherman plucked an oyster from the water, shucked it, and handed it to the young Bourdain. This single experience was the starting point for Bourdain’s love for food and eating. While Bourdain grew up with a passion for books, movies, and music handed down from his parents, this moment put him on a path toward the culinary arts—but not without some bumps along the way.
3. He Wanted More
While many of his fellow students at the prep school in New Jersey that Bourdain attended came from broken homes or had absentee parents, his home life was actually quite comfortable in comparison. However, this, for lack of a better word, backfired. He resented that he didn’t have to face the same difficulties as his peers or rock and roll idols—so he took a turn on a dark path.
4. He Had A Dark Fixation
Even before he hit his teenage years, a dangerous obsession plagued Bourdain. He said that beginning at the age of 10, he’d been wildly fascinated with drugs. And when he finally had access to them, he dove in headfirst. Bourdain claims he took his first hit of acid when he was just 12 years old. It was just the beginning of a long and nightmarish battle with substance misuse that would follow him for the rest of his life.
However, there was another side to his, ahem, adventurous stance on experimenting with drugs.
5. She Compelled Him
As soon as he hit high school, Anthony Bourdain fell in with a bad crowd that was prone to substance use. Unlike his jaded peers and idols, Bourdain had an unexpected reason driving his rebellion. He was in love. Her name was Nancy Putkoski, she was older than him, and she and her friends partied very hard. Unlike other high school crushes, this one didn’t fade with time—and it ended up driving some major life changes.
6. He Followed Her
Despite his extracurricular activities, Bourdain finished high school a year early—all the better, as Putkoski had already graduated and gone on to study at Vassar. He followed her there, but quickly bristled at the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness he saw in his fellow students. Within two years, he shocked his parents by dropping out so he could study at the Culinary Institute of America.
In his words, they reacted as if he’d chosen to pursue a life of crime. Despite this, he pushed on. After all, he had another path in mind for himself…
7. An X-Rated Incident Inspired Him
While Anthony Bourdain loves telling the story about how his first oyster changed his life, there’s another, much raunchier story about why he became a chef. He started working as a dishwasher in the summer after high school, and once, during a wedding at the restaurant, he caught the chef in the act with a woman out back by the dumpsters. That woman just so happened to be the bride.
Bourdain cited this as the moment when he decided to become a chef—and his drive for excitement, be it carnal or otherwise, came to take over his life.
8. They Were Partners-In-Crime—Literally
After Bourdain graduated from culinary school, he and Putkoski moved to New York City and settled down—in a sense. While they found jobs and a rent-stabilized apartment, there was a dark side to their relationship. They still partied just as hard as they had in high school and college. More than that, Bourdain tried to get involved in the occasional deal himself.
Bourdain has referred to him and Nancy as “like Bonnie and Clyde,” and while he never names her, he does always mention having a partner by his side in his stories from that era—stories that are unforgettably wild.
9. He Was Into Some Sketchy Business
Bourdain has many stories about the “seriously knuckleheaded” stuff he did while under the influence—but some stick out above others. Bourdain claimed that he’d once been driving with 200 hits of acid in the car when law enforcement pulled him over. Another time, he was at the post office picking up a “letter from Panama” when he noticed DEA agents watching him.
He was on a destructive path—and it was about to get worse.
10. His Life Was Falling Apart
Within two years of moving to New York City, Bourdain’s life was going off the rails. Back home, his parents had separated after 26 years of marriage. At work, he was climbing the ranks. Bourdain finally made it to the position of sous-chef, working with two friends—but they all picked up a very nasty habit. Bourdain said: “We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in at every opportunity to ‘conceptualise.’”
Things escalated, and he went from party substances to more serious stuff.
11. He Was In Constant Danger
While working in kitchens, Anthony Bourdain used to go score between shifts—and had to deal with some predictably unsavory situations. In order to buy, he’d have to go to, as he put it, neighborhoods where “crackheads” would prey upon junkies like him and try to take their money. He said that they even mugged him at gunpoint once.
Still, Bourdain was relatively high-functioning for someone with an addiction problem—even though some of his adventures in the kitchen were just as harrowing.
12. He Had To Fight Back
In his books, Bourdain has regaled his readers about the seedy underbelly of restaurant life, and all the crazy things that go down in kitchens. He once described having a boss who would regularly hit on him and even get physical—until finally, Bourdain decided to get brutal revenge. He turned around and drove a carving fork between the offending chef’s knuckles and right through his hand. Bourdain never had to deal with his wandering hands again, and he earned the respect of the rest of the staff.
13. He Knew They Weren’t Going To Make It
After becoming a sous-chef for the first time, Anthony Bourdain worked in a series of failing restaurants among friends, which only served to intensify his addiction issues. He’d frequently dip out to buy dope between kitchen shifts. Bourdain remembered once being in a cab with friends going out to score, and jokingly quoting the statistic that one in four addicts will ever get clean.
Looking around, he made a grim realization. There were four of them in the cab. At that moment, he decided that he wanted to be the one to survive. However, it wouldn’t be an easy road.
14. His Life Was Intensely Dark
After deciding to “clean up” his act, Bourdain quit smack by entering a methadone clinic—but he still partook in other substances. During a dark time, he turned to crack. Bourdain described experiences where he would be so desperate that he would dig through the carpet, looking for any small remnants to smoke—and would end up lighting up paint chips instead. But still, he had yet to hit rock bottom.
15. He Hit Rock Bottom
During this period, Anthony Bourdain would still make it to work. However, things got worse and worse outside of the kitchen—until he reached a terrifying low point. One Christmas, completely broke, he set out his beloved record collection on a blanket on Broadway to sell it, just so he could get a fix. That what when he finally decided he’d had enough.
Bourdain finally quit—but his troubles were far from over.
16. He Was In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
After working at not one, but three failed restaurants, and sobering up (somewhat), Bourdain wound up in the restaurant empire of a man he called the Silver Shadow—only to make a disturbing discovery. The business was most definitely mob-run, and he was at the location with the most criminal activity.
The line cooks who were meant to help him were actually the boss’s coke dealers. He wasn’t supposed to bother them—but he definitely could try their product. It was back at square one.
17. He Didn’t Want To Hurt People
Bourdain ended up cleaning up the place, to a degree—and the boss liked the results. When Bourdain fired people, the boss saved money…and so, Bourdain’s head chef job became something more like restaurant HR. Finally, after falling into a deep depression and firing a man he’d mentored, he reached his breaking point.
Bourdain quit the job, convinced he’d never become a chef again—but fate had another plan for him.
18. He Lost His Father
While at one of his more forgettable jobs, shucking oysters at a raw bar in the East Village, Anthony Bourdain received devastating news. His father had suffered a heart attack at home and died suddenly at the age of 57. Bourdain always spoke highly of his father’s sense of intellectual curiosity and adventure, and how it influenced him. It was a heartbreaking loss, but to stay afloat, Bourdain had to keep moving.
19. His Bosses Terrified Him
Bourdain took a series of cooking jobs in seedier and seedier places in New York City, just hoping to not have to deal with the trials and tribulations of a head chef position again. He was using illicit substances—just not dope—and was increasingly miserable. Bourdain ended up at another mob-run restaurant. He did well, and the higher-ups liked him…but they liked him more than his boss, and that was a problem.
Once, when he complained about the man, he became convinced that he’d just accidentally asked for a hit on his boss. He fled soon after, once against cast to the wind.
20. They Betrayed Him
Finally, by the mid-90s, things were looking better. Anthony Bourdain got a ritzy job as an executive chef at a new outpost of a Tuscan place run by a beloved restaurateur. He thought it was his big break—but he was in for a major disappointment. He worked himself to the bone to open the restaurant in a matter of weeks, only for them to stab him in the back and unceremoniously demote him.
Bourdain had to accept the humiliation, but he still had limits—so he quit instead. Luckily, it was only a minor blip in his trajectory.
21. He Finally Found His Place In The World
While Bourdain swallowed the disappointment, he didn’t have to wallow too long. The management at the popular Brasseries Les Halles restaurant brought him on as executive chef soon after, and finally, after nearly two decades of toil, Bourdain found his niche. He was able to run the kitchen the way he wanted, hire the people he wanted to work with, and cook up food he was proud to serve. But he’d also found time for a little side hobby which would soon take over his life.
22. He’d Found Another Hobby
Anthony Bourdain had spent the better part of the last decade putting pen to paper in his off-time—but he wasn’t writing recipes or essays about working in kitchens just yet. He actually penned two mystery novels set in the restaurant world during the late 90s, including one he set in a mob-run restaurant, just like the ones he’d worked in.
One day, he wrote an essay about the inner workings of a kitchen—something of a caution to the city’s restaurant guests. He tried to get it published, but didn’t have any luck…but help came from an unlikely source.
23. She Pushed For Him
Without the persistence of Anthony Bourdain’s mother, he may never have become the cult figure we know today. She was still working as an editor for the Times when she read an essay, and it was those instincts that told her it was special. She knew someone who was friends with an up-and-coming editor at the New Yorker, so she passed it on and urged him to run it.
The editor immediately knew he had to publish it—but he had no idea just what kind of phenomena he was starting.
24. He’d Been Struggling
Within a week after the New Yorker had run the essay, a publisher had already signed Anthony Bourdain to write the book that would become Kitchen Confidential. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Despite his cushy position at Les Halles, he was still struggling after years of spotty employment. He was in terrible debt, had no insurance, and was behind on both taxes and rent.
Kitchen Confidential changed all that—but it also came with a host of troubles.
25. They’d Stuck Together
Before Kitchen Confidential, one constant had defined Bourdain’s home life. Through the years, the addictions, and the bad jobs, Nancy Putkoski had stuck by his side. Their hard partying in the 80s had turned into a life of takeout and reruns of The Simpsons in the 90s. Every year they took a trip to the Caribbean, and spent blissfully happy nights sipping cold beer and eating fresh seafood. But now, Bourdain’s success upturned their longtime stability—and it had dire consequences.
26. He Found A New Passion
You’d hardly expect it from him, considering his later success with travel shows, but before he hit middle-age, but Bourdain was far from well-traveled. Aside yearly vacations to the Caribbean with Nancy and a work trip to Tokyo, Bourdain hadn’t really seen that much of the world, but he became determined to change that. He wanted to travel for his next book and write about what he saw. And if a camera crew wanted to follow him around and make a TV show out of it, why not?
27. He Couldn’t Have It All
With the publication of Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain’s life changed—but it came with a heartbreaking dark side. Putkoski had stood by his side through failures and success in both the restaurant and literary worlds, but when TV producers began approaching Bourdain to host a show, she had an absolutely terrible feeling.
He went ahead with the show, but it came at a great cost. The fame that followed tore apart his 20-year marriage to Nancy Putkoski.
28. He Lost Her
Anthony Bourdain tried everything in his power to save the marriage. He spent money renovating their home and even flew back from filming in Japan to cook her family Christmas dinner, but it was too late. His newfound fame and ambition had driven a wedge between him and Putkoski. They no longer wanted the same things and separated, before eventually divorcing in 2005 after 20 years of marriage. Bourdain was utterly bereft.
29. He Nearly Ended It
On the outside, Anthony Bourdain was one of the world’s big new stars, with legions of fans. On the inside, he was still suffering—and he reached a terrifying low point. The end of his marriage had left him totally devstated, and he was visiting Saint Martin, a place he’d often vacationed with Putkoski. One night, he was drinking and taking a drive when he decided to drive off the edge of a cliff.
At that moment, a song he liked by the Chambers Brothers came on the radio. He thought it was a sign, so he turned the wheel at the last minute. Still, he had learned that there was a dark price to fame—and sadly, as we’ll see, it’d be a lesson he’d have to face again and again.
30. He Was In Grave Danger
Along with the lows, there were many triumphs. In 2006, Bourdain traveled to Beirut, Lebanon to film an episode of his hit show No Reservations. While there, he got way more than he bargained for. The plan was to focus on the city’s great nightlife—that is, until Israel launched a series of missiles at the city. Bourdain and his crew retreated to their hilltop hotel, where they watched the city burn. They needed an escape plan, and fast.
31. They Had To Flee
Eventually, a team of local fixers came up with a plan. They got Anthony Bourdain and the crew safely to a local beach, where a Marine ship picked them up. On the beach, they saw locals crowded on the sand with their belongings, fleeing from their burning homes. It was among the most harrowing and memorable experiences Bourdain encountered while filming his shows.
It also paid off, as that episode received an Emmy nomination. However, the scare also changed Bourdain.
32. He Moved Fast
Bourdain and renowned French chef Eric Ripert became fast friends after Kitchen Confidential, and Ripert knew how lonely Bourdain had been after his divorce. He decided to set him up with Ottavia Busia, a hostess from one of his restaurants, hoping his friends would at least get a good one-night stand in. Well, it turned into something way more intense than that.
On their second date together, Bourdain and Busia got matching tattoos. It was the beginning of a beautiful—and intense—relationship.
33. He Went From Scared To Impulsive
Bourdain and Busia had been dating for eight months when he went to Beirut. When he returned, shaken, he was ready to make a drastic change. He’d never had any children with his first wife, but, as Busia put it, they decided to “spin the wheel.” She got pregnant, giving birth in 2007 to a daughter they named Ariane.
Eleven days later, they tied the knot. Family life gave Bourdain a newfound lease on life where he’d never expected to find one—but he still struggled.
34. He Lost Friends
It wasn’t just the breakdown of his first marriage. Bourdain’s fame continued to exercise its dark effects on his life. One memorable chapter in Kitchen Confidential chronicled his long-time relationship with his sous-chef Steven. In the book, Bourdain called him “closest and most trusted friend and associate.” Sadly, when Bourdain got famous, Steven betrayed him.
When asked later about the status of their friendship, Bourdain he believed that Steven had sold one of Bourdain’s intimate photos to TMZ. After that, he cut all ties with his old friend. But of course, fame brought more than just melodrama.
35. Everyone Wanted A Piece
One of the biggest problems with Bourdain’s fame was the demand. Bourdain had spent years struggling to make ends meet. So, when people asked him to do things, he said yes, even when he was stretched thin. Between filming, book tours, and other commitments, he was traveling for more than 250 days a year. When his daughter started elementary school, Busia and her could no longer join him on the road.
Just as it had in his first marriage, the distance and time apart took their toll. The couple separated in 2016, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. He announced it right before he began promoting a cookbook that featured a number of recipes he made for his family, titled Appetites. Still, he had no time to dwell on it—someone important was calling.
36. It Made Him Appreciate His Freedom
There’s famous, and then there’s “POTUS wants to have a meal with you” famous. In 2016, the White House reached out to Anthony Bourdain to see if he could join him for a meal as part of his hit show Parts Unknown. After months of planning, Bourdain and Obama sat down in a tiny noodle shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, and shared a meal together.
Bourdain’s recollections of that meal were touching. He was stunned at the lack of freedom that the POTUS was subject to—how it was unusual for him to even get to enjoy a cold beer. At the end of their encounter, Bourdain told Obama he’d be jetting off for a drive on his scooter, and Bourdain said he could see the envy in the President’s eyes.
37. He Had A Huge Scare
After his trip to Vietnam where he ate with Barack Obama, Anthony Bourdain went to France to work on a book, plagued by a nasty skin infection. After three painful days there, he went to a doctor who prescribed medication to him. Within hours, disaster struck. He woke up in the doorway of a restaurant after blacking out, with a frantic waiter trying to revive him.
He’d taken too many pills on an empty stomach. The incident reminded him of his father’s sudden death—and caused him to take action.
38. He Expressed His Regrets
Terrified, Bourdain sat down that night and wrote a long email to his first wife Nancy, apologizing for all the ways he’d wrong her. His romantic failures haunted him, but it soon became clear that was something he hoped to change. In 2017, he began dating Italian actress and director Asia Argento—and from the beginning, he poured all of his efforts into making it work.
They were a striking couple, and clearly in love—but there was a lot about their relationship they kept hidden, as we’ll see.
39. He Stood Up For Women
Later in 2017, at the height of the Me Too movement, Bourdain stood by Argento’s side as she came forward with her harrowing story of an assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. He became a fierce supporter of the movement. He was one of the first people to name and shame Mario Batali, and it all went back to his time working in kitchens.
Bourdain wanted to fight back at what he called the “meathead bro culture” he’d once participated in—and many appreciated him for it. Sadly, as we’ll see, it would come back to haunt him.
40. He Was Having Trouble
As time went on, balancing his TV shows, writing, relationships, and his role as a father began to wear on Bourdain—and his behavior began to scare those closest to him. He became more erratic and much more prone to darkness. Bourdain lashed out at his old friend David Chang and told him he wouldn’t make a good father. He also told another friend that he was feeling agoraphobic.
Bourdain’s ex Busia worried, but was comforted by the fact that he was seeing a therapist. Still, the pressures did not let up.
41. He Wanted Out
Anthony Bourdain was dedicated to making his relationship work after a string of failures, and he took drastic measures to make sure he had time for Asia Argento. His longtime collaborators remembered that he organized what they called a “dramatic” meeting, where he told them he wanted to quit and also end their partnership.
When they said that was fine, he recanted, and they told him they’d figure something out. It would end up becoming a huge ordeal.
42. Their Collaboration Was A Disaster
Parts Unknown was supposed to film an episode in Hong Kong when the show’s director fell ill. Bourdain hit two birds with one stone by suggesting that they bring on Argento as director for the episode—but from there, things quickly spun out of control. After Argento argued with the show’s longtime cinematographer, Bourdain fired the man.
As Bourdain’s colleagues said in the documentary Roadrunner, the crew was shocked—it was completely out of character. And the hits kept coming.
43. The Photos Were A Blow
While the situation in Hong Kong was uncomfortable, other crew members recalled how happy Bourdain was to work with Argento, and many of his friends shared stories of how in love he was with her. However, in early June of 2018, tabloids published paparazzi photos of Argento in the arms of another man. A colleague contacted Bourdain, who shared that Bourdain was irritated at the lack of discretion.
Still, he had little time to dwell, as he had to film another episode.
44. He Was In A Lot Of Pain
Bourdain had been filming in France with close friend Eric Ripert when the tabloid photos had come out. The episode they were working on would never air. On June 8, Bourdain missed dinner and breakfast, so Ripert went to his hotel room. There, he found that the beloved chef, writer, host, and bon vivant had taken his own life. Bourdain was 61.
For those close to him as well as his many fans the world over, the heartbreak was immediate—and so were the questions.
45. People Tried To Grapple With It
In the days following, tributes came pouring in for Bourdain. Barack Obama expressed his regret, and Bourdain’s brother Christopher remembers collecting all the notes and cards people left outside Brasseries Les Halles for him, including one from a woman who drove all the way from Tennessee. But the most heartbreaking statement of all came from Bourdain’s mother.
She said: “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this.” Sadly, along with the grief came vitriol.
46. They Blamed Her
Following the tragic loss of Bourdain, many were quick to point fingers as Asia Argento. The heartbroken director spent months grieving until she finally broke her silence—and revealed the whole truth about their relationship. Argento claimed that the pair had an open relationship, and admitted that she’d cheated on Bourdain, but she that “he cheated on me too.”
She went on to talk about how sad she was for her children, who had adored him, and how she regretted not realizing how much pain he was holding in. And the controversy didn’t end there.
47. The Accusations Got Worse
In August of 2018, The New York Times published a story that claimed that Argento had assaulted one of her former collaborators when he was 17 years old. Bennett claimed that, after Argento spoke out about Weinstein, she offered him a $380,000 settlement. Argento shot back at the claims. She denied any inappropriate contact with Bennett—but she did admit that Bourdain had paid Bennett off in order to avoid any negative publicity.
People speculated on how this had affected Bourdain—and as the months wore on, more of those close to Bourdain began to speak out about his final days.
48. They Broke Their Silence
In June of 2021, a documentary named Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain premiered, featuring many of his closest friends and colleagues. And within days of its release, the film stirred up a massive controversy. Filmmaker Morgan Neville said that in the film, there were three Bourdain quotes that he wanted to have his voice for, but there was no footage of them.
So, he sent all the audio clips he did have of Bourdain to a software company who made an A.I. model of Bourdain’s voice, and got the clips he wanted. The reaction was swift and harsh.
49. She Was Furious
Bourdain’s estranged wife Ottavia Busia had broken her longtime silence about her ex to speak to Neville for the film. When the controversy broke out, many were dismayed about the A.I, and questioned the ethics of it all. Neville claimed that he’d gotten consent to create and use the A.I. voice from “Bourdain’s widow.”
Busia’s reply was brutal. She tweeted: “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.” From there, Neville came under even more fire.
50. The Film Makes Shocking Suggestions
According to many reviews, Roadrunner gives away a number of untold stories from Bourdain’s final months—and makes two major implications. One is that he was quite difficult to work with toward the end, and many of his crew spend their time on camera complaining about him. The other implication that the film seems to want to make is that Bourdain’s fraught relationship with Argento drove him to take his own life.
To make matters worse, Neville deliberately did not ask Argento to appear as part of the film. He claimed that it made the story “too complicated”—an answer and decision that many have criticized.
51. Fame Was Like A Plague To Him
When Bourdain took his own life, many reacted with shock. Even those closest to him said that they didn’t know what kind of pain he was holding on to. But Bourdain had many brushes with the abyss throughout his life. In 2001, a writer at The Guardian interviewed Bourdain about Kitchen Confidential. In it, Bourdain expressed reticence and disgust at his newfound fame.
One of the things he said was chillingly prophetic—and, in retrospect, extremely heartbreaking. Recalling Ernest Hemingway’s taking of his own life, Bourdain told the writer: “Don’t worry. It won’t finish with me sticking a gun in my mouth. This is a self-loathing I can live with.”
52. He Believed In Love
There was so much speculation about Bourdain’s state of mind and the condition of his relationship in his final days, but also so few answers. However, one of Bourdain’s close friends told Anderson Cooper about their final phone conversation–and what he said was simultaneously devastating and heartwarming. When author Michael Ruhlman spoke to his friend on the phone for the last time, he said that Bourdain seemed to be happy and in love. One of the last things that Bourdain told Ruhlman was both simple and poignant: “Love abounds.”
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