Anthony Bourdain’s connections to Las Vegas run through countless chefs who have worked in our city, as well as several bars and restaurants he featured on his TV shows. As news broke of his death, and the circumstances that surrounded it, local chefs and restaurateurs reacted to the tragedy.
Jet Tila (chef, TV personality and restaurateur)
Tila has worked professionally with Bourdain several times. After appearing in an L.A.-based episode of “No Reservations,” he was asked to appear in the Las Vegas episode of “Parts Unknown.”
“I got a call from him when I was in Texas, and he said ‘I’m going to be in Vegas and I want to do Lotus (of Siam) with someone who has done the deal there.’ And I was like ‘Hell yeah man, of course.’ ”
“I literally hadn’t been home for weeks. And my wife was like ‘(Expletive) it, it’s Tony. You gotta go.’ And he made a video for her and said, “I’m sorry Allie. I need your husband on this trip. I apologize.’ And I still have that. It’s crazy. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
“That was the beauty about Tony Bourdain. We would never say he was a master of anything. I think he was just a curious person. And that was the beauty — he always wanted the experts, someone who was entrenched in the places he was going, to be his guide. He wanted to be guided and he wanted to learn. And that was the magic of it.”
Lance Johns (owner, Atomic Liquors)
In addition to basing an entire episode in Las Vegas during the third season of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain did a live CNN broadcast at Atomic during the Season 2 finale in 2013. The bar had just relaunched a few months earlier.
“We had only been reopened five months when he came down and filmed. And five years ago, there was nothing around us. There wasn’t a single business within five blocks of us. So for him to come in when we were that new, and bring exposure to us, was really unthinkable.”
“It was a different kind of shoot for him, especially being a live shoot. He came in maybe about two hours before. But (he was) very gracious — he took a picture with my mom and my brother. He was very gracious about things like that.”
“Because it was live, and went out that night, (the reaction) was immediate. We had tourists, we had people coming from all over. It changed the entire trajectory of the bar. Being that new, and where we were, all of a sudden people were seeking us out from everywhere.”
Natalie Young (chef/owner, Eat)
Bourdain filmed some of the 2014 “Parts Unknown” episode featuring Las Vegas at Eat.
“When they called and said he was coming, I was like ‘Holy (expletive)!’ I’m not wowed by too many people, but I really enjoy his journey. If you’ve spent any amount of time in the kitchen, he’s a really relatable guy.”
“When I found out he was coming, I was a little starstruck. And I remember I was waiting outside like a little kid. He pulled up in his SUV and jumped out. He walked up to me and he said, ‘Hi chef.’ And I said ‘That’s it. That’s the moment you wait for your whole life, for Anthony Bourdain to address you as ‘Chef.’ ”
That’s the moment you wait for your whole life, for Anthony Bourdain to address you as ‘Chef.’
“He was kind and humble. He was super-appreciative of the space, and the opportunity to film there. He was like a gentle giant.”
Lorraine Hunt-Bono (owner, Bootlegger Bistro)
Bourdain filmed some of the 2014 episode of “Parts Unknown” featuring Las Vegas at Bootlegger Bistro.
“I just got a call from my mother, Mama Maria, our executive chef. When Anthony Bourdain visited, she was 98 years old. Today she’s 101, and she was watching the news this morning and called me. And she said ‘Oh Lorraine, that nice man Anthony Bourdain, who came and wrote about our restaurant, and loved my meatballs and pork neck bones, he’s dead!’”
“And I said ‘Oh my goodness mother.’ And she said ‘I’m going to say a rosary for him, and before you go to work I want you to say a rosary for him.’ ”
“(When he filmed here), he said ‘What I see here, Lorraine, is authenticity. Vegas is so full of Madison Avenue concepts. This is real. Your mother’s real. Your food’s real. The whole place is real. And it just reeks of real Las Vegas. I just love it here.’ It made me much more appreciative of all of his programs. Because the way he got into the real Las Vegas and appreciated it and understood it, I knew that everywhere he goes he must approach it that way.”
Mitsuo Endo and Matt Weaver (owner and head chef, Aburiya Raku)
Bourdain filmed some of the 2014 episode of “Parts Unknown” featuring Las Vegas at Raku.
“Anthony Bourdain was an inspiration to so many around the world. He taught us to explore and learn culture through food, by shining light on lesser known places and restaurants. We were honored and humbled to have him film at Aburiya Raku. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family, he will be missed.”
Penny Chutima (co-owner, Lotus of Siam)
Bourdain and Jet Tila visited Chutima’s family restaurant, Lotus of Siam, for the Las Vegas episode of “Parts Unknown.”
“Chef Anthony has impacted my family for more than a decade. My parents watched Bourdain since 2002, and they fell in love with him since (his early show) ‘A Cook’s Tour.’ ”
“One day we had word that Anthony Bourdain was going to come by, (and) I was so thrilled I did not tell my mom until he walked in through the door. She really didn’t realize which chef or TV personality was coming until she saw him. Both she and my dad felt like they had a dream, because one of the most knowledgeable and renowned chefs was at their little home, enjoying the food. Ever since then, we’ve seen a major change in the way people order their food.”
I did not tell my mom until he walked in through the door. …Both she and my dad felt like they had a dream, because one of the most knowledgeable and renowned chefs was at their little home, enjoying the food.
“Chef Anthony definitely helped influence many people to go off the path of normality and helped people get out of their comfort zone. He will truly be missed. All of his shows helped us enjoy places we couldn’t go and dishes we can’t taste.”
Brian Howard (chef/owner Sparrow + Wolf)
Howard honored Bourdain by creating a specials menu for Friday’s dinner service based on dishes he had experienced at Bourdain’s former New York restaurant, Brasserie Les Halle, about 15 years ago.
“These are the dishes that I ate when I was there, some of my favorites. I went when I was probably 24 years old or so. It was one of the first places I ate my first time in New York, and it was all because of his book (“Kitchen Confidential”), obviously.”
“I (also) cooked for him at Bouchon when we opened. That was the first time I met him. He was super-nice. I think I met him three times in my career, and he was very nice. He would tell us about how great we were and the great things we were doing that night. And it was inspiring at the time, when I was just a young pup.”
Bradley Ogden (whose Las Vegas restaurants included an eponymous, Michelin-starred spot at Caesars Palace)
Ogden knew Bourdain when they were both working in New York in the early ’80s.
“I liked him,” said Ogden, who now lives in Lodi, Calif., outside Sacramento. “I liked his personality; it was the true essence of food. And he had a great demeanor at that early stage of his career.”
Rick Moonen (chef/owner of RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay Bay)
Although he didn’t know Bourdain personally, he said he was struck by the response from people in the industry.
“I’ve seen more industry response than to anything prior to this,” Moonen said. “He was such an intellect. He was a great orator of everything industry-related. He really connected with anybody who had a real passion about this industry.”
Moonen said the effect of Bourdain’s death on the culinary world was “devastating.”
“He was the envy of so many people who are deeply embedded in this industry,” he said. “To be able to wake up and travel and report on something we’re all passionate about, and to do it as well as he did. There’s a lot of rivalry and jealousy, but the man was a tremendous communicator and his following was undeniable.”
Bourdain’s TV career stemmed from an article he wrote for the New Yorker in 1999, which led to his “Kitchen Confidential” book. Moonen said he re-read the article Friday morning.
“I got goosebumps,” he said. “His articulation, and his vocabulary. It’s got humor and it’s all accurate. Some embarrassments, but you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s kinda true.’ That was what was so great about him — the fact that he said it like it is. He depicted the trials and tribulations and toughness of the industry and what went on behind the scenes better than anyone. There’s no one who comes close.”