In theaters this Friday, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” the latest documentary by Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”), chronicles the life and death of the beloved chef, author, host, raconteur and traveler. Using interviews with Bourdain’s family, friends, collaborators and the longtime crew on his three television series, as well as footage from those series, Neville attempts to paint a nuanced portrait of a complicated man.
Three years ago, Bourdain committed suicide while shooting his Emmy and Peabody award-winning CNN travel show, “Parts Unknown,” on location in France. It came as a shock not just to the culinary community, but to the many fans and friends he’d collected over the years of his cooking, writing and televised travels.
With his tell-all memoir, “Kitchen Confidential,” Bourdain burst onto the scene as the bad boy chef of New York brasserie Les Halles, having already kicked a heroin habit. His book was adapted into an ill-fated Fox series starring Bradley Cooper (not streaming anywhere, you have to buy the DVD set if you want to watch it), but Bourdain was destined for his own TV career, eventually finding his calling hosting food-focused travel shows.
It took time for Bourdain to learn how to be the man we came to know and love in front of the camera: a wise guy with a heart of gold, eyes and stomach open to all the experiences the world had to offer; a pearl of street-smart wisdom for every moment. “Roadrunner” depicts this process of Bourdain becoming who he was meant to be, as well as the many challenges he faced, including at the end of his too-short life.
His legacy lives on in “Roadrunner,” which attempts to make sense of who he was, and how his life ended, and also in the television he created, which became so much more than just food TV. They were travelogues and meditations on life, explicitly political and infused with Bourdain’s voice and point of view.
If you’ve never previously delved into his work, now’s the perfect time to do so, or to revisit. His first show, “A Cook’s Tour,” which ran on Food Network for two seasons from 2002-2003, is available to watch on Tubi. It was the first time he worked with longtime producers Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia, and finds them getting into a groove, especially when they land in Vietnam, where they took inspiration from “Apocalypse Now” ($3.99 digital rental) for an episode on the Mekong River.
Their second series, “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” aired on the Travel Channel from 2005-2012, and all eight seasons are available to stream on Discovery+. The series earned an Emmy nomination for a special episode, “Anthony Bourdain in Beirut,” when Bourdain and crew found themselves stranded in the city during the 2006 Lebanon War. The episode, which depicts their rescue by the U.S. military along with other stranded citizens, became a turning point in the series, when Bourdain started to delve into the political events that shaped the the places he traveled.
His final television project was “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” which aired on CNN from 2013 to 2018. Working with longtime collaborators, Bourdain dove into all of his obsessions: culture, politics, art, connecting with people around the globe, and yes, food, though it became less of a focal point as he dived into the people and places around him. Boudain was outspoken about Vladimir Putin while visiting Russia, explored the Democratic Republic of Congo as a longtime Joseph Conrad and “Heart of Darkness” fan, and explored the world near and far with good friends like chef Eric Ripert, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Bill Murray, W. Kamau Bell and more. All 12 seasons of “Parts Unknown” are streaming on HBO Max.
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