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Anthony Bourdain Redefined How TV Presents Chefs and Tackles Food Shows

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Anthony Bourdain had a profound influence on television during his 16 years on the air, thanks to his immense talent and the fortuitous timing of his rise to prominence.

Bourdain parlayed the success of his 2000 memoir “Kitchen Confidential” into his first TV series just as the expansion of the cable TV universe created huge new demand for all manner of niche programming. Food Network and other lifestyle-focused cablers such as Bravo and TLC grew by leaps and bounds in the early 2000s, which helped to fuel mainstream interest in the culinary world and its stars. This expansion opened the door for Bourdain to thrive in his signature hybrid food-travelogue format.

“He shows you that there was a story behind the chef and a story behind every plate of food,” says Allen Salkin, a veteran food writer and author of the Food Network history “From Scratch.”

“Even a show like ‘Top Chef’ shows Bourdain’s influence because that show is really about showing the artistry and soulfulness of cooking. We can now see that these people are artists trying to present there work to the world. Before Bourdain, food shows were really just, ‘Here’s a way to cook something easy for your family,’” Salkin says. 

Through his writing and his TV shows, Bourdain lent a rock-star aura and swagger to his profession, just as prominent chefs were finding easy onramps to TV. He also offered a glimpse into the priesthood of chefs and the level of skill and dedication it takes to run a restaurant and be a professional cook.

“I am just devastated. (Bourdain) was such a leader for us in so many ways both in and out of the kitchen. It’s a sad day,” said restauranteur Geoffrey Zakarian, an “Iron Chef” winner and a ubiquitous presence on Food Network.

Bourdain famously savaged Food Network in its early days, but then wound up doing his first series, “A Cook’s Tour,” for the cabler in 2002-2003. From there he moved to a long run on Travel Channel with “No Expectations.” He relocated to CNN in 2013 with “Parts Unknown.”

His TV persona was not much different from the person he was off camera, friends and colleagues say.

Anthony Bourdain had a passion for food and travel and he never shied away from offering his opinions, which is what his devoted audience enjoyed most about watching him,” said Kathleen Finch, who oversees Food Network as chief lifestyle brands officer for Discovery.

“His writing was so good and his TV persona was such a dangerous cocktail that you couldn’t stop watching,” Salkin said. “That’s who he was.”

Bourdain’s interest in exploring the world and understanding far-flung cultures through food helped open up America’s palettes to culinary traditions from the rest of the world, said Judy Joo, a U.K. “Iron Chef” winner and host of Food Network’s “Korean Food Made Simple.”

“He stood up for the truth and told us stories from every corner of the world, unapologetically,” Joo said. “His raw style and candor made him a true pioneer for food, travel, and television, merging the three genres into an adventure that made the world a little smaller, connecting us all.”

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