Anthony Bourdain Had a Soft Spot for the Island

By ERIC ENGLUND | Jun 13, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill A photo of Anthony Bourdain rests on the table of the booth at Kubel's in Barnegat Light where he filmed part of his New Jersey episode.

As a world-renowned chef, storyteller and writer who took TV viewers around the world to explore culture, cuisine and the human condition for nearly two decades, Anthony Bourdain had eaten some of the most bizarre meals imaginable. There was balut, or fetal duck egg, and cobra hearts in Vietnam. In Morocco, he once ate roasted sheep’s testicle. When dining with Inuits in Canada, he was treated to raw seal eyeballs.

But while this globe-trotting personality had seen some of the most exotic places in the world, Bourdain always had a fondness for one place in particular – Long Beach Island. As a youngster growing up in Bergen County, his family would rent a place in Barnegat Light during the summer. (Full disclosure – his family and mine were very good friends, and if they couldn’t find a place to rent, they’d stay with us.)

So like many other people, Kenny Egan, owner of Kubel’s in Barnegat Light, woke up Friday morning to the saddening, shocking news that Bourdain was found dead at age 61 in a hotel room in France. The death was ruled a suicide.

In 2015, Bourdain visited Kubel’s as part of his CNN series “Parts Unknown.” The hour-long show invited viewers to join Bourdain as he explored little-known destinations and diverse cultures around the world.

Egan recalled that Bourdain and his younger brother, Christopher, dined on fried clams, clam chowder, fish and chips, lobster macaroni and cheese, and grilled mahi mahi.

“The order was placed well ahead of time,” said Egan. “He didn’t stay here very long as he had other stops to make.”

Egan said that he was surprised by Bourdain’s more quiet, reserved demeanor.

“Watching his TV shows, I was expecting a hipster,” he said. “But he was friendly, polite and enjoyed the food. He talked a little about how much he loved the beaches, that this really brought back childhood memories.”

Bob Shannon, Kubel’s executive head chef, added, “He was kind and felt really happy to be back in Barnegat Light, where he spent time during the summer as a kid. He talked about how the town had changed, and how it had not changed, that it was a nice, secure little place. With all the traveling he did and with his shows, he seemed to be someone who was real happy and enjoyed doing what he was doing. That’s why this seems so hard to believe.”

That day’s itinerary also included a stop at Lucille’s Country Cooking in Warren Grove. Vicki Lawson, waitress and short order cook, said Bourdain dined on chili, eggs over easy with scrapple, home fries with onions, blueberry pie and coffee.

“We really didn’t get a chance to talk much,” said Lawson. “He seemed pretty preoccupied, but he was friendly and enjoyed himself. We had a pretty good crowd. It was fun having a celebrity like him out here.”

Bourdain first made a name for himself with his 1999 New Yorker article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” about the secrets of kitchen life and shady characters he encountered along the way. The article morphed into a best-selling book in 2000, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which was translated into more than two dozen languages.

That kickstarted him to international stardom. His next book was A Cook’s Tour, which was later made into a TV series on the Food Network. Then he moved to the Travel Channel with “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” a breakout hit that earned two Emmy Awards and more than a dozen nominations. His “Parts Unknown” series debuted on CNN in 2013.

Among his favorite sayings was “You’re body is not a temple. It is an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” Another was “Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive and moribund.” Concerning the perfect meal, he said, “The best meals occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.”

About New Jersey, he simply said, “To know Jersey is to love her.” Concerning the state’s beaches, he quipped, “They’re not all crawling with ’roid-raging trolls with reality shows.”

In the summer of 2002, Bourdain came to the Island to do a book signing and talk at Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies. In an interview prior to the appearance, he waxed nostalgic about the Island. He recalled his first culinary adventure was on make-your-own sundae smorgasboard nights at the now-defunct Loveladies Dairy Cottage.

His earlier memories included lining up toy soldiers on the beach like a miniature Normandy invasion and catching blowfish off a dock.

“Come to think of it, the first time I kissed a girl was on Long Beach Island,” he said.

A 1978 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Bourdain then spent some 20 years working in restaurants in New York City, finally making his way up to executive chef at Brasseries Le Halles in Manhattan. It was about that time he started thinking of writing Kitchen Confidential.

“My main reason for doing it was that I wanted to entertain my friends in the restaurant business,” he said. “I didn’t really want to come out with an exposé.”

That’s how it came out, though, according to the London Evening Standard, which put the author in the same category as Benedict Arnold and Alger Hiss. Some restaurateurs probably viewed him the way the baseball establishment viewed Jim Bouton, whose classic Ball Four discussed the raucous off-the-field adventures of his New York Yankee teammates 30 years earlier.

“One thing I really wanted to stress is that these chefs are not these cuddly, friendly people you see on TV,” said Bourdain. “When you work for one, you find out that they’re anything but entertaining.”

Rose Perry of Ship Bottom went to the event to get Kitchen Confidential signed for her nephew, Steve Kresge, a chef at the time.

“Steve was so impressed that I actually got to meet him,” said Perry. “From reading the book, Steve thought you had to be pretty crazy to be a chef.”

She said Bourdain in person was just like he was on TV, “a huge personality.”

“I haven’t talked to Steve yet, but I’m sure he is just as shocked and saddened as I was,” she said.

Michael Garofalo wanted to go to the book signing, but since it was a late Saturday afternoon event, he had business to tend to at his Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co. restaurant, which he has run the past 44 years with his brother John.

“My wife went, and she was joking around with me, wondering if this stuff he wrote about really happens in restaurants,” said Garofalo. “But I thought the book gave an accurate description of how one starts from the bottom and gradually moves up to being a grill cook, then line cook and then chef.”

Garofalo added, “The way he died was so shocking because on his TV shows, he was someone who had a zest for life, and lived life to the fullest.”

While Bourdain had certainly achieved some fame when he appeared at the Foundation, he was still not sure how far his newfound celebrity status was going to take him and had his doubts how long it would last.

“One day, my 15 minutes of fame will be up,” he predicted.

He was wrong.

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

Anthony Bourdain (left) with his brother Chris and his father Pierre on LBI. (Courtesy of: Eric Englund )
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