Top Picks: Books by or Featuring Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was beloved by many (myself included), leaving an everlasting mark as a chef, author and journalist. He lived a colorful life that took him down many career paths, eventually traveling around the world sharing a fresh, immersive perspective on food journalism.

Anthony Michael Bourdain was born on June 25, 1956, in New York City and grew up in Leonia, New Jersey. Bourdain became enamored with food during a childhood summer trip to the small fishing village in southwestern France where his father was from. After giving the traditional college path a shot and dropping out, Bourdain worked at The Dreadnought, a seafood restaurant in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Working in the back-of-house, he fully realized that his career path was in the restaurant industry, and from there the rest was history. From culinary school to the kitchen as a chef (battling substance use along the way) to becoming an author which catapulted him into television and food journalism, Bourdain brought context and an unmatched realness to the culinary scene.

June 25 is recognized as Anthony Bourdain Day in the culinary world. Though Bourdain may no longer be here, his presence can still be celebrated through his works and the works of others. Bourdain was a prolific author, writing fiction and non-fiction books, cookbooks and even several graphic novels. In honor of Anthony Bourdain Day, and in celebration of Bourdain’s life, here are my top picks highlighting his life and career.

If you are looking for more of a comprehensive biography, Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography may be just the read. Bourdain’s long-time assistant Laurie Woolever provides a fresh approach to the traditional biography format by detailing Bourdain’s life through a collage of accounts and stories collected from dozens of interviews within Bourdain’s social circle and family.

There is no better way to recount Bourdain’s vivid career than through photographs, memories and tributes. Anthony Bourdain Remembered is a stunning, eclectic collection of photos and remembrances of Bourdain from people of all walks of life from colleagues like his best friend Éric Ripert to longtime fans.

Are you a fan of Bourdain’s television persona and food journalism? Written by Bourdain’s longtime producer and director Tom Vitale, In the Weeds explores Bourdain through the lens of the behind-the-scenes production side of Bourdain’s food journalism career. Vitale takes this perspective into some deep territory exploring his grief, relationship and the collective sense of loss surrounding Bourdain’s death.

If you were to read only one of Bourdain’s books, it should probably be his award-winning memoir Kitchen Confidential. Inspired by his 1999 essay Don't Eat Before Reading This, published in The New Yorker, Kitchen Confidential weaves together personal memoir with accolades about the restaurant industry. Written in Bourdain’s classic no-BS quippy tone, Kitchen Confidential is often noted as the springboard to Bourdain’s literary and television career.

You can’t celebrate Bourdain without highlighting his perspectives on food and cooking. Appetites was the first cookbook Bourdain published after he began his food journalism career. Featuring an eclectic blend of recipes in what he notes as his family cookbook, it includes recipes that Bourdain says, "are dishes I like to eat and that I like to feed to my family and friends." The influence of his travels is evident in this collection that provides a glimpse into Bourdain’s life - what better way than through food?

Did you know Bourdain visited Harold Washington Library? On June 24, 2010, he gave an author talk for his book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. Serving as a follow up to Kitchen Confidential and written in that inimitable Bourdain voice, this collection is brash yet self-aware, providing a genuine perspective on the topics at hand and Bourdain himself.

Though best known for his memoirs and nonfiction, Bourdain did write several graphic novels with the Anthony Bourdain's Hungry Ghosts horror anthology being his last. Centered around a group of chefs dared into sharing ghost stories, this collection somehow blends eeriness and food-centric themes within a folk-tale vibe for each short story. Featuring different artists and illustration styles, this is a great way to experience Bourdain’s love of graphic novels.

Though Roadrunner is not a book, this biographical film is worth mentioning in this list. This 2021 documentary produced and directed by Morgan Neville (Won't You Be My Neighbor?) follows Bourdain from his early career to his abrupt passing. Neville does not shy away from the dark and heavy parts of Bourdain’s career and life, but I don’t know that Bourdain would have wanted him to. This documentary is very emotional, but well worth the watch.

Do you have a favorite book written by or featuring Anthony Bourdain? Let us know below. 

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