RIP Anthony Bourdain: Culinary explorer had a heart for Hong Kong

In a city of glitzy Michelin-starred restaurants and fine dining, to find the best local food in Hong Kong, Anthony Bourdain’s approach was straightforward: just start walking.

“In Hong Kong you don’t take the tour bus to find good food,” he said in a 2007 episode of No Reservations“You don’t need to know where you’re going, you just press start.”

In the wake of the the celebrity chef’s death in an apparent suicide in France last week, the outpouring of grief has been global, a reflection of how widely the 61 year old’s passion for food, culture and people reached around the world.

And in Hong Kong — a city Bourdain loved and visited several times — his loss has been acutely felt, particularly as his most recent trip to the city, for his award-winning show Parts Unknown, was aired last week.

The episode was filmed with his director girlfriend Asia Argento and “cinematographer idol” Christopher Doyle, who worked as director of photography for the show.

In a recent piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Bourdain called working with the Australian-born, long-time Hong Kong resident his “cinematic dream” come true. 

He also spoke about the experience in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

“My dream for years was to go to Hong Kong and go to Hong Kong through his eyes,” he said of Doyle, known for his work on Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love, and 2046.

“I’m still pinching myself. Of everything I’ve done in my life, this was probably the professional highlight, to work with an artist that great.”

While filming, the pair were spotted chatting at Leaf Dessert, a humble outdoor noodle stall on Hollywood Road near the Central Escalators. (Full disclosure: Leaf Dessert’s salty proprietor has chased Coconuts HK staff off before for approaching with pre-purchased beer in our hands.)

They also visited Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, where Bourdain, long known for using food as a keyhole to explore culture and personal stories, sat down with refugees to discuss their limbo-like existence in Hong Kong.

Over several trips to Hong Kong, Bourdain visited many of the city’s local culinary institutions, snacking on roast goose at Yat Lok Barbecue Restaurant in Tai Po, eating dim sum at Lin Heung Tea House in Central, and visiting Tung Po at North Point’s Java Road Cooked Food Centre.

In the wake of this death, several figures and establishments of the city’s culinary scene have taken to social media to pay tribute.

Local chef Alvin Leung, known as the “Demon Chef” recounted Bourdain’s visit to his Bo Innovation 10 years ago, writing on Facebook that the “most approachable person” he had met.

I am deeply saddened today. Almost 10 years ago (how time flies), I had the great fortune to meet the man and shoot this…

Posted by Chef Alvin 'Demon Chef' Leung on Friday, June 8, 2018

On its Twitter Page, Little Bao, a restaurant owned by chef May Chow, paid tribute to the chef. Chow was featured in the recently-aired episode of Parts Unknown, with Bourdain praising her reinterpretations of Cantonese classic dishes at her new venture Happy Paradise.

Yardbird restaurant in Sheung Wan also paid tribute, as did Jinjuu and Porterhouse restaurants in Central.

Yesterday, the World has lost a truly inspirational figure. RIP Anthony Bourdain.

Posted by Jinjuu HK on Friday, June 8, 2018


On Friday, our F&B world lost a culinary icon. We have read many posts online but this means the world to us. One thing, be respectful and grateful. #AnthonyBourdain

Posted by Porterhouse on Sunday, June 10, 2018

Among the final posts on Bourdain’s social media accounts, were scenes of he, Doyle and Argento filming in the city.

In his piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Bourdain said the trio spent “hours eating and drinking and talking” in Hong Kong’s dai pai dongs

“These casual, open-air food stalls represent the way the city used to eat,” he wrote.

“At dai pai dongs like Keung Kee Dai Pai Dong in Sham Shui Po — a traditional, less affluent, dense section of the city — cheap, delicious food is served. Pull up a plastic stool, crack a beer and fire up the wok.”

Next time we do just that, we’ll be thinking of Bourdain.

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