11 Essential Anthony Bourdain Episodes To Watch (Again)
The global outpouring of emotions in response to the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death underscores the profound effect he has had on the world and fans will surely go on watching and re-watching favorite Bourdain episodes. I humbly count down my 11 essential episodes Bourdain freaks like me enjoyed the most.
11. Cleveland (No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 6)
This episode is Tony Bourdain at his best. He championed everyday worker food, made a home-cooked meal, was snarky to his “nemesis” Michael Rulhman, and featured delicious food with Michael Symon. All of this was captured with scenes drawn in comic art by Gary Dumm in the style of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor.
10. Hanoi (Parts Unknown, Season 8, Episode 1)
Every Bourdain episode in Vietnam is must-watch TV, but this one is significant because it tackles how Vietnam’s attitude towards America may be surprisingly welcoming despite the war. Also, President Barack Obama, in a departure from how presidents of world powers are interviewed, enjoys a meal of bun cha and cold Hanoi beer with Bourdain. They discuss how the smell of food reminds of childhood and whether catsup is acceptable on a hotdog.
9. My Life as a Cook (A Cook’s Tour, Season 1, Episode 20)
Fans of Kitchen Confidential will go bonkers over this episode as Tony visits the people and places he discussed in his bestselling book. He drops by Provincetown where he got his start as a chef, cooks at his NYC restaurant, Les Halles, visits a class in his culinary school CIA, and interviews the mysterious “Bigfoot.”
8. El Bulli (No Reservations, Season 7, Episode 12)
A must-watch for all chefs and culinary students, Tony spends the last days of El Bulli with Ferran Adria and Jose Andres. Apart from loads of food porn, the episode reminds viewers that innovation must be backed by knowledge of traditional techniques and flavors.
7. Beirut (No Reservations, Season 2, Episode 14)
A foreshadowing of how great Tony and his team’s journalistic talents are, this Emmy-nominated episode was shot while a violent conflict erupted in Beirut, trapping them in their hotel. They still managed to create a heartfelt episode that included their eventual escape via military vessel.
6. Into the Fire (No Reservations, Season 4, Episode 10)
Tony goes back to Les Halles to prove he can still work a busy double shift despite not cooking on the line for over 5 years. While Tony manages to survive, his struggles to keep up with the rigors of the kitchen without passing out make for great TV. The episode also shows how an actual restaurant works, from taking orders to cooking to expediting. Plus it features an appearance by famed chef and best buddy Eric Ripert, who cooks on the line with Tony.
5. Hong Kong (Parts Unknown, Season 11, Episode 5)
Tony dubs this as his “dream episode,” as his personal hero, Christopher Doyle, famed cinematographer of Wong Kar Wai’s films, shoots scenes of the episode while girlfriend Asia Argento directs. They show the “other side” of old Hong Kong that’s sadly disappearing.
4. Massachusetts (Parts Unknown, Season 4, Episode 7)
Between meals like a classic New England clam bake, Tony tackles how the opioid crisis has become untenable in supposedly quiet towns in West Massachusetts. Particularly powerful are conversations with a drug runner and an undercover cop plus Tony himself sharing his own struggles with heroin and cocaine.
3. Manila (Parts Unknown, Season 7, Episode 1)
It undoubtedly disappointed some that Tony didn’t go visit the “best food places” around Manila, but that is what made this episode significant. Instead, over adobo, Chicken Joy, and halo-halo, Tony tackles the issue of Overseas Foreign Workers and how caring for other people’s kids tragically causes OFWs to not be able to care for their own. It is startling to see a foreigner like Tony capture the essence of the issue properly, from sharing kare-kare with his director’s former nanny to shooting a wordless montage of the uniquely Filipino balikbayan boxes being transported.
2. Holiday Special (No Reservations)
As someone who has shot holiday specials for TV, I can say making a unique holiday episode is difficult. Tony, however, bucks tradition completely. The dark, insanity-laden episode includes a voice cameo of Andrew Zimmern making fun of himself; Christopher Walken poking an octopus; Norah Jones singing about poop; and a (pretend) broken down Samantha Brown shooting Tony in the leg. Despite that, Tony manages to show delicious food like an octopus salad by Lydia Bastianich, a meat pie by April Bloomfield, and what Jesus could have eaten. It’s possibly the greatest holiday episode in food TV history. A short cartoon of Krampus was censored from the episode but has become a YouTube sensation.
1. Sardinia (No Reservations, Season 5, Episode 20)
Despite loads of food porn of the uniquely delicious Sardinian food, the episode is personal and family oriented constantly featuring Tony carrying his daughter, exploring with wife Ottavia and his in-laws in their hometown. The significant relationship between food and family is explored beautifully.