Anthony Bourdain's brother opens up about the late chef's childhood and their family

A year after Anthony Bourdain's death, his brother speaks about the chef's greatest accomplishments, his untimely death and their parents' influence.
Anthony Bourdain
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By Erica Chayes Wida

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

It's often an impossible task to define a person's life by their single greatest accomplishment, especially when that person taught the world so much. But after a year of reflection, Anthony Bourdain's younger brother (and the late chef's only sibling), Chris Bourdain, thinks he has the answer.

Following the celebratory launch of New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail at Hiram's Roadstand — a side-of-the-road spot where the Bourdain boys spent many a night devouring "ripper-style" deep-fried hot dogs in their youth — Chris opened up about his brother's greatest contributions.

Anthony's most profound contribution to the world, he said, was what he showed people about the world in an incredibly human way.

Anthony Bourdain was open and respectful wherever he went, and it helped viewers learn intimate details about others all around the globe.WireImage

"Nobody showed what it's really like on the ground in Libya, in Laos, in Congo, in a rural area of West Virginia — those [episodes] were Tony's most wonderful and artistic works," Chris said, with the same effortlessly cool cadence that so many people miss hearing in his brother's voice.

The banker, who resides in New York, continued, "They're beautifully produced, informative and showing you a reality on TV that nobody is showing. Nobody, nobody."

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While the late storyteller's 10 Emmy Awards and dozens of other nominationsare testament to the successof CNN's "Parts Unknown" and Travel Channel's "No Reservations,"Chris feels that his brother's greatest achievement was how he was able to open people's minds. Through food, Anthony showed viewers sitting in American living rooms what life was really like in war-torn, impoverished and otherwise neglected areas of the world.

"He had no preconceptions when he jumped into [a new place]. Tony [would say], 'We're going to go in here and discover things together,'" Chris told TODAY. "People didn’t see him as a journalist.

"Some guy in the Congo who would never open up to a western journalist — he would open up to Tony. Tony showed the guy at a foot stool in Manila the same respect as Thomas Keller in Los Angeles, and treated the woman cooking in an apartment in wherever just as equally."

Chris Bourdain praises how his brother treated everyone, everywhere he went, with equal respect.Bloomberg via Getty Images

Anthony's all-embracing appetite for food — and human interaction — likely came from his parents, Pierre and Gladys Bourdain, said Chris, who added that they exposed the two of them to cuisines from around the globe.

They enjoyed holiday staples like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and their mother cooked frequently from Julia Child's cookbook, Chris said, in order to impress her French in-laws. But living on the cusp of New York City in Leonia, New Jersey, gave the Bourdains access to endless cuisines — and they relished that experience.

"A thing that was particularly nice that influenced Tony was our parents influencing us to try new things," Chris said. "We ate Danish in New York, we went to Chinatown regularly. When Indian showed up in the 1970s, we tried it. When sushi was a new thing in the '70s, we tried it."

From his parents, Anthony, who would have turned 63 on June 25, adapted a love of foreign foods, cultures and people.

And later in life when he had the opportunity to film those encounters, he took viewers right along with him.

Living with an open mind was among the many lessons Anthony left behind, and Chris believes it's with an open mind that people should approach the topic of his brother's death — and suicide in general.

"Suicide is something more common than I ever thought. So many people came talking to me, saying my grandmother, mother, father, sister [died by suicide]," said Chris. "But nobody ever wants to talk about it. It’s the elephant in the damn room. Everybody has suicide in their life somewhere."

Although Chris said he thinks Anthony wouldn't have liked being "the poster boy for suicide prevention," he acknowledges the importance of discussing mental illness now in order to remove the stigma surrounding it. He also said he believes that certain cultures place a lot of guilt on those who knew the deceased.

"We [as a society] spread shame of 'we could have done something, we have failed'," Chris said. According to Chris, if people practice the very same open-mindedness his brother applied to everyday interactions with individuals from all walks of life, we could make progress.

Chris Bourdain shared a photo of his older brother, Anthony "Tony" Bourdain, from his brother's 1973 yearbook.Chris Bourdain

Chris also said this month isn't about mourning Anthony: It's about celebrating him. Anthony's dear friends, fellow chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés, will toast their comrade on his birthday, June 25, and have asked the world to do the same by posting photos and videos using the hashtag #BourdainDay.

During June, fans of the iconic chef from around the world can also plan a trip to New Jersey to toast to Anthony at his favorite home-state haunts, from Hiram's in Fort Lee to Dock's Oyster House in Atlantic City, as part of the official Anthony Bourdain Food Trail. You can sit at tables where Anthony once dined, eating clams, hot dogs and cheesesteaks, while sipping on a beer — all in memory of the celebrated chef.