One of Vancouver’s best known restaurateurs says he’s shocked and brokenhearted at the news that celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain has died.
According to CNN, the 61-year-old took his own life while in France working on his hit program Parts Unknown.
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Vikram Vij, one of the the minds behind Vancouver institutions Vij’s and Rangoli, knew Bourdain and even appeared on a 2008 episode of his former Travel Channel show No Reservations.
He said he had always admired Bourdain’s plain-spoken, straight-shooting attitude.
“He was like the Keith Richards of our industry. He didn’t care about anybody else’s feelings of what he was going to do. He did what he felt like doing and was the right thing and rightly so,” Vij told CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show.
Vij said he and Bourdain had spoken several times about collaborating again, about the possibility of opening up a Vij’s in New York, or of working together on an episode of his food travel program Parts Unknown in India.
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And he said when he was writing his own memoir, Bourdain didn’t hesitate to offer help.
“I had called him up and said, ‘Hey listen, can you give me a little blurb on my book?’ And without hesitation he… sent me a little blurb on the book. And it was so genuine and so gently written, and I thanked him profusely and said, ‘I owe you. When you come to Vancouver again, I owe you this huge amount of debt,'” Vij said.
“And he said ‘Yeah, when I’m in Vancouver we’re going to hang out together and have a great time together.’ And now he’s gone and that dream of mine will never come true.”
Vij said the news that Bourdain had taken his own life hit him particularly hard, since in all of his conversations with the celebrity chef, he’d never sensed an inkling that Bourdain struggled with mental illness.
“He was a very smart, astute businessman who generally had a very beautiful heart and soul,” he said.
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“Never did I ever think that there was any issues in his mind. When we went out and when we hung out it was purely business. It was purely what are you doing next? What are we going to do next?”
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Storyteller, purveyor of food democracy
In Vij’s eyes, what made Bourdain such a powerful figure wasn’t his chops in the kitchen, but his skill at making food and culture accessible to everyone.
“He talked about it like an open democracy,” Vij said.
“He said ‘I’m not the greatest chef out there. I’m the greatest storyteller, but I’m not the greatest chef out there.’ And for him to acknowledge that, and for him to accept it…he was damned proud of his work and what he had done.
“And look at it, he has brought so much attention to areas and places and cuisines.”
Vij said Bourdain was a pioneer, taking his camera to places like India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, into kitchens and the lives of everyday people, and always with a laugh and an “infectious” smile.
And it wasn’t always about the food, in Vij’s eyes, but about the people behind it — telling their stories, and sharing the meals with them.
“He didn’t do it just because because he wanted ‘wow factor,’ he did it because he wanted to bring attention and say, ‘This is how people live, this is what’s happening,'” Vij said.
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“He was bringing attention politically, at the social level, and bringing it through food because he genuinely believed that food brings people together.”
Vij said he’s still in shock at the news, and hasn’t even settled on how he’ll process it.
“I haven’t managed to recover from what it is,” he said.
“Am I going to just relax and just take it in and just listen to what he had said? Or maybe I’ll pick up his book [Kitchen Confidential] and read it again, because I read it 20 years ago. Or might just go through the old episodes and just bask in his thing.”
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