CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Anthony Bourdain and Charleston, to nobody's surprise, have a history. The Holy City and the famous chef who passed away Friday share the same love for quality, locally-sourced food.
Sean Brock, now a well-known chef himself, hadn't burst on to the culinary scene yet back in 2007 when Bourdain came to town. The New York City native filmed an episode of "No Reservations" in the Lowcountry. Bourdain first rose to fame on the Travel Channel show before he moved to CNN and "Parts Unknown". He had already built his brand with a show focused on tourism that doesn't follow the handbook or pamphlet in the hotel lobby.
That episode in Charleston left a bad taste in the mouths of some Lowcountry residents as he drank champagne at an oyster roast and awkwardly dined at Hominy Grill. He also had Frogmore Stew at Gullah Grub on St. Helena Island.
Fast forward to 2015 when many felt Bourdain corrected himself after another try at Charleston with an episode of Parts Unknown. He even mentioned that perhaps he didn't do the Holy City justice the last time around, calling the oysters and champagne mistake "egregious."
His new show carried a different tone. It wasn't just about the food anymore, it was also about places and the people in them. Perhaps it's best summed up by the opening line of an episode in Myanmar.
"Chances are you haven't been to this place," he says. "Chances are this is a place you've never seen."
Three years ago, he went to a RiverDogs game with Bill Murray and actor/writer Danny McBride. The episode also included a stop at Husk, one of Brock's restaurants, but he also gave the Waffle House on Savannah Highway a try. Bourdain even met with Rodney Scott, paying homage to the pitmaster who just won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast.
"The South is not a monolith," Bourdain says as he begins the episode. "There are pockets of weirdness, awesomeness, and then there is Charleston, where for some time now, important things have been happening with food."
At Husk, Bourdain sits with Brock and Murray, addressing everything from their love for the movie "Roadhouse" to traffic in Charleston while eating oyster pie and Carolina gold rice.
Bourdain said that Waffle House on Savannah Highway just across the Ashley River Bridge from downtown was his first taste of the Southern staple.
He described the restaurant as an "Irony-free zone where nothing hurts. Everybody, regardless of race, creed or color or degree of inebriation, is welcome."
Millions also loved Bourdain for that reason, because he took a non-discriminatory tone to every city he visited. He tried anything his hosts put in front of him, often saying that street food was the best thing he tried in any country because it was made by natives.
Viewers welcomed Bourdain into their homes, too, as he allowed his fans to travel the world, including Charleston, through his eyes. Along the way, he raised the profile of the city and its chefs, but had previously stated in interviews that the increase in possibly unwanted tourism provided him with an inner conflict.
His passing, however, was mourned around the world as people remembered his life. Bourdain's initial fame wasn't from television, his book titled Kitchen Confidential pulled back the curtain on the restaurant industry and the real struggles both chefs and staff face everyday.
His death Friday means the world got a little smaller, but the world also received a small taste of life in Charleston because he came here.
As the episode ends, Bourdain sits on a dock with Brock eating boiled peanuts and looking out over a signature Lowcountry landscape. They let their fishing poles rest between two folding chairs. Bourdain gets the last line as he casts again: "Not bad for a Yankee."
...Not bad at all.
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