The news of Anthony Bourdain’s passing is simply devastating. And the outpouring of global empathy is a testament to a person that had so much more impact on people than I am guessing he gave himself credit for. My hope is that he is at peace now, and whatever demons he was wrestling with, they are no longer hounding him. I only spent a day (but clearly a very significant day it turns out) with him in late 2008, but the impact of his visit was to have dramatic and lasting effect… Dozens of folks, readers, IG followers have sent private messages of shock, sorrow, condolences, commiseration, etc. and I am frankly unsure how to feel about all of it except to say it is with the deepest of sadness that Mr. Bourdain has passed away in this manner. If anything useful is to come from this, it is to take note when someone close to you seems to be despairing, in need of help or just needs a shoulder to lean on.
I remember the day I fielded a call from Mr. Bourdain like it was yesterday, not nearly a decade ago. The rest, they say, is lechon history. But it started out as nothing more as an extension of this blog, my “Lechon Chronicles” and a desire to assist anyone understand our food better and to promote Filipino cuisine to a global audience. I have written several posts on the matter from October 2008 onwards, and here are links to all the relevant posts. They are lengthy, but worth reading if you are curious and new to the blog or have just arrived at it from Instagram, etc. There was a time when people’s attention spans lasted longer than 5 seconds…
The series of posts on the “Lechon Chronicles” detailed my pre-Bourdain quest to re-create my grandmother’s Cebu lechon, devoid of MSG and shortcuts that have in my opinion, plagued more modern versions of a several centuries old local delicacy… In chronological order, here are the posts:
#1 : The Lechon Chronicles, Chapter 1 : The Lechonan
#2 : The Lechon Chronicles, Chapter 2 : The Ideal Piggy
#3 : The Lechon Chronicles, Chapter 3 : The Fat Run (Lechon Round 1)
#4 : Lechon: Round 2
#5 : Lechon : Round 3
#6 : Lechon : Round 4
#7 : Lechon : Round 5
These were the posts that Mr. Bourdain’s producers and researchers read BEFORE they contacted me for help with their upcoming episode though I had NO IDEA who they were, the emails did not disclose the show or the host, I just wanted to help in any way I could to help promote Pinoy food to a foreign audience. After I spoke to Mr. Bourdain on the phone, where he asked me to cook lechons for him, despite my protestations that I wasn’t a chef or that I could take him to all the local purveyors and we could try a variety of lechons, we set a date and I had just then realized “Tony” was Anthony Bourdain, and I had just committed to host one of the most iconic food traveler/writer/chefs on TV at the time.
Two weeks of frenzied preparations (including the planting of an instant garden) led to the actual day of filming, and here are posts from that period…
#8 : The First Hint of things to come, after frantic landscaping efforts
#9 : The “nerves” two days before the shoot
#10 : One Sentence that says it all — and which was life changing for me
#11 : The prep before the shoot
#12 : Preparations the day before the shoot
#13 : Anthony Bourdain in Cebu, Philippines
I was self-imposing a a limited release of information about the shoot at this point, I didn’t want to pre-empt the program that was airing a few months later… Then 4 months later, when the episode finally aired, these were the posts:
#14 : A Reminder that the episode was about to air in the U.S. on February 16, 2009
#15 : Now Showing – with the most hilarious comments section with blow by blow comments of the program for folks in the Philippines who couldn’t see it… PRICELESS POST.
#16 : The Full Menu
#17 : Why I thought Augusto was my hero, in defense of all those back-stabbing crab-mentality pinoys with armchair opinions worth caca
#18 : Behind the Scenes, what it took to pull off the day of filming/shoot with OC-like intensity – lots of candid photos of the shoot here
#19 : An Amusing Side Story…
#20 : Hierarchy of Pork, our lechon tops it!
And that, was that. Realize that ZUBUCHON did NOT EXIST when we fed Mr. Bourdain, that came much later, nearly a year later, and we asked and received his permission to use his quote “Best Pig, Ever!”. As with all superlatives, one would think the sentiment would be topped or eclipsed in the many trips and episodes Mr. Bourdain has shot since. But over the next ten years, he would repeatedly refer to his lechon experience in Cebu with fondness, and for that, we continue to be ever grateful. Why one person’s opinion matters any is linked to the credibility, integrity and expertise of that individual. So while we definitely think it is a personal opinion, it’s a nice personal opinion from a great person with the highest degree of food integrity, in MY opinion. :) Here are some quotes from him since the shoot in 2008…
In February 2009 on his blog, Bourdain wrote : “…and special shout out to MarketMan — whose preparations for the Cebu lechon extravaganza made the filming of Apocalypse Now look quick and easy.”
On the hierarchy of pork he’s eaten around the world: “Puerto Rico’s lechon is great. In Bali, the lechon is even better. And in the Philippines, the lechon is slightly better than that. It’s the best of the best.“
Anthony Bourdain, October 2009
Interview by Frank Bruni of the New York Times
Food & Wine Magazine Blog
“…it doesn’t get better than that…”
(referring to the roast pig he ate in Cebu)
Anthony Bourdain, 2013
Interview in Promo clip for Parts Unknown, CNN
Spoken in his Parts Unknown Episode filmed in Manila in 2016 : “I had really fond memories of the last time I had lechon in the Philippines. In fact, not to kiss your ass, but it is the finest pig I’ve ever had.”
In June 2017, Manila, interviewed by ABS-CBN : “My first truly transcendent great whole roasted pig, the best lechon I ever had in my life was that time in Cebu.”
All we set out to do was to host a foreign guest and show him the best we had to offer and make a good impression. We did our best. And boy did he reciprocate in a manner we would never have ever expected. A good LASTING impression is something you only dream about. We are so very, very grateful. And we will miss him.