Anthony Bourdain

Bye bye Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain and David Lida Mexico City tacos

In 2009, Anthony Bourdain came to Mexico City to film an episode of his show No Reservations. Someone in his production company found my book, First Stop in the New World, and they hired me to help them find taco stands, cantinas, and hole-in-the-wall eateries from which they could film. They even put me on camera in a couple of segments, for instance eating tripe tacos with Bourdain from one of my favorite stalls on Calle Bolivar

The crew was here for about a week, but Bourdain didn’t get airdropped in the city until the last minute, the night before filming began. He struck me as exactly as he appeared on camera. In the van moving between locations, he spewed monologues full of dirty jokes and scatological references. When the clock struck 1:00 pm, he wanted to know where was the closest place to get a tequila. His energy and sense of fun were infectious. Those of us who were along for the ride, as well as the crew who worked with him, all seemed to enjoy ourselves.

Anthony Bourdain street taco Mexico City / David Lida

Despite eating for a living, he was a slender man. While we filmed, I observed one of his strategies to stay that way.  When they shot him eating something, he’d take one bite and leave the rest of the food on the plate. Usually a crew member would finish it for him. Unless he really liked something, such as the tripe tacos. Not only did he finish that taco, he ordered more.

Bourdain told me that, since he became a TV personality, he traveled all over the world to do lectures in front of groups. (I’ve heard that, before he agreed to do an event, he had a list of exigencies that rivaled that of a rock star.) He complained about the weariness resultant to being in perpetual motion, and I asked him if he ever thought, “I don’t really need to do this any more -- I can quit.” He looked at me like I was crazy, and explained that the kind of money he was being offered to make these speeches was impossible to turn down.

Walking down the streets of the Mexico City, many people stopped and asked for his autograph. One guy even had him wait while he called his wife, so Bourdain could say hello to her and realize that the story wasn't a figment of her husband's imagination. Bourdain was gracious and accommodating to all of the fans.

Anthony Bourdain cantina Mexico City / David Lida

He was a constant champion of Mexico. He often made it a point to say that, when he ran the Brasserie Les Halles in New York, most of the people with whom he shared kitchen duties were immigrants. And that nearly every restaurant kitchen in New York was heavily staffed by them. He was extremely proud of Carlos Llaguno (in photo, above), who started out as a dishwasher at Les Halles, and ended up executive chef when Bourdain left the business to do his TV show. (Sadly, Llaguno died of cancer at age 38 in 2015.)

At one point, in the van between locations, Bourdain told me that he liked First Stop in the New World, but that he’d loved Travel Advisory — my first book, a collection of short stories. I was completely taken aback that he’d taken the trouble to read it. It is always a surprise when someone who appears to “have everything” commits suicide. A New Yorker profile of Bourdain, which appeared in February of 2017, hinted at a dark side. Still, life is a torment for a lot of people, and a case like this, where it becomes too overwhelming to bear, is always a tragedy. If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, the resources listed on this page might be of help.

Anthony Bourdain and the Mexican dream

Last October I mentioned on this blog that I worked as a consultant for Anthony Bourdain and the crew of his show No Reservations while they filmed part of an episode in Mexico City. Various readers wrote and asked when it would be broadcast. U.S. readers take note: It airs Monday, January 5th. It will be shown in Mexico considerably later; I'll let you know when I have more information.






The two photos below were taken at a cantina called La Mascota on the corner of Calle Mesones and Calle Bolívar in the centro histórico. It was one of my recommendations for the shoot. La Mascota is a traditional place, that has luckily not been remodeled with stucco ceilings or canteloupe-colored walls. The botanas – free food served in the afternoon, so long as you pay for your drinks – are first-rate.





The fellow on the extreme right in the green T-shirt is Carlos Llaguno, from Puebla, who made his way to New York, where he found work as a dishwasher at Bourdain’s restaurant Les Halles. Little by little, he worked his way up in the kitchen, and not long after Bourdain threw in the apron to become a full-time media personality, Carlos was promoted to chef. Nearly all the kitchens of New York restaurants employ Mexicans, but Bourdain told me that Les Halles is the only one where a Mexican has actually risen to become #1, el jefe.





So three cheers for Carlos, who is living the Mexican dream, along with his girlfriend Emily Cummings, who happens to be a Ford model. Immigration foes are cordially invited to eat their hearts out.

Anthony Bourdain in Mexico City


A few weeks ago I got a call from a production company in New York. Called Zero Point Zero, they make Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations. They were wondering if I might be able to help them out while preparing to shoot a program in Mexico City.

They didn’t have to ask twice. I admire Bourdain and, having spent a couple of years of my youth working in restaurants, believe his book Kitchen Confidential is essential, one that had to be written. He is also one of the few people in the world I envy: Who wouldn’t like to be paid to travel around the world and eat?

In any case, I not only recommended some of my favorite restaurants, cantinas and stalls for eating street food, I was also able to spend some time with the crew while they were in town shooting. Bourdain – who everyone calls “Tony” – did not disappoint. Indeed, he fulfilled all expectations. The Lenny Bruce of cookery, he frequently spoke in uninterrupted monologues full of jokes of a scatological or sexual nature (sometimes both), jokes that would probably result in a lawsuit if I were to repeat them here.

The show is set to air early next year. Tony is pictured above sampling what is known as a taco sudado – a “sweaty taco,” so-called because after being fried in the morning they spend the next hours steaming in a basket until they sell out. They are the cheapest tacos in Mexico City and, in my opinion, sublime. There will be another post at a future date about Juan Monsalvo, the sweaty taco salesman under the umbrella.