How Anthony Bourdain left a mark on Montreal's culinary scene

Anthony Bourdain visited Montreal many times over the course of his storied career as a celebrity chef, television host and adventurous foodie, helping local restaurants gain international attention.

Celebrity chef and TV's most famous foodie helped local restaurants gain international attention

Anthony Bourdain was found dead in France, Friday June 8, 2018. (TRAVEL CHANNEL)

Anthony Bourdain visited Montreal many times over the course of his storied career as a celebrity chef, television host and adventurous foodie.

Bourdain, who was found dead at the age of 61 in Strasbourg, France on Friday, helped bring Montreal's flourishing culinary scene into the international spotlight.

He visited the city often for his various food and travel television series, including No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown.

He made lasting friendships with high profile Montreal chefs, among them Joe Beef's David McMillan and Normand Laprise of Toqué! and Brasserie T. 

"Tony was approachable to anybody, would speak to everybody; he would drink with everybody," McMillan told Q host Tom Power on CBC Radio. "It was a beautiful thing to see. It was very human."

In honour of all he did to spread the word about Montreal's food scene, here's a sampling of what he had to say over the years.

Fine dining

"​This is a great country because of this city," Bourdain said of Canada on an episode of The Layover in 2011. "Without Montreal, Canada would be hopeless. It's where the cool kids hang out."

Bourdain visited Au Pied du Cochon for No Reservations in 2006, sharing a table with friend and owner ​Martin Picard, a cookbook author and Food Network host in his own right.

Martin Picard, chef at Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon, was a friend of Bourdain's.

He described Picard then as "a personal idol. A counter-revolutionary. And one of the best chefs in Canada."

He said Au Pied du Cochon was one of his favourites in the world, joining Picard on a tour of the area where the foie gras is made.

Bourdain also spent time tackling an "Everest of meat" at Joe Beef, a restaurant he visited a number of times, both on and off camera.

 He described the Notre-Dame Street restaurant as "unapologetically over the top."

"This place is where you want to be: sucking down oysters and good wine at Joe Beef."

Greasy spoons

Bourdain didn't spend all his time in Montreal sampling high-end fare as he ventured in search of the city's culinary delights.

Anthony Bourdain visited a number of Montreal restaurant institutions over the years, including Wilensky's Light Lunch. Here he is five years ago with Sharon Wilensky. (Wilensky's Light Lunch/Facebook)

Sharon Wilensky, who runs Wilensky's Light Lunch, the Mile End restaurant established by her parents in 1932, said Bourdain stopped by for a Wilensky special five years ago.

She said he came by during filming for a segment of CNN's Parts Unknown and was "very gracious."

"I found him to be a perfect gentleman," said Wilensky. "At the end he told me that anybody who talks about our place, talks about it with great affection.​ With great respect."

"He didn't have to say that."

Bourdain also famously visited poutinerie La Banquise on a second-season episode of No Reservations, where he ate not one, but five plates of the classic Quebec delicacy.

"Meat, cheese and fries, all on one fork. I feel so dirty, yet so alive. It's like forbidden love," he said. "I feel guilty eating any of these."

He also stopped by ​Beauty's luncheonette in the Plateau and was served by Hymie Sckolnick himself. Sckolnick died in November 2017.

Bourdain opted for the signature smoked salmon bagel, but — a born-and-bred New Yorker — he was wary of weighing in on the New York-versus-Montreal bagel debate.

At a stop at St. Viateur bagel, he was forced to declare that comparing the two was like comparing apples and oranges.

"It's pretty damn good," he conceded, as he bit into a St. Viateur bagel.

Meat, cheese and fries, all on one fork. I feel so dirty, yet so alive. It's like forbidden love.- Anthony Bourdain, on La Banquise's poutine

And as Bourdain himself noted, no walk up the Main is complete without stopping for smoked meat at ​Schwartz's.

"You can't not do this when you come to Montreal," he said, before chomping into his sandwich.

Bahram Rahmany, a long-time server at Schwartz's, got to meet Bourdain and serve him twice.

"He's very talented, of course. He knows all about the food," Rahmany told CBC. "He was very serious about the taste. he was very happy."

Bahram Rahmany has been a server at Schwartz's on St. Laurent Blvd. for 18 years. (CBC)

Bourdain described Montreal as "a great, great city with a great food culture," and "uniquely wonderful in its own way."

"Any visiting chef crawls out of here bloated and begging for mercy."

He did, however, take issue with the city's then-ban on food trucks, which dated back to the Jean Drapeau years, calling it "a sad law stuck in antiquity."

Expanded ideas of what food is

Jonathan Cheung, chef and owner of Appetite for Books in Westmount, spent time with Bourdain in Montreal eating fresh cheese and talking shop.

"He's known for exposing people to a global cuisine and showing people that there is way more to food in the dark alleys behind those really famous not-so-great restaurants."

Cheung credited Bourdain with helping introduce people to authentic local cuisine wherever he went.

"He's helped a lot of people expand their ideas of what food is and changed the way that people travel and saw a city."


Marilla Steuter-Martin

Former CBC journalist

Marilla Steuter-Martin was a journalist with CBC Montreal from 2015 to 2021.

With files from CBC's Valeria Cori-Manocchio