In the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s death last week, fans began to petition Netflix to keep his long-running CNN travel show, Parts Unknown, on the air, so-to-speak. The series was originally scheduled to disappear from the streaming service on June 16, but in a tweet yesterday, Netflix announced that the show would remain available indefinitely.
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It would an understatement to say that Parts Unknown is deserving of this outpouring of support from viewers and fans. Bourdain was one of the very few people on television who managed to celebrate food from diverse cultures without appropriating or exoticizing it. He broke bread with indigenous chefs, drank beers with locals on plastic stools, treated roadside food vendors like Michelin-starred chefs. Bourdain also knew that in order to better understand a foreign culture, he had to stop talking and start listening, to just about everyone. Former militia fighters in Libya, lifelong pitmasters in rural South Carolina, Vietnamese refugees who re-settled in Houston—he got to know them all, by listening and asking questions. It’s a show everyone should watch, not just for the sometimes snarky, charming, compassionate voice Bourdain brings to each episode, but because it reinforces a simple idea: everyone, everywhere is deserving of their humanity. Here, the Food & Wine staff picks our five favorite episodes of the series.
Personally, I can’t watch this episode without a shedding a few tears. The episode ruthlessly dismantles your preconceived notions about Texas—that it’s unwelcoming and prejudiced—to reveal a city where immigrants are building vibrant communities. Bourdain takes us inside a Bollywood celebration at a grocery store and a high school populated mostly by recent immigrants from all over the world, whose principal is a refugee from Vietnam, concluding that there is still plenty of room left in America for anyone looking for a new home.
Bourdain pals around with chef Sean Brock in this chilled out episode of Parts Unknown but there are so many joyful snippets here: Eating at Husk with Bill Murray, waxing poetic on Waffle House, and later, fishing barefoot by the river.
Most people might find little to celebrate in Detroit, a city that was hit hard by economic recession before slowly but surely beginning to bounce back. Not so for Bourdain, who hooks up with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff, and tours the ruins with a sense of optimism. He eats roadside barbecue, cooks for local fireman, and decides that there’s hope for Detroit after all.
Bourdain tours this region of France in the very capable hands of chef Daniel Boloud. The highlight comes when Bouloud’s parents cook a family meal—a dish of home cooked bread, cream, and mushrooms cooked directly inside a pumpkin—correcting, and debating, their son, on his cooking techniques.
Parts Unknown is sometimes more political than it is food-focused, but in San Sebastian—which is packed with Michelin-star restaurants—Bourdain focuses on the high-quality ingredients, and passion for cooking, that makes life in this city such a pleasure. In San Sebastian, “We solve all our problems by cooking because we have a kind of fanaticism about food,” chef Juan Mari Arzak tells Bourdain.
Honorable mention: Vietnam
Bourdain revisits one of his favorite places on the planet in this love letter to the motorbike and spicy noodle soup, but the really iconic moment of this episode comes when he sits down with then-President Barack Obama over a beer and bowl of noodles.