The Nostalgic Backstory To Anthony Bourdain's Final Parts Unknown Episode

"Parts Unknown" – Anthony Bourdain's popular CNN cooking and travel show — documented Bourdain's travels to far-flung lands across the globe, from Myanmar to Jerusalem to Copenhagen to Tokyo. It's odd, then, that the final episode of the program, Episode 104, should be dedicated to Bourdain's own hometown: New York City's Lower East Side (LES).

Strictly speaking, Bourdain is not an LES-native. The celebrity chef was born in New York City but spent much of his early life in the far tamer suburbs of New Jersey (via Biography). By his own admission, Bourdain never even lived in the Lower East Side. Nonetheless, the NYC neighborhood played an important part in Bourdain's cooking career. With its rich music scene and — at the time–– developing punk culture, the Lower East Side of the '70s and '80s offered Bourdain refuge from the pressure of his work in the restaurant industry (via Esquire).

Bourdain graduated from the elite Culinary Institute of America in 1978, but didn't immediately find success in NYC cuisine. He worked at a string of difficult restaurants in the '70s and '80s, often in bottom-rung positions. For example,  in an interview with The New York Times, he compared his employment at the Rainbow Room to that of "a rented mule." By the late '80s, Bourdain began losing focus and, doubling down on a "rock 'n' roll ethic — drugs, booze, everything" — he started "bounc[ing] around from restaurant to restaurant.  Sometimes he wasn't working at all.

Leaving in order to come back

During this time, however, Bourdain continued exploring the Lower East Side, and developed a keen interest in various genres of music being played there — punk music in particular. And even when he finally buckled down and, in 1988, righted himself and got serious about his cooking career (via The New York Times), Bourdain's affinity for punk rock would become a through line for his later work as a TV personality and documentarian. Bourdain's Food Network and CNN shows are chock-a-block with rock-and-roll and punk references, from the choices of background music to regular guest appearances of famous rock-n-rollers like Josh Homme, Alice Cooper, and Iggy Pop.

Episode 104 of "Parts Unknown" is itself filled with LES and Punk rock royalty. As reported in Esquire, Bourdain, in his final "Parts Unknown" episode, interviews everyone from Voidoids frontman Richard Hell to Fab Five Freddy to Danny Fields (a famous music industry executive), to punk pioneer band Blondie. Episode 104 is a touching tribute to a city to which Bourdain, at the end of a storied career, was clearly proud to return to.

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