In his lifetime, Anthony Bourdain sat down and shared a meal with a staggering number of people, many of whom remembered the world- renowned chef fondly as news of his death broke early Friday. Among those lucky enough to dine with the iconic chef was former President Barack Obama, who tweeted about Bourdain and celebrated his life in a heartfelt message.
"'Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer,'" Obama tweeted Friday, quoting a tweet Bourdain had written in 2016 to describe his meal with then-President Obama. "This is how I'll remember Tony."
The two had eaten together — sitting on low plastic stools — at Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2016 for an episode of Bourdain's CNN show Parts Unknown. Bourdain taught the then-president how to properly slurp noodles over bottles of cold Hanoi beer and bowls of bún chả, a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork, rice noodles, dipping sauce, and various herb garnishes. They discussed everything from fatherhood to hot dogs to Southeast Asia to the importance of getting along with those who disagree with us.
On Friday, former President Obama remembered Bourdain for being able to inspire people to not just travel, but to fully explore and immerse themselves in other cultures. "He taught us about food," Obama wrote in a tweet Friday. "But more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown."
For Bourdain, food appeared to be a powerful means of connecting with different people and bridging the gaps between cultures.
"We'll miss him," the president added.
The meal appears to have also been a special moment for Bourdain, too. In 2016, Bourdain told The Hill that his simple $12 meal with Obama was "something I'll always be grateful for." He described the meal as being a "working class" one held in "one of my favorite places on Earth — in exactly the kind of restaurant I love." Overall, Bourdain said it had been "an awesome experience." In an article for CNN published that same year, Bourdain wrote that he "will sure as sh*t remember this trip to Vietnam."
"Not very long ago at all, I was a 44-year-old guy still dunking French fries with no hope of ever seeing Rome, much less Hanoi — much less EVER sitting across from the President of the United States, talking about hot dogs," he wrote of the experience.
Following their meal, Bourdain described Obama as " funny," "quick to laugh," and "very relaxed and at ease" considering the high-pressure nature of his job. "He seemed to enjoy himself sitting on a low plastic stool eating noodles and pork bits with chopsticks," Bourdain wrote of Obama.
While anyone else might feel nervous eating with a president, Bourdain had previously said that there had been nothing nerve-wracking about having Obama as a dinner companion. "He made us calm because he seemed to be calm and enjoying himself," he told The Hill in 2016.
But Bourdain hadn't been drawn to the idea of breaking bread with the president in order to highlight or advance a particular political agenda, something reflected in the pair's conversation. "I intended to speak to him only as a father of a 9-year-old girl, as a fellow Southeast Asia enthusiast.., and a guy who likes a bowl of spicy, savory pork and noodles with a cold beer," Bourdain wrote for CNN.
Bourdain was found dead by suicide at age 61 early Friday morning. The chef-turned-television-star had been in France filming for his CNN show Parts Unknown at the time. Fans, foodies, and fellow chefs have been mourning the iconic chef's death while also celebrating his life and legacy.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.