The French Brasserie That Changed Anthony Bourdain's Life

A French brasserie is exactly the kind of eating establishment where you would have expected to find Anthony Bourdain. Developed from the crowded breweries that took hold in France during the 19th century, brasseries are about as informal a dining experience as you can get. They serve up humble French classics like coq au vin and steak frites — and, naturally, plenty of beer. Known for his absolute dedication to unpretentious, hole-in-the-wall dining, the fact that one of Bourdain's earliest and most transformative food memories occurred at a crowded, noisy brasserie is fitting.

The place is described by Bourdain in a 2012 essay for Bon Appétit. During one of many family vacations to France, the Bourdains would stop at a brasserie called Quick Elysee. Bourdain writes that "a thin slice of humble rumsteak with curiously blond frites soon became a treasured taste memory." The experiences at Quick Elysee would go on to inform the rest of Bourdain's life.

It was who Bourdain shared the brasserie experiences with, however, who had the most influence over his burgeoning food philosophy. Memories of Quick Elysee would have been less powerful were it not for the example set by Bourdain's father. A self-professed "man of simple needs," the elder Bourdain's declarations on food, whether fine or humble, had the greatest impact on the young Anthony and served as a charter for the rest of his life.

Memories of a beloved father

Observing and experiencing his father's utter love of all food ingrained in Bourdain a food philosophy that would propel him to stardom. The Quick Elysee brasserie where the family stopped on their French vacations was indicative of the type of place and food Bourdain's father would declare as nothing short of "marvelous." 

In his 2012 Bon Appétit essay, Bourdain writes, "He taught me early that the value of a dish is the pleasure it brings you; where you are sitting when you eat it — and who you are eating it with — are what really matter. Perhaps the most important life lesson he passed on was: Don't be a snob. It's something I will always at least aspire to—something that has allowed me to travel this world and eat all it has to offer without fear or prejudice." 

This view, more than anything else, is what endeared Anthony Bourdain to so many people. Knowing this, it is easy to see the throughline between youthful memories of an unpretentious brasserie to dining with President Obama at a noodle shack in Vietnam. Without the memories and values of his father, it is doubtful Anthony Bourdain would have become the food star that he was. One small, simple meal can change the course of a life.