World-renowned chef Anthony Bourdain and “Parts Unknown” crew graced Oxford with their presence in early 2014.
Flash forward to June 8, 2018 when the world awoke in mourning as Bourdain, 61, was found dead in his hotel room in France. Authorities believe the cause of death was suicide. Though he graced every nook and cranny of jungles, deserts, tundras and saharas as a fearless traveler with a seemingly bottomless pit-of-a-stomach, Bourdain’s legacy never left Oxford.
His Mississippi jaunt included places like famed juke joint Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, former Lamar Lounge, and City Grocery where he met Oxford’s resident chef and epicurean, John Currence. He also rubbed shoulders with Southern Foodway Alliance’s Joh T. Edge for a scenic drive through the Delta and to Jackson’s Big Apple Inn for pig ear sandwiches.
His stint in Oxford was short—the CNN sponsored show “Parts Unknown” mainly covered the Mississippi Delta area. Those crisscrossing The Square late at night may see the Bourdain name in Oxford’s only speakeasy and grilled cheese emporium. For $625,000 and a 24-hours notice, The DownStairs Bar (or The Secret Grilled Cheese Place as Oxonians like to call it) would fly in Bourdain to grill four grilled cheese sandwiches for you and your friends. It’s unclear whether anyone ever paid for the experience, but it’s a testament to the wit and quirkiness Bourdain brought to Oxford.
Native Mississippian Edy Dingus was eating at Ajax with a few friends—a routine experience—when she received an unexpected phone call. A frantic friend on the other side of the line said Anthony Bourdain was at City Grocery and she’d better get there quick.
“Every one of us lost our minds with excitement, hurried to pay out and ran to City [Grocery],” she said. “We bolted up the stairs and there he was, in the center of the room, surrounded by Oxford’s finest writers, chefs and professors.”
She said he was surrounded by a mob of people and bulky video equipment, so she and her friends decided to chalk up the experience to at least a celebrity chef sighting. They retired to smoke on the balcony, as many do when the bar gets crowded. Suddenly, the the door swung open to reveal a unknown figure who was “all denim and legs,” she said. It was Bourdain seeking the same escape and solace her friends found.
As he leaned over the balcony and lit a cigarette Dingus finally had the courage to say, “We all just decided we’re not going to talk about the elephant in the room.”
Without missing a beat, Bourdain stood straight up, looked around, and asked in shock, “Guy Fieri’s here?”
She described his witty personality, as well as the experience, as magic.
Taariq David, general manager of Grit and, first met Bourdain when he visited the former Lamar Lounge. David spent six hours with Bourdain, which he said was too short for the kind of lifelong friend he was.
“[Bourdain] just coming to Oxford, as a whole, says something about how Oxford has come as far as cuisine,” he said.
During his visit, Bourdain and David discussed the things most indicative of Oxford—restaurants, books and literature. David’s family shared his in Bourdain fandom and joined in on the visit at the former Lamar Lounge. At the visit was David’s daughter, which struck an emotional chord with Bourdain.
“Seeing her made him miss his own daughter,” David said. “He told me he only saw her one week out of the month.”
That recognition, in turn, gave David a new perspective on work-life balance.
“It was very poignant for me as a person to acknowledge the trade-offs in life,” he said. “You don’t always realize if you say yes to one thing in life you are also saying no.”
How to get help: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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