Sarawakians mourn Bourdain’s death

One of us: A file photo of Bourdain and Entalau longhouse folks toasting to welcome the Gawai Dayak festival.

One of us: A file photo of Bourdain and Entalau longhouse folks toasting to welcome the Gawai Dayak festival.

KUCHING: The influence and charm of well-travelled celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain reached all corners of the world, including Sarawak, where his tragic death on Friday has brought a profound sense of loss to the people, like “losing one of their own”.

“Bourdain’s death was shocking, I’m deeply saddened. Many of my friends shared the news of his passing and expressing their sorrow on Facebook. This shows how attached many Sarawakians are with this exceptional person,” civil servant Merdan Omar said.

The 57-year-old Iban native of Rumah Entalau, Ulu Skrang in Lubok Antu, had the opportunity to spend time with Bourdain when the latter visited his longhouse to film an episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown during Gawai Dayak in 2015.

Merdan recalled Bourdain as a friendly and humble man who instantly hit it off with the longhouse folk.

“The moment he stepped into the longhouse, he felt right at home. He was unperturbed by the condition of the rural setting. He accepted all the food and drinks we served him.

“He mixed around with everybody and participated in all Gawai activities. He carried himself as though he was part of the community,” recounted the senior clerical staff member.

At the longhouse, Bourdain experienced the traditional Iban hand-tapped tattoo of a durian flower on his chest by 31-year-old Heinsen Merdan of Skrang Tattoo Studio in Carpenter Street here.

The artist posted on Facebook: “It has been an honour to meet you and getting you a piece of traditional tattoo. You meant a lot to the people of Skrang village. You will always be remembered.”

Bourdain first visited Sarawak in 2005 when he was there to tape the Travel Channel’s No Reservations programme.

He revisited the state 10 years later and made a stop at his favourite laksa place at Choon Hui Cafe in Ban Hock Road here.

A Brazilian jujitsu enthusiast, the New Yorker also took the time to participate in an open mats session at Studio 23.

Dennis Wong, 37, an executive with Sarawak Energy Bhd, was among the first to get a sparring session with the renowned author and food critic.

“Brazilian jujitsu was a way for him to manage his stress. I came up to him and we rolled for a solid 10 minutes. He was a good practitioner, with long limbs, he had good defence and control in the game,” said Wong, who found Bourdain to be a down to earth person.

Jamie Renai, 28, remembered how Bourdain described Sarawak laksa as “the breakfast of the Gods”.

“There was also a tweet that went viral where someone asked Anthony Bourdain which laksa was better – Penang, Sarawak, Johor or Singapore. He simply replied: ‘Sarawak.’

“I believe he was a Sarawakian at heart,” she said.

The famous TV personality and writer died of an apparent suicide in France aged 61.

CNN, the US network for which Bourdain hosted the popular Parts Unknown, a wine and food-focused travel TV series, mourned with “extraordinary sadness” Bourdain’s untimely death.

“His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller,” it said in a statement.

Related story:

Chef fell in love with Penang nasi kandar and assam laksa

Anthony Bourdain