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Anthony Bourdain, enemy of food snobbery, was a fan of Cincinnati chili

Posted: 6:48 PM, Jun 08, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-08 23:21:43Z

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Late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, known for a wry wit and an unpretentious appreciation for food of all types, used his television presence to highlight two of the things he loved best: Travel and unique regional dishes. 

A 2007 trip to Cleveland gave him the chance to embrace both -- with a side portion of ribbing the culinary establishment -- at Skyline Chili. Determined to rankle his "friend and nemesis," Cleveland native and alleged "snob" Michael Ruhlman, Bourdain made Skyline the first stop on their food-focused journey through the city for his Travel Channel series "No Reservations."

"Something like this, you don't ask what's in it or how it's made," Bourdain said of Skyline's three-way. "You just enjoy it."

Of course, thinking about how and why food is made was part and parcel of what Bourdain did. Just as he found Cleveland imbued with a "strange and melancholy splendor -- a faded and particularly American glory" he described Cincinnati-style chili as a "topping-gone-wild" that represented a uniquely American sensibility. 

Cincinnati chili does combine disparate cultural elements: Spaghetti, a Greek-influenced meat sauce, a too-bright-to-be-natural crown of cheese and East Coast oyster crackers. 

"This is the story of America on your plate," he admonished Ruhlman at one point as he feigned disgust. "And you sneer. The colors, just because they don't occur in nature doesn't mean they're bad."

Bourdain took his own life Friday, according to CNN. He left behind a generation of viewers and chefs who had been transported and inspired by the brusque but open-minded and knowledge-seeking spirit he displayed while sampling dishes ranging from Skyline to Colombian soft-boiled turtle eggs. 

"I think it's very sad for the culinary world," JR Group Cincinnati chef Jean-Robert de Caval, whom Bourdain once visited in Cincinnati, said. "He's going to be missed by a lot of young cooks, by a lot of people he met."