Memento mori

At The English House, Physical Clues To Anthony Bourdain’s Life And Death Remain

The bon vivant’s personal belongings, including his custom steel meteorite chef’s knife, are on display at the restaurant.

At The English House, Physical Clues To Anthony Bourdain’s Life And Death Remain
The late celebrity chef Anthony BourdainRussel Wong

Not many chefs have been elegised in quite the same fashion as the late Anthony Bourdain, whose loss to suicide in 2018 inspired verbose essays – unctuous and salacious in equal measure. More tangible though, are the pensive celebrity’s objets d’art, which you can now inspect with an air of feigned knowledge of his past and proclivities.

The belongings have been acquired by The English House by Marco Pierre White in Singapore, a veritable trove of art and artefacts. Among the collection is Bourdain’s Bob Kramer custom steel meteorite chef’s knife, which sold for more than USD$231,250 in a 2019 auction, as well as a bronze skull and antler sculpture that was gifted to him from White.

  • Anthony Bourdain's Bob Kramer steel and meteorite chef's knife
    Anthony Bourdain’s Bob Kramer steel and meteorite chef’s knifeRussel Wong
  • African carved wood and metal ritual figure
    African carved wood and metal ritual figureRussel Wong

On screen, at least, Bourdain came across as an introspective traveller given to lengthy philosophical discussions with his mixed bag of interlocuters. His respect for and sensitive handling of foreign cultures may have inspired gifts such as an African carved wood and metal ritual power figure from the Portuguese colonial era. It was bestowed upon him by the Mbole tribal chief living near Kisangani along the Congo River. Symbol of friendship or unremarkable token stowed in a fusty storeroom? We may never know.  

The artefacts were photographed by long-time friend and collaborator Russel Wong, who – over lunch at the beautifully lacquered restaurant – confirmed our general notions of Bourdain. According to Wong, who worked with him on hit travel shows such as The Layover and No Reservations, the innately private man demonstrated a keen inquisitiveness and willingness to engage strangers in genuine conversations.

Perhaps more revealing about his inner state, are his paintings, which include one by Canadian artist Brad Phillips depicting themes such as depression, addiction and dysfunction, and satirical works by British painter Ralph Steadman.  

You can muse over these items, which reflect the life of a peripatetic individual, over a meal of international classics at The English House. While that may be a sleight of marketing, Chef Gabriel Fratini does hit high notes with dishes such as the Beer Battered Wild Cod with mushy peas and velvety Cacio e Pepe – said to be one of Bourdain’s favourites – lifted by the spicy, woody zing of peppercorns. And trust us when we say that they’ve mastered a mean sausage roll, baked with tiny pickles.

We’re all bound by something verging on morbid curiosity, which manifests in our rapacious fascination with celebrities gone too soon. We might pore over their belongings, less ephemeral than their owners’ existence, in search of clues to unravel their enigmas. Or perhaps they may serve as memento mori, poignant reminders of life’s fragility.

Infer whatever you may about Bourdain, posthumously, from these inanimate objects. We’re content to surmise that life’s a trip for those with the means and mettle to ride it hard.

Related Stories