He doesn't know it, but Anthony Bourdain and I have ever-so-lightly crossed paths before. Several years ago, he wrote about a roots-centered episode of Top Chef:
I was the exhausted researcher who had frantically dug into the family histories of a dozen Top Chef contestants (producers had no clue which ones would survive to this Ellis Island episode), doing the genealogical equivalent of sequential quick fires to ensure that the final five would all learn something new about their ancestry, so it was my handiwork he was musing on (and you're welcome for that spandex shot of Mike Isabella).
As a long-time fan of Top Chef -- not to mention, French-born travel bum -- I suppose it was just a matter of time before I would set my sights on Bourdain, who's a gifted chef and possibly even more talented writer. A professional vagabond and reformed but unapologetic scoundrel, he manages (on shows such as Parts Unknown, No Reservations, and The Layover) to make watching someone else travel fascinating.
So without further ado, here are five things that you didn't know about his roots:
1. Anthony Bourdain has one of the most diverse family trees I've ever researched. I'd say that Bruno Mars has him beat, but in addition to the obvious -- France -- Brazil, Ukraine, Spain, Austria, Uruguay, Paraguay, and even Gibraltar can all claim a piece of his past. Religion-wise, his heritage is both Jewish and Catholic.
For any doubting Thomases out there, here's a small sample of the paper trail, the 1861 baptism of his great-grandfather, Aureliano Bourdain, in Sao Pedro, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. A close inspection reveals the names of his parents and grandparents.
2. Want to know if you might be related to Anthony Bourdain? Well, if any of the following surnames appear in your family tree, there's a chance: Adler, Belami, Belliard, Bourdain, Calcada, Cohen, Duclos, Francia, Friedman, Lorel, Mallet, Riousse, Sacksman, Schuss, Ungar, and Weinrib.
3. The maternal, Bronx-based portion of his family tree had characters who would likely amuse Bourdain, including a pair of brothers in the textile industry who had a habit of getting mixed up in situations involving bad checks and stolen goods. But they were also on the receiving end of criminal activity, such as the time his grandmother was robbed of $4,500 of jewelry and furs.
4. His ancestors were relative late-comers to America with the first arriving in the late 1870s and the last disembarking at Ellis Island in 1926, though there's a bit of a caveat with regard to that last date. Officially, it's true, but the reality is that this same grandfather had been here before in 1919. While many have romantic tales of ancestors who supposedly stowed away to come to America, Anthony Bourdain should be proud to be one of the few who can prove it.
At the ripe old of 13, his grandfather stowed away on the S.S. Kroonland (at the time, being used as a naval vessel). He was discovered, handed over to protective custody, and returned to his mother in Bordeaux, but he must have liked what he saw during his brief stay because he decided to make it permanent in 1926 after having completed a stint in the French military.
5. This colorful Bourdain ancestor didn't have long to make his mark in Anthony's family tree, but he did his best. Working in the cosmetics industry, he took a bride in 1928. It's hard to say whether they had agreed in advance or were fooling each other, but both fibbed about their ages. While the paperwork says that he was 26 and she was 28, the gap was considerably wider. At age 23, he was taking a 35-year-old wife. Having been an only son, he sadly passed away at the young age of 27, leaving an only son of his own -- Bourdain's father.
Anthony Bourdain's very existence, then, is against the odds, and his wanderlust almost inevitable. While I suspect he didn't need a genealogist to tell him that, I hope there is at least relief that no spandex was involved.