In a room full of celebrity chefs and black-tie Miami diners who’d paid thousands of dollars to be there, everyone was listening to Anthony Bourdain.
The subject this night was José Andrés. The chef and activist, who was being honored at a $500-a-person tribute dinner during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February 2017, was locked in a legal battle with President Donald Trump. Andrés had canceled his plans to open a restaurant in Washington D.C.’s Trump Hotel over the president’s comments about immigrant and Trump sued him for $10 million.
Bourdain emceed the dinner, where chefs Emeril Lagasse, Andrew Zimmern and Michael Voltaggio — all notables — were cooking the meal in Andrés’ honor and Gloria and Emilio Estefan were in the audience.
But it was Bourdain who made the crowd laugh.
"He is the first chef in the history of the world to be sued by a sitting president. He is my hero," Bourdain told them.
Bourdain, 61, has died. CNN, for whom he created the award-winning series “Parts Unknown,” confirmed his suicide Friday.
Throughout his life, Bourdain frequently highlighted Miami in his television shows, the medium through which most of America got to know the sauntering, irreverent chef who always seemed to be the coolest guy in the room. He highlighted the Magic City in “24-Hour Layover,” “Parts Unknown,” and “No Reservations.” His episode visiting Cuba for “Parts Unknown,” was closely watched in South Florida, where politics and entertainment often collide.
Bourdain didn’t wilt from it. It’s why he found himself introducing José Andrés on the night Andrés gave a different kind of keynote address. He tore off his chef’s coat to reveal a black T-shirt beneath that read, “I am an immigrant.”
"I do believe in walls.... We need to be building walls to build communities, to build schools, to build hospitals, to build community centers, soup kitchens. To build an America we all believe in," Andrés told the crowd. "We are all immigrants."
Bourdain just watched him, a smile on his face, resplendent in a tailored blue Italian suit and red tie. Later, Bourdain admitted being in awe of his friend, Andrés, who put his business in the crosshairs over his stance against the president.
"I have nothing to lose to take that stand. I don't run a restaurant empire. The president ain't going to sue me for $10 million," Bourdain said. "José risked everything to take a principled stand. And I don't think he can be admired enough for that."