Back in 2012, Marilyn Hagerty wrote a review in her local newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, about a new Olive Garden that just opened in her North Dakota town. It was quaint and sweet and full of pleasant descriptions like “The chicken Alfredo was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous.” So naturally it went viral for all the wrong reasons.
As the internet mercilessly mocked the then 86-year-old writer for her love of chain restaurants, one of the biggest voices in the food world stood up for her—Anthony Bourdain. It might seem odd that a revered chef known for his globe-trotting exploits and adventurous eating habits would get involved in an online argument with a woman he never met about a restaurant—one can assume—he rarely (if ever) ate it. And yet, when you look deeper, it totally makes sense that Bourdain would support Hagerty in her defense of middle-brow, fast casual dining.
Bourdain was probably the least judgmental eater on the planet. He has a deep understanding and knew that what was weird to some cultures was totally normal to others. Bourdain also knew snobbery holds no place in food criticism and would eat anything without pretense or shame. Whether ingesting crickets or shark or unlimited salad and breadsticks, open-mindedness is key.
But Bourdain’s role in championing Hagerty’s work went well beyond the digital world. After meeting in person, Bourdain helped publish a book that compiled her past reviews. He even wrote the foreword to it. The book is titled “Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews” and contains all her folksy wisdom and earnest opinions about North Dakota’s best restaurant options. It’s the ultimate triumph over all the haters
In the wake of Bourdain’s sudden death, Hagerty was just as shocked as all of us. In an interview with the AP, she reflected on the time they spent together and had this to say, “You just would like to sit and have coffee with him, or booze, or whatever he’s having. To me, he was a warm person, and you liked to spend time with him because he was interested. He wanted to talk about me and my home…he just didn’t talk about himself and his interest in food.”
Of all the Bourdain anecdotes to emerge since his passing, his unlikely friendship with this now 92-year-old food writer remains among our favorites and just another reason his voice will be missed in the culinary world and beyond.
Header image courtesy of CNN.