Breaking open conversation around suicide with event honoring Bourdain

Jun 25, 2018

June 25th, 2018 would have marked the 62nd birthday of celebrity chef and television star Anthony Bourdain.  Bourdain recently took his own life while on location in France for his CNN program Parts Unknown.  Monday evening in Buffalo members of the food and beverage industry have created a special event in Bourdain’s honor. 

The kitchen at Lait Cru at the Connecticut Street and Normal Avenue on Buffalo’s West Side.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley met with two of the organizers of “A Cooks Tour”, a sold-out event with 450 expected to attend at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Chefs will be busy inside this kitchen at Lait Cru Brasserie at the Connecticut Street and Normal Avenue on Buffalo’s West Side. Throughout the day they will prepare some of the food for the event at Klenihans Music Hall. Jill Gedra is owner of the restaurant and Nickle City Cheese. She sat alongside Kate Elliott, tap room general manager of Community Beer Works. It was Elliott’s idea to create the event to honor the memory of Bourdain.

“What has been so amazing about this whole process is the outpouring that we have received from the chefs, from the culinary community in Buffalo. When it comes to fundraising for Buffaloians, there is no chill. People have been so gracious and I also think appreciative of this outlet as a way for us to come together and of us all honoring someone that touched us – that gave us a voice when we didn’t necessarily have one,” remarked Elliott.  

Bourdain’s program celebrated those in the food and beverage industry working long hours, behind the scenes, to make delights for others to enjoy.  So Bourdain’s sudden death left a deep impact for Elliott and Gedra. 

Kate Elliott, tap room general manager of Community Beer Works & Jill Gedra is owner of Lait Cru Brasserie & Nickle City Cheese.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“I think because he was a cook – he toiled away in the kitchen, like we toil away in the kitchen – he was relatable. He was a cook’s cook!” declared Gedra.

“Bourdain was about to kind of imbibe this passion and this importance to those voices and our jobs – it gave us a relevance that we didn’t necessarily have before that,” Elliott said.

Bourdain had publicly admitted he dealt with depression, revealing his difficulties in one of his former Parts Unknown shows where he had a conversation in 2016 with a therapist.

“Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days,” Bourdain stated.

The latest details that have emerged about his final days where production crews filming with him in France saying Bourdain skipped two meals before his death.  Then Hollywood’s Rose McGownan issued a letter on behalf of her friend, actress Asia Argento, who had been dating Bourdain.  The letter claims Bourdain had reached out to a doctor regarding his depression, but didn’t follow through on advice. Elliott and Gedra said they want “A Cooks Tour” to set-off a regular conversation around the difficult topic of suicide.

“I hate that it took his passing for us to do something about it. That’s the thing that really gets me – I just like that we have to celebrate his life now,” Gedra explained.

The Monday night event is sold out – so far raising nearly $25,000. The entire proceeds will go directly to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Missy Stolfi of Amherst is the area director for the Foundation here in Western New York.

“Suicide overall has been on the rise since 1999,” Stolfi said. “And even too, if we look at more recent statistics from 2000 to 2016, we’re seeing those increase.”

Suicide remains the tenth leading cause of death and is a major public health concern. The most common reason for suicide is caused by depression.

“Nobody talked about these problems, especially men. Men in their middle years are still the number one risk as far as rates. And so, even though we have seen shifts in other demographic, in other groups, we still have generations of people who are ‘button up’ on their emotion and they’re struggling and they don’t feel they can talk to anyone or people notice that they are struggling, but they don’t feel comfortable reaching out to that loved one,” Stolfi responded.

Suicide stretches across all demographics, but there are new findings it is on the rise among women ages 45 to 64.

“Their particular suicide rate went up 64-percent since 1999 according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) report – that’s a huge jump – that opens up some new questions as to what is going on with women and also to recognize how we are going to address if for young women versus women in the middle aged year. These numbers really show that women are suffering,” Stolfi replied.

“If it can affect Bourdain, what’s to say it’s not going to get us?” Gedra noted.

Gedra relates to being a single mom in a high-demand restaurant business.

“I get the heck out of here as soon as I can because without my kids they would be lost, I would be lost. Some of us do it happily and some of us do it begrudgingly because we don’t know how to get out,” Gedra stated.

“Or we do it both – begrudgingly-happily,” Elliott declared. “And also too, we have, you know, we have access to alcohol, I mean it’s in our businesses, so I think that’s part of it. I think stress is part of it.’  

It’s the passion and hope of Elliott to carry it into the future – perhaps even forming a national foundation and keeping the conversation surrounding suicide in the forefront, helping anyone who can no longer cope with life.

“Now that Jill and I have pulled this off, I think we can regroup and look at ways in which we expand it, the ways we make it more productive and what we do throughout the year to keep the conversation going – right – because I don’t want the conversation to stop on Monday at 9 p.m. – right?” Elliott said.  

If you need help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, open 24/7, 1-800-273-8255.