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Updated June 10
When Philly beer rep and former line cook Ben Martin heard Anthony Bourdain had died, he was at a loss for what to do.
Bourdain, who took his own life at age 61 this week, was admired by many as a writer, producer, traveler and publisher — as The New Yorker points out, the No Reservations and Parts Unknown star was a contender for the globe’s best-known celebrity — but it was the restaurant industry where he made his biggest mark.
Like many in the food world, Martin didn’t know Bourdain personally, but he’d been inspired by the values the larger-than-life figure espoused — including respect for hard work.
So Martin decided to put his head down, pull out his knife, and bury his own tears in a cavalcade of onions. He bought 40 lbs. of yellows, lugged them to Passyunk Square, and spent the day chopping in the afternoon sun.
When the cathartic cutting was complete, Martin didn’t want to toss the result, so he reached out to a fellow kitchen confidant to see if they could be put to use. Stargazy chef-owner Sam Jacobson leapt at the opportunity.
A native Londoner, Jacobson himself had only met Bourdain a few times, he said, but he was definitely a fan.
“I grew up around 10 minutes from St. John [restaurant], but I never really knew about it until I read Bourdain. Now I go there all the time.” said Jacobson, who runs a British-themed “pie and mash” shop on East Passyunk. “He was amazing. I have a bunch of his books at the shop.”
Dismay over Bourdain’s suicide was compounded by Jacobson’s relationship with fashion icon Kate Spade, who he had cooked for along with her husband — and who also died by her own hand this week.
He decided to take the onions Martin was offering and turn them into a memorial dish that would benefit suicide prevention efforts.
“It’s in the forefront of everyone’s minds,” Jacobson said. “We wanted to pay tribute.”
And so for Saturday night dinner service — which only just launched last month at the three-year-old shop, and runs 5 to 10 p.m. — customers will have the option to order a slice of Bourdain tribute pie.
The pie will build on Martin’s onions with a boatload of game, including wild boar, wild hare, venison and veal, all braised in rich barolo with porcini mushrooms. It’ll be served with a mini “grilled cheese” made with taleggio and crisped polenta standing in for bread.
“We just wanted to do something really bad-ass,” Jacobson explained. The special pie will also be offered during Sunday lunch.
A portion of the proceeds from sales of the special meal will be donated to a suicide prevention nonprofit.
“I read something about how someone saw Bourdain last week and he was giddy — they never saw it coming,” Jacobson said. “It’s really important that people look for signs. This week has been a lot to deal with.”