Viral Food Critic Who Anthony Bourdain Defended Against Online Trolls Remembers 'Positive' Chef
“He was a person who was very pleasant to talk to. I can’t imagine him taking his own life,” food writer Marilyn Hagerty tells PEOPLE
Grand Forks, North Dakota, food critic Marilyn Hagerty, who went viral in 2012 after penning a glowing review of her local Olive Garden, has nothing but kind things to say about Anthony Bourdain, who was one of the first people to publicly support her.
“I went viral because there were hundreds and hundreds of comments after the column I wrote about the Olive Garden coming to Grand Forks. I was overwhelmed with the attention I was getting,” Hagerty, who is now in her 90s, tells PEOPLE.
After being sent to New York, where the food columnist appeared on Today and Anderson Cooper 360, she had a meeting with Bourdain, who had previously defended her against online trolls, praising her “triumph over the snarkologists (myself included).” He later wrote that “Marilyn Hagerty’s years of reviews” represented “a history of dining” that “too few of us from the coasts have seen.”
“I think he wanted to know how kooky I was,” Hagerty explains.
Recalling their meeting, the food writer says they met for coffee at a hotel, and after spending an hour or two together, “he decided he wanted to publish a book of my reviews.”
“I thought he was a very handsome [man]. He [was] very nicely dressed and just very easy to sit with,” she shares with PEOPLE. “He was a very pleasant person to be with.”
“He said at first he thought it was just weird that I would write about the Olive Garden coming to Grand Forks, but then he said the more he thought about it he believed I was telling the story of how people eat in this area of the country, in the Midwest, in the small towns and what foods are important or interesting to them,” she explained, adding that Bourdain “knew that I had been writing this column for 10 to 20 years.”
Marilyn Hagerty and Anthony Bourdain
“We talked about everything,” she continues, describing their conversation about Bourdain’s daughter Ariane, now 11, who had just celebrated her 5th birthday.
“He had a party for her and she didn’t have a good time, and that was because he had invited adults and she didn’t enjoy that. So he planned another party for the next Saturday and he was going to invite kids,” she remarks.
Anthony Bourdain and Ariane
Bourdain ended up publishing a book of columns by Hagerty under his publishing imprint Ecco in 2013. He also wrote the foreword for the book, which is called Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 100 Reviews.
“It was something very great that happened to me because I had the chance to meet Anthony Bourdain,” Hagerty explains.
In the book’s introduction, Bourdain praised Hagerty for her “flinty, dry, very sharp sense of humor,” adding that “she misses nothing” and he “would not want to play poker with her for money.”
“This is a straightforward account of what people have been eating — still ARE eating — in much of America. As related by a kind, good-hearted reporter looking to pass along as much useful information as she can — while hurting no one,” he continued, adding, “this book kills snark dead.”
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As part of the New York visit, Hagerty says Bourdain arranged for her to dine at Le Bernardin, which is owned by French chef Eric Ripert.
Ripert, a close friend of Bourdain, found the late chef and TV host unresponsive in his hotel room in France on Friday, CNN told PEOPLE. Both were filming an upcoming episode of Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown.
Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert
Describing their dinner together, Hagerty recalls “it was a wonderful evening.”
“I think we went there about 6 p.m. and we were there until after 11 p.m. We had six or seven different courses,” continues the food writer. “And we had a sommelier there to describe each wine. I was able to go back in the kitchen and talk to people. It was a mind-boggling experience to me.”
Hagerty adds that she extended an invitation to Bourdain “to come to North Dakota to have lutefisk and lefsa, our local Norwegian specialties.”
Of course, Hagerty says she “was very sad” to hear about Bourdain’s death.
“I was very sad. My contact with Anthony Bourdain was always so positive,” she says.
“He was more on the humorous side. He would talk and laugh about things. He wasn’t down and out or he didn’t seem to have set, staid opinions. He was a person who was very pleasant to talk to. I can’t imagine him taking his own life,” she adds.
Speaking with PEOPLE, French prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny previously said there was no evidence of violence in Bourdain’s death.
“Nothing suggested the involvement of a third person,” Rocquigny continued, adding that “an autopsy is the priority” as police in Colmar, France, continue investigating the chef and TV host’s death.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.