Anthony Bourdain remembered: Mysterious ‘Mr Wolf’ speaks out
The 'fixer' recounts the successful extraction of Bourdain and his crew from war-torn Beirut in 2006 battle with Israel
I can’t tell you his real name, where he lives, what he does, or who he works for. All I can tell you is that, if you are in trouble, caught in the middle of a foreign war, with death and uncertainty around you and no way out, Mr Wolf is the man to call on. Anytime. Anywhere.
He’s the man with special skills, the “fixer” who will take you to a safe house and out of harm’s way, and then … slink back into the shadows, his persona a total secret.
Only today, the mysterious “Mr Wolf” wishes to emerge, and speak out, strongly. The man he rescued from Beirut in 2006 following deadly attacks by Israel – celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain – took his life on June 8 in Strasbourg, France, following an apparent life-long struggle with depression.
The death of the much-loved and admired host of the highly successful “No Reservations: Parts Unknown” television series, shocked viewers, friends and family alike. Leaving many asking why, and searching for answers, including the enigmatic Mr Wolf.
Reached at an undisclosed location and in a secure environment, he felt moved enough to speak out, in tribute to a man he knew and greatly respected – if only for a short time.
For his part, Mr Wolf plays down his role in the rescue, saying he only took on the job because some people were in trouble and he was attracted to the challenge. It’s the US Marines who should get the credit, he says, he just did the best he could.
He recalls the initial contact with military precision – a day that would also change his life.
“During one evening I was called from abroad and asked if I could put a team together to extract a VIP and his team located in an unsecured area in West Beirut and move them to a safe house, monitor and support them until they could be safely evacuated,” said Mr. Wolf.
The situation was dire. The war between Israel and the Hezbollah began when the runways at Beirut airport were bombed, along with the fuel storage facility. It effectively shut down any possibility to leave the country by air. Worsening the situation, Israeli ships moved along the coast of Lebanon to create a water blockade.
As stunned residents looked on, Israeli jets fired missiles into the Hezbollah area of Beirut on a clear evening, accompanied by missiles coming from the Israeli ship from just over the horizon. The situation was deteriorating.
“I quickly put a plan together and determined the safest location for the current situation and agreed to do the task,” said Mr Wolf. Later, he was sent a list. Only then did he realize it was famed chef Anthony Bourdain and his production crew.
Mr Wolf continues: “At about 0300 I headed with a couple of vehicles to pick up the Discovery Network Team at their location where they had been left on their own by their in-country guide.”
Bourdain and the crew were loaded into vehicles with all their equipment and driven across the city to a location on the north side, very near the US Embassy, and relative safety.
“I had no fears [at the time],” he recounts, “with the exception of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I planned a route which would avoid any possible road blocks and would quickly get us to a safer area. The city was in shock of what was going on so there was no one in the streets, allowing us to very quickly get to our planned location.”
With one team secured, Mr Wolf then set about rescuing other VIPs in the besieged Bekaa Valley. Arriving back at the safe house, late at night, he was told: “Tony wanted to see me.
“We went to his suite where he had saved some of the meal he prepared for the show for me. I was amazed at the passion and professionalism he showed towards the preparation and presentation of the plate.
“I have to admit, it was one of the most flavorful meals I have ever tasted. He [also] mentioned that he liked the challenge of using lesser cuts of meat, things that other chefs might discard.
“Prepared properly,” he said, “these cuts can have much better flavor.
“I think he realized the kindness and closeness of family life in the Middle East. And of course, he loved the food in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon where people are passionate about food.”
Mr Wolf remembers one comic memory from the lengthy 10 or 11 day stay at the safe house. He and Bourdain chatted one evening “and he was talking about his first book. He told me it was the first-ever cooking related book to have the f-word in it. He thought it was funny, and I assume he must have had to fight the editors to keep the language in. But he fought for things he believed in.”
The extraction went as planned, mostly.
Mr Wolf had been advised by the US Embassy as to when and where to have the team for evacuation on a vessel to take them to Cyprus. But when they arrived at the evacuation point, it was sheer chaos.
“It was a disaster, there was no control or organization so I did what I had to, to get them into the checkpoint. This included climbing under trucks and buses and then contacting a senior official to get a car to get them past the crowd which was turning into a small riot,” said Mr Wolf.
The episode, which ended happily aside from leaving some equipment behind, was eventually nominated for an Emmy award. And Bourdain, deeply grateful, flew his entire crew to Lebanon years later to personally thank “Mr Wolf.”
” It was very nice to see them again,” said Mr Wolf, “and I saw a very different side to Anthony. He was calm and relaxed and was extremely friendly. At this time he thanked me for getting him and his crew safely out of Beirut and presented me with his new book, which he had signed for me.
“He also told me that as they arrived in Cyprus, the network had a private jet waiting to fly them back to the US. He also said that that was the night that he and his wife conceived their daughter. He went on about his daughter and it was obvious how much he loved her.
“Clearly, Ariane’s birth was a huge highlight of his life … she meant the world to him. When he spoke about her – and we’re talking about a man who does not get excited about too much – he lit up like a light-bulb, a big smile, happy to talk.”
Did Beirut change and transform Bourdain, as some recent articles have suggested?
“I did not know him or know much about him before Beirut,” said Mr Wolf. “[But] I do know he was very much affected by seeing how fast a war can hit and instantly affect people’s lives.
“He knew he was one of the lucky ones who was safe and was getting out. Seeing what others in the world have to deal with on a daily basis, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Things that we do not even consider or think of in the Western world. How such a wonderful place as Lebanon can turn so quickly.
“[And] time goes very slowly when you are in a tense situation, without any idea if or when you will be getting out.”
Clearly touched by his brush with the charismatic Bourdain, Mr Wolf, a man not known for emotion, a man who lives in the black world, the man with no name … was, like all of us, left searching.
“I can’t rationalize it, and I have no idea what triggered the events that led to Tony’s end, but … I am sad and disappointed that he was not able to reach down and get the strength he needed.
“When I spent time with him I was impressed that he seemed to have a great personal presence and inner strength, even under extreme stress situations … he never panicked or gave up.
“It’s just extremely sad to have lost someone who was as passionate as Anthony about doing what he believed in.”