anthony bourdain marilyn hagerty

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The elderly Olive Garden reviewer who went viral remembers how Anthony Bourdain championed her

Bourdain supported her work when other critics scoffed at her.


Tess Cagle


Posted on Jun 9, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 1:55 pm CDT

As the world mourns the death of food critic and world traveler Anthony Bourdain, one fellow journalist remembers him as the man who supported her writing when the internet wanted to make a mockery out of her.

Marilyn Hagerty, a 94-year-old food critic hailing from Grand Forks, North Dakota, wrote a viral review in 2012 about Olive Garden. In her review, she sang praises for the chain restaurant, which had just opened up a franchise in her hometown, calling it the “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.”

Hagerty had a clearly outstanding experience at Olive Garden and spoke warmly of the restaurant. Of course, food snobs everywhere who read the review online thought it was hilarious. But while most critics were cracking snarky jokes and belittling Hagerty’s review, Bourdain found resonance and relatability in it. He recognized that she was a beacon for the Midwest masses and her reviews were representative of true culture found in the U.S.

“Anthony Bourdain spoke up for me at a time when people all over the country were making great fun of the column I write,” Hagerty told BuzzFeed News. “To have a man of his stature rise up and befriend me, it meant a lot to me.”

In 2012, Bourdain tweeted about her review and stood up for it.

“Marilyn Hagerty’s years of reviews to be a history of dining in the America too few of us from the coasts have seen,” he tweeted. “We need to see.”

Eventually, she and Bourdain met for coffee in New York, and he helped her land a book deal, offering to edit it and write the foreword. 

“She is never mean—even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark,” he wrote in the book, which is a collection of her restaurant reviews. “In fact, watching Marilyn struggle to find something nice to say about a place she clearly loathes is part of the fun. She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first—and entertainer second.”

Bourdain approached Hagerty’s writing the same way he approached cultures from all over the world—with thoughtful and tender interest, and with an open mind. His simple act of an East Coast critic embracing Midwest culture with open arms is a sentiment everyone in the U.S. should practice when approaching different sectors of the country.

Hagerty, who said she was sad to hear the shocking news of his death, told BuzzFeed she would always remember Bourdain fondly.

“You know, sometimes you go through life and .. you think about all the wonderful things that happened to you,” she said. “And one of the wonderful things that happened to me was when Anthony Bourdain spoke up for me and wanted to publish my columns in a book.”

The Grand Forks Herald—the paper Hagerty writes for—wrote Bourdain an obituary on Friday, focusing on his relationship with her.

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Editor’s note: This article has been revised to remove similarities and one line inadvertently taken from BuzzFeed’s original report. We regret the error.

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*First Published: Jun 9, 2018, 12:20 pm CDT