I don’t believe I’ve ever read a book by Anthony Bourdain or watched a single episode of his many television shows. I was, of course, aware of him. He had a larger then life personality that transcended being a chef and world traveler. Reading about his unfortunate passing, I was more stuck on the suicide and the mental health issues, but my friend Grant Chastain knew more and wanted to say more. On Facebook, he wrote a long piece that I’m shamelessly copy and pasting here. He says all the things from a perspective of love and admiration. I couldn’t resist throwing it up on the blog.
Anthony Bourdain lived the life I always thought I wanted for myself.
To the casual outsider, he was a man that lived each day in search of something new. In his book “Kitchen Confidential,” he talked about how as a child, he would take each admonition of “no, don’t order that, you’re too young and you won’t like it” as a personal and direct challenge. FUCK YOU, he would figuratively say, as he ordered the liver pate. The sheep’s brains. The oysters and the blood sausages and the sushi and the Pho and the fugu. Each challenge he accepted brought him a dearer appreciation not only of the food of a culture… but also gave him a greater understanding of HIS PLACE within that culture. He lived a hungry life, with a voraciousness for new experiences and new travels. Those travels ended today in Paris, one of his favorite cities for culture and food.
I did not know Anthony Bourdain personally. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t idolize the parts he so graciously shared with us, or the places he traveled to find himself.
To the untrained eye, Bourdain moved from place to place only in the service of his many successful television programs. “No Reservations.” “Parts Unknown.” “The Layover.” Uniformly, these were shows that were routinely categorized by the networks airing them as “food shows,” but to me, they were so much more. They were unparalleled windows into worlds that I will likely never see… or at least will never see through the eyes of Bourdain, who had any number of helpers along the way to show him sights, sounds, colors and people with whom I will never have access. He didn’t simply move through their world. He took the time to learn about their worlds, their lives, their struggles. He illustrated to his viewers that despite our differences… there are unifying threads that we share with those in Riyadh. Paris. Argentina. Cuba. South Africa and the Sudan and Egypt. People beyond the politics of their leaders and regimes. Lives that, quite frankly, are lived in ways that aren’t vastly different from our own. Families going about their days and evenings. And yes… food was one of those unifying molecules making us all closer together. And not only did he share those desires and foods… he found himself changed by the people with whom he shared the dinner table. He changed our world by showing his travels to us. And his travels, in turn, changed Anthony Bourdain.
I’m struggling today with the thought that the loss of a man I will never meet could have such an immediate impact upon me. It’s made all the worse knowing he’s left behind a daughter not much younger than my own. She and I watched his shows together. Truly, they were one of the few we could both agree upon.
I’m not certain today if my adulation for Bourdain was well-placed, but I do know that I do not regret – for a single second – how thoroughly I enjoyed the art he made. And maybe that matters in some small way.
Do something new today. Eat a dish you’ve never had. Drink a particular vintage that is a tad more expensive than you normally pay. Ask someone to dinner that you normally do not eat with. Learn a bit about their lives. This is how we can honor his memory. Vow to live a rich life, put aside differences, and enjoy what it means to connect with someone new. Preferably someone with whom you have little physically or geographically in common.
Despite the fact that Bourdain could at times seem coarse and tired, even world-weary… he was still the person with whom I would have most liked to have shared a meal. Perhaps even a hot dog, which I will eat this weekend to celebrate a man who loved “meat in tube form” more than most.
The world’s a less adventurous place without Bourdain in it, but it’s brighter because of the legacy of what he set out to do. Try everything. Do anything. Let no fear prevent you from experiencing life. Meet people on their own terms, without prejudice or preconception. Let them show you how similar we all are. And enrich yourself through immersion in worlds unknown to you.
Raise a pint this weekend to my generation’s best. And pass the fugu.