Remembering Anthony Bourdain
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.” ~ Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018 (Photo via @AnthonyBourdain Instagram)
Today was a day of collective grief over the death of the inimitable Anthony Bourdain. Chef, writer, author, TV host, world traveller, culture seeker, punk rock enthusiast, friend & inspiration to many. From the first time I read “Kitchen Confidential” all those years ago, and watched the first of his four travel & culinary shows, I was a devoted fan. As a storyteller — for which he had his biggest impact on me personally — he created a path for uncovering the parallel between travel and authenticity, moving past the bland shiny tourism we had become accustomed to, instead injecting intellectualism and tangibility into his shared experiences. He revealed his strong character through remaining true to who he was in any situation (in his words “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have”), someone real, truly immersed in experience and enthralled in conversation – a keen listener, observer, learner. His extraordinary ability to move around the world with integrity, and connect with people from all walks of life was magnificent to watch. He was a conduit in which we could see new places, cultures and people (or perhaps feeling pride when he visited our hometown or favorite places) — he brought the world into our homes and had us longing for adventures of our own. He reminded us that travel is about how we live, all of us together, universally connected, even though thousands of miles, traditions, religions and customs are too often used as fodder to drive us apart, when they should be celebrated.
Though many of us did not know him personally, his death felt personal for many of us for whom he brought the world into our homes, and perhaps had THE job so many of us dream of, and to have the opportunity & privilege of being so open, vulnerable and humble in learning from people around the world. I admired his sense of freedom, his sense of anarchy, his grounded yet existential view of the world, and his capacity for the unknown. I also admired his consistency in speaking the truth about some topics that others shied away from, as a way to open up conversation and bring attention to people and situations that need it. We saw this repeatedly as he visited conflict areas, stood up against corruptions and racism, and most most recently sexism, as a vigorous advocate for the #MeToo movement in supporting his girlfriend — and Weinstein accuser — Asia Argento.
As writer Helen Rosner remembered of him, in her wonderful piece “Anthony Bourdain and the Power of Telling the Truth” for The New Yorker: “Remember when you asked me if I was a feminist, and I was afraid to say yes?” he said, in that growling, companionable voice. “Write this down: I’m a fuckin’ feminist.”
He endeared himself by speaking up for the marginalized, which so often included seeing the beauty in the humblest of jobs, from the dishwashers to the street merchants. On more than one occasion this included Mexican restaurant workers here in the USA who he loved and revered, and correctly felt they deserve far more respect — both the people and the culture- than they receive, as such a key part of our culture.
“Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people — as we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy — the restaurant business as we know it — in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs”. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position — or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.”
Additionally, I have watched many people struggle with depression & suicide over the years, and this week is a reminder you never know what someone is going through. Help is a phone call away, you are not alone: 1-800-273-TALK
Do yourself a favor and rewatch Parts Unknown Episodes, read his book Kitchen Confidential, read his other writing in the New Yorker+, listen to his various podcast/radio/tv interviews, or book that trip you always wanted to take. Life is short, life well, fully and with integrity & kindness.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”