Reflections on Anthony Bourdain

Photo credit (above): CN Traveler

Anthony Bourdain, host of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, died today. He was someone I admired, someone I enjoyed learning from, and someone I felt I knew through his remarkable storytelling ability and vulnerability.

Of course, I didn’t know him – not really. I never met him, and my only exposure to him was through my television screen, my laptop, and through the pages of his books. I didn’t know that he was suffering at this stage in his life, and I was shocked to my core when I learned he had taken his own life. That’s the thing about depression and mental illness – rarely do we know about the battles that others are fighting.

As someone who loves to write about and photograph the world, I seek out others with similar interests. Anthony Bourdain was someone for me to look up to, and he has motivated me to become a better photographer, videographer, and storyteller. He spoke eloquently about places I loved visiting, and he opened up a whole world of people, places, and food that I can only hope to experience before my time runs out.

When he spoke, I felt like he was speaking directly to me. He articulated his feelings about Southeast Asia in a way far better than anything I’ve come up with when talking about my favourite part of the world:

He was also interested in telling stories about real people making real food. He was as interested in street food as he was in five star restaurants, and afforded the same respect to the chefs who managed either kind of establishment. If you were making real food, he respected you. Thanks in no small part to his influence, I’m more adventurous with my food choices on the road these days, and I often find myself hunting for a good food stand or stall, managed by a food-loving entrepreneur who likely doesn’t speak my language. Yet, language barriers aside, food is the great connector, the common ground we all share.

Ningxia Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan
From my first trip to the Ningxia Night Market, Taipei

And good lord, the food porn. I’ve gained 9 pounds just watching his show (honestly, that’s why my jeans are a bit tight), and I’ve tried many of the dishes he’s highlighted on Parts Unknown – I can thank Tony for introducing me to the face melting goodness of ma po tofu, a dish hot enough to scorch the larynx of a phoenix. And next month in Asia I’ll be hunting down a few of the restaurants he’s talked about. I won’t try it all, though; I absolutely refuse to eat cold blood soup, because that’s just wrong. Tony might have known a thing or two about food, but cold blood soup strikes me as being goddamn disgusting. If you’re a blood soup fan, more power to you, and you can rest easy knowing I won’t be depleting the world’s supplies; less for me means more for you and I’m perfectly fine with that. The fact he exposed me to it is something I appreciate, though, and next time I’m in Northern Thailand I can look at it in wonderment and then order something else.

He often chose to tell his stories through the eyes of local musicians, students, writers, and artists. He was an advocate for the little guy, but could also share a beer with world leaders and look perfectly comfortable.

Photo Credit: CNN, Parts Unknown

There was a cool factor to Bourdain, an easy-going quality that made me believe he could sit down with just about anyone, anywhere. He was kind, but I also got the impression he was not to be screwed with. He had a fun quality to him which often came out in any projects or shows involving his friend – and fellow chef – Eric Ripert. Some of my favourite episodes involved Eric and the relationship they shared.

Eric said of Bourdain, “He was an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many.”

Tony was flawed, as we all are, but he wasn’t afraid to share his flaws. All in all, he struck me as being very human; unlike other travel or cooking show hosts, he let us in to see him, and that’s a powerful thing. Just as powerful was his goal to let us see others, not just the food or the sights, but the people who lived and worked in the places he visited.

Thank you, Tony, for your inspiration, your lack of pretention, and your passion. Thank you for sharing yourself and opening up the world for so many. And thank you for ma po tofu, because before being exposed to it I needed to sit in a steam room for an hour to get up that much of a sweat; my sinuses have never been so clear.

You will be remembered.

I’ll give Anthony Bourdain the last word:

“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…Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”

Share below your memories or thoughts on Tony – cheers!




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