Chef, author, television host, and all-around raconteur Anthony Bourdain died at the age of 61. Bourdain was a rare fixture in the food world and a singular beacon of what is best in humanity in troubled times.
Bourdain taught people that brunch was a scam and that writing is a noble act as well as a narcissistic one. He often joked about how you really only need one outfit when you travel.
But more than that, Bourdain taught people that one of the most reliably good parts of humanity is getting the chance to learn — and succumbing to it.
Unknown But Essential Parts
One of my favorite impressions and memories of Bourdain was sitting down with my mother, and watching his episode of “Parts Unknown” on Colombia. As a native Colombians, we smiled and cried as a foreigner stepped into our backyard and paid respect to a culture that is often misrepresented in the US.
In a time when so many people are willfully sharpening their distrust of anyone who doesn’t look or act exactly like them, Bourdain was a sign of hope. His ethos of reaching out and finding shared truths with anyone willing to do it feels particularly, painfully vital. Bourdain consistently gave the floor to people who lived, breathed, and cooked the culture in order to understand it better.
While past chefs had found literary success teaching Americans the septic do’s and don’t’s of home cooking, Bourdain tore down the fourth wall. Separating the restaurant floor from the kitchen changed how Americans approached food forever. (No, seriously. He brought back our love of pink meat.)
Let the Food Speak for Itself
His work was about food as an aspect of communities, something that could bring people together in spite of ideological and social differences. Something people could point to as a reason to be happy, even when everything else sucked.
It was not at all uncommon for Bourdain to try some of the foods his audience would find most jarring; in fact, it was core to the point of his series. By trying foods ranging from raw seal eyeball to bird embryos to maggots, Bourdain encouraged his viewers to sample everything that other cultures have to offer.
He ate, drank, and smoked things most Americans would never dream of trying. Sometimes he liked the foods, and sometimes, as was the case when he tried warthog anus, he didn’t. But that wasn’t the point. As with so many things, it was about the experience—not whether he’d go back for seconds.
Knowledge, insight, and whole-hearted enthusiasm for every experience defined his way of showing us things most will never personally experience.
Food is as good a reason as any to go on living. And I believe that by evangelizing about the joy that can come from food Bourdain helped some people out there in the world find their reason to carry on, even as he ultimately could not find that reason for himself.
He will be missed, but his work will live on and I will leave this moment with my favorite quote by him; “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”