It is hard to remember exactly when and I was when Anthony Bourdain first came to my consciousness. Perhaps it was coming across “Kitchen Confidential” on Amazon’s “50 Books to Read in a Lifetime” list, or coming across a clip from one of his shows in some far-flung hotel room. After delving into his work, however, I was thoroughly absorbed. Few people – if any – have articulated the appeal of food, the desire to explore, or the need for candour quite like him.
Anthony has changed so much for me. I will never walk into a restaurant again without pondering the crazy – and very real – lives of the people preparing my food behind the kitchen doors (or, for that matter, the dubious freshness of the produce). Every time I get to that proverbial fork in the road, asking myself, ‘Should I try this food? Should I go on this adventure?’, I call to mind the scene from ‘Kitchen Confidential’ where a young Anthony Bourdain summering in France has a revelation on a fishing boat and swallows a slimy oyster. Although I am a vegetarian, the metaphor has stuck with me.
This Anthony Bourdain-inspired openness to experience has taken me far afield. I’ve visited Bun Cha Huong Lien. I booked tickets to Amritsar after seeing a clip of Bourdain discussing Punjabi cuisine with Anderson Cooper. More importantly than any single experience, however, is the way that he changed my worldview. I have come to further appreciate that everyone has a story and each person’s story is worth being told. I have come to appreciate that food is a medium through which we can become intimate with all types of people, many of whom with which we ostensibly share little in common.
I am naturally hesitant to add to the litany of platitudes being offered about what a true loss this is. As Anderson Cooper rightly pointed out, this is the last thing Anthony Bourdain – a true rebel averse to flowery drivel – would have wanted. Nonetheless, this world has lost one of its great storytellers. We will all need to do our part to fill the void. There are many places left to explore, many good foods to try, and many more stories needing to be told. Life is far too short, and the serious mental health crisis we are facing is making it all the more precarious. If Anthony Bourdain has taught me one thing, it is to make our finite time on this planet count.
I don’t remember you by your quotes. I remember you by your character. You were never afraid to make the first step on a thousand-mile journey. You went to places both known and unknown yet you always managed to present them in a completely different and new light. You made quaint places look adventurous, and dangerous places look approachable.
There was something about the way you told the story of people in each of the places you visited that stuck with me. You never judged, and yet, you never were just an observer either. In the places you went, people accepted you as one of their own, or was that part of, as you would say, being a “good guest?” Either way, for a brief part, you made all of us jealous for seamlessly integrating into different cultures and picking up their nuances.
It is interesting, wouldn’t you agree, that we have advanced so much, we have all this technology at our fingertips that enables us to read about all the places on this planet, yet, what drew us to you, could not be delivered by any technology. It was connection with local people and cultures, being immersed, albeit just for a week at a time. Through local food and inquisitiveness, you have taught me important travel and life principles: how to bond and become part of the culture. You taught me people have stories and they yearn for their stories to be heard. They want to share their culture with you. More importantly, you taught me that experience of travel is making you a better person.
So, Anthony. Tony. This article is not to tell you how great you were. I don’t think you would want that either way. It is to tell you, you made influence on my life and you changed the way I perceive travel. Because of you, I do one thing in each of the travels that scares me. Because of you, my friend Tom and I have a thing where we go for breakfasts in other countries just for the sake of it. Because of you, I book flights on a whim because staying in one place for too long makes me anxious. But there is still one thing missing from my travels, and that is to help people who need help. I remember your No Reservation Liberia episode when you helped son who was living in Liberia, bring bottle with encased photo of his parents, to his parents in US. You may be called “bad boy” but you always saw good in people and you always offered a helping hand.
I don’t remember you by your quotes, but there is one quote of yours that stuck with me: “As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body, or on your heart – are beautiful.” I guess the purpose of life and travel is just that, Tony. To leave marks on someone’s life and to get marks in return.
Safe travels, Tony.