Food, Travel, Culture

On Bourdain

I imagine Anthony Bourdain still thought of himself as a chef, first and foremost. Though he’d been out of the New York bar and restaurant scene for years, when he’d speak of his years in the kitchens he worked in or ran, you could feel how much he missed it (and also didn’t).

I don’t know if Tony ever really thought of himself as a writer, but that was his true talent. The world got to know Bourdain through his books and travel shows, through his adorable friendship with Eric Ripert. Destroying the image of a stoic, serious French chef, Ripert’s silliness and laughter was the perfect balance to Bourdain’s cantankerous, ever-curmudgeonly cynicism. Their love and admiration for one another was pure, accepting and enduring – the test of true best friendship.

When he fell in love and got married – despite his hard-boiled personality – it was reaffirming. When the couple welcomed a daughter, his joy bubbled.

When he divorced, his failure felt particularly heavy.

When he cursed like the saltiest of sailors, you felt the emotion in your belly, too.

I aspire to spit profanity like he did.

I admired Bourdain’s authenticity. A former addict – de rigueur in the restaurant world – Bourdain knew what it was like to live inauthentically, to be governed by secrets that enable addiction. Somehow, he found the courage and steel to regain control over its power. I suspect part of that journey is coming to terms with being human and flawed, and discovering that it’s okay to be so.

My favorite TV moments were those episodes when he’d travel to some far-off location and discover something about the people, land or cuisine that he hadn’t known. I appreciated that he was humbled by the impoverished and resilient people of the world.

So what you saw of Anthony on the small screen was who he was. When he was in pain, frustrated, confused, afraid, elated, in awe – when he had his mind blown – he shared it with the world. He was so beautifully authentic and real, and I wonder if it wasn’t this surreal world in which we now live that was his ultimate undoing.

I suppose speculation is a natural byproduct of suicide.

In the realm of food and travel writers, Bourdain was the best – truly unchallenged in his reign. Any hack – and there are plenty of them – can string together adjectives and use cliché phrases in an attempt to convey a flavor, a sensation, a setting, a sight.

Bourdain effortlessly connected all the dots between food, culture, geography, history and humanity.

He introduced us to the people of the planet, whom we’d never otherwise know or begin to understand. It was his special talent. He leaves us with a void, but I’m just being selfish.

Stardust now. New things to discover, perhaps. I’d like to think so. — Gretchen A. Peck

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