Remembering Anthony Bourdain: “Food isn’t Everything”

Jun 8, 2019 | 360, Asia, ESCAPE, POP, TASTE, US

Anthony Bourdain ©Peabody Awards

A Man of the World and the Heart of Culture, the world-famous chef left an unforgettable mark that transformed food and travel forever.

A traveler, a chef, a writer, a connoisseur, a friend, a father— Anthony Bourdain was many things. Born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, Bourdain was a dreamer with a rebellious and determined outlook in life. As an adult, those same qualities rose to the surface in a man who told it like it is with wit, honesty and intellect balled up into a fresh serving of passion and reality. His contribution to the world can never be summed up into a finite amount of words. But it’s worth a try.

Anthony Bourdain was one of the world’s most opinionated and adventurous eaters. He never quite fit into a box. While most celebrity chefs pride themselves on their artistry, technique, sophistication and style, Bourdain went another way. He was liberal, blunt and aggressive with the English language if you know what I mean. He was an alcoholic and a smoker. Not once did he shy away from talking about his drug-fueled past— something that always caused him internal anguish. Though he was all these controversial attributes, he introduced a universe of food that the world did not know existed. 

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Work work work #DoradoBeach #PR

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He traveled the world, made friends in low and high places and no matter how high he climbed through the ranks, he never forgot his roots. His perception of beauty and taste is not restricted to any sort of standard. To Bourdain, munching on street food in a third-world country and dining in a five-star restaurant were equal experiences.

It’s not easy to tear down illusions, especially in the celebrity world. But Bourdain did it unapologetically. He showed people that it is not only taste that makes the food. It’s people. It’s culture. It’s an adventure. It’s love and commonality. He united the globe with a single premise: enjoy the ride of life and enjoy it together.

A Tragedy that Never Dies:

Unfortunately, the ride of his life may not have been the most thrilling affair. On June 8, 2018, Bourdain committed suicide during a visit to France for work. In a recent heartfelt interview, his brother goes into detail regarding Anthony’s life and his impact on people.

“People didn’t see him as a journalist. Some guy in the Congo who would never open up to a western journalist — he would open up to Tony. Tony showed the guy at a footstool in Manila the same respect as Thomas Keller in Los Angeles, and treated the woman cooking in an apartment in wherever just as equally.”

Barack Obama shared similar sentiments upon hearing of Bourdain’s death. He tweeted:

“He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.” 

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Bourdain was not just a traveler itching to try new things. He was your friend and brother. He was your lame dad and cool uncle. The persona he emitted was a certain kind of loving acceptance. And the reason he was able to portray this side of him so well was his style of reporting. He approached everything with heavy doses of honesty and dedication, which is a factor as to why he was so well-loved. He was there to say things that most people wouldn’t think to, and he did it in the most endearing way possible. He remembered every name, took every question to heart and was always early to every interview or meeting. To put it simply, his style is as clear as day— it’s truth and respect.

Bourdain’s Influence: A Timeless Contribution

Bourdain once scoffed when he was referred to as a ‘chef’. He believed he was a cook at best. How beautiful it is to witness that kind of humility in a man that has forever changed the world and the people in it. He never felt like he needed fame. He acted as if he just so happened to stumble into it. 

Bourdain’s influence in the culinary world is undeniable. Not only did he introduce thousands of new ingredients, he also found new ways of experiencing food and how it brings people together. He outlined the food tourism industry and gave it a new spin. Wander around busy night markets. Try that controversial dish you’ve always been scared of. Talk to the locals and get their life story. Translate that into the food. No one had ever done these things before Bourdain came along. He instilled a sense of obligation, a fun one. One that stops you from getting trapped in your own head.

NYC - Les Halles - Anthony Bourdain Memorial ©Wally Gobetz

NYC – Les Halles – Anthony Bourdain Memorial ©Wally Gobetz

By nature, Bourdain was an explorer. It was never enough to wine and dine in classy restaurants— that wasn’t the full scale of what food had to offer. It was imperative for him to travel the world and immerse himself in different kinds of food and cultures even if it meant getting in complicated and dangerous situations. He revolutionized the street food industry, teaching the world that a nation’s essence is in the heart of its street food. Many times, Bourdain had proclaimed that he would much rather sit on a dirty sidewalk eating street food and converse with locals than dine in a posh establishment. 

One of his best contributions to the food and travel industry is that he always gave credit where credit was due. This was not always a priority to many traveling video bloggers back in the day but to Bourdain, it was everything. Once he started, everyone followed and rightfully so. The chefs in these videos deserve exposure for their creations. This practice is still going on today in many cooking and traveling documentaries.

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Bourdain’s Love for Asia: Harmony as the Main Ingredient

He traveled the world, witnessed many beautiful sights, experienced new and crazy things, but nothing ever felt like home as well as Asia did. In the world of travel, Asia is almost always fetishized and placed on a pedestal. To tourists, a part of Asia’s appeal was its rural and simple ways. You go to Asia to get a better understanding of gratitude, they say. Bourdain did not buy into this normalized mentality. Even to him, they were equals. Not better or worse in any way— just different. And Bourdain never failed to declare his love for the culturally rich continent in any opportunity he was given.

From dining in Hanoi with Obama to downing rice whiskey in Chiang Mai, Bourdain has a sweet love for Asian cuisine and culture. Speaking of sweet, Bourdain visited the Philippines and tried its classic sweet spaghetti while engaging in witty and humorous conversations with the locals. Jasmine Ting, a freelance writer, was witness to his visit and reported:

“He didn’t treat them like foreigners, he treated them as equals—or even as teachers and guides to take him through the cuisine and culture of the country. I think Bourdain’s relationships with POC [people of color] chefs and locals were genuine. People in the Philippines and Filipino chefs fondly refer to him as ‘Tito Tony’ (translates to Uncle Tony). And when the cameras were off, he made real connections that lasted.”

In Singapore, Bourdain is nothing short of a hero. You walk inside a random restaurant and chances are, they’ve got a framed picture of him up on the wall. To the locals, receiving credit and getting to be featured along with him is more priceless than any Michelin star achievement out there. Asia’s appreciation for Bourdain is immense. And it is never ceasing.

Anthony Bourdain: A Catalyst for Love in All Things

Anthony Bourdain was a light. He was the voice of tenderness in a silent room full of darkness. He taught the world that it was never about how delicious a dish was or how fun it was to travel from country to country— it was always about love and honor. It’s not the taste of the street food; it’s the conversation with the people serving you the street food. It’s the unified understanding that we are all one, no matter where you come from or what you do or what you’ve been through.

“There is no final resting place of the mind.” Anthony Bourdain

If you are struggling with depression and any other mental health issues, please do not hesitate to get help. If you reside in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To get in touch with crisis centers around the world, visit Befrienders Worldwide or the International Association for Suicide Prevention.