Thoughts on Anthony Bourdain

June 8th, 2018

Jetlag from a recent work trip to Singapore got me up by 5:30 AM. I reached out to my phone to check on my typical social media feeds, expecting to see some dog pictures and maybe some friend’s post on Facebook that I can make a dry sarcastic comment on. But before I unlocked my phone, notification from my news app said “Anthony Bourdain dead at 61.” My gut sanked.

Celebrity news typically don’t affect me that much, maybe I'd feel little sad, I'd replay my favorite Tom Petty playlist, or rewatch the original Star Wars movies. But this one really felt like a punch in the gut and I’m finding myself unable to get over it.

I remember finding out about No Reservations by random chance while flipping through channels in my first post-college apartment in Austin, and was instantly hooked by this travel show that contains a shocking amount of curse words for the time. The footages seems raw, unfiltered, no glitzed up panning shots of famous landmarks, or tourists auspiciously looking at a map and pointing out to some off screen scenery. But at the center of it was this guy who seemed way too bitter to be on TV, having a very frank conversation about food, culture, and how wrong our common perceptions typically are of other foreign cultures.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who have been inspired by Bourdain’s shows to travel and explore. Heck, I decided to go on a solo trip to Japan because of it. And I’m pretty sure we can trace the popularity and obsessions of self-professed foodies or hipsters of street foods (and this half-assed personal travel  blog) right back to his shows. While I grew up in Jakarta eating the same kind of street and pedestrian food often featured in his shows, I never really thought about it that much, and in a lot of ways have taken them for granted. But No Reservations made me realized how lucky I was to have a very diverse food selection growing up, and even become proud of the culture and country I grew up in.

While many of his shows features very fine cuisine, it’s the gritty and reflective episodes that are my favorites; especially when he enjoyed a few bits of durian--when even Andrew Zimmern couldn’t stomach it (even though he totally mistreated it by cutting the fruit in half instead of breaking it open).

I really liked how Bourdain often focuses on the regular common folk, the disenfranchised, the people that we typically wouldn’t look twice to, or the people that are often left behind. Or countries and places that we grew up seeing as an enemy or backward and too easily forgotten from our pages of history. And show us how, in many ways, they are much richer than us and how wrong we are to not challenge our own perceptions.

Often the food looks great, and often they are what we’ll look for when we want to visit a country that he has filmed a show in. But really, the show is always about the people sitting across the table from Bourdain.

I haven’t kept up with his show on CNN, but I do look forward when they get released on Netflix; I could easily binge three, four, or six episodes in a single sitting. I haven’t seen the last season that was released, and I really want to see them even more so now. But I’m not sure if I’m ready to realize that when I finish these episodes, there wouldn’t be any more episodes, new adventures, new places, sensually shot food close ups, witty remarks, funny one-liners, insightful conversations, and rawfully honest every-day scenes to look forward to. This sucks.

I can’t imagine how hard it is for the friends and family he left behind. But I do hope there is some consolation that there is a generation of travelers, explorers, and storytellers who were inspired by Anthony Bourdain to open their minds, to travel, and to try to get to know the people sitting across the table a little better.

Really do hope you found your peace Mr. Bourdain. And thank you.

-A guy who really likes your show.