Anthony Bourdain Mattered
“Why cook?” Bourdain asked; and then: “Why cook well?”
Anthony Bourdain was a chef first. He’d worked in kitchens since he was a teen and felt that many people who lead “chaotic and disorganized lives” find homes in kitchens. Bourdain thought that cooking is fundamental to who we are both personally and in the greater world. How and what we cook speaks about our character. Anthony Bourdain talked for years about cooking, wrote books about cooking, and hosted a travel show about cooking. He had a deep passion for cooking and felt that food was one of our more worthwhile experiences as humans.
We cook because it’s necessary, but we cook well because food brings us together. “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together,” said Bourdain. Meals are a bonding experience. Society is held together by food. It’s been so for eons and even with our all progression and technology, that’s still true. Eating someone else’s food is akin to walking in their shoes.
“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”
Bone in the Throat was Bourdain’s first book, a work of fiction about the mafia in the kitchen, in 1995. But the book that launched his name onto the bestsellers list was Kitchen Confidential, written in 2000.
“I wanted to write in Kitchenese, the secret language of cooks, instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever dunked french fries for a summer job or suffered under the despotic rule of a tyrannical chef or boobish owner.”
– Kitchen Confidential
In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain revealed the dark corners of restaurants the rest of us weren’t meant to see. At a deeper look, though, the book is about a man in his 40s who finds an unexpected passion, even after he feels his mistakes have defined him.
He wrote a number of others, all focused on food, but it was through food that he saw something deeper. He saw truth and told us so. Bourdain wrote with a slangy voice, full of character and searching; he wrote because he had something to say.
Why write well?
Once called “the Hunter S. Thompson of the kitchen,” Bourdain was fearlessness. Like Thompson (a counter culture icon known for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Bourdain had an unpredictable, uncontainable spirit. He and Hunter S. Thompson were alike in their rarity.
Through his words, Bourdain strove to bring depth and honesty to the world. He wasn’t afraid of sharing his thoughts, even if they were opinionated or bias. What came through in his opinions, however, was that his bias was always in favor of people and culture.
With his writing, Bourdain communicated his insights with that same restless sophistication that pulls us all into his documentaries. He encouraged us to seek out different flavors in new places and to be perpetually open to spontaneity. He proved that passion is everything.
Anthony Bourdain’s television show ran for 248 episodes, first on Food Network, then on the Travel Channel, and finally on CNN. Bourdain’s original pitch for the show was: “I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit, and basically do whatever the fuck I want.”
Because of the intimate angle he took on his show, Bourdain brought experiences to us. He interjected his personality into his work and refused to live by a script. He felt, that in travel, the accidents and incidents of happen-upon were the best part. He also understood that none of us will ever understand anything unless we step out of our comfortable home and go see what there is to see.
Why travel well?
Anthony Bourdain valued cultural differences. He believed that a city’s greatest strength is in how large of a percentage of the population isn’t exclusively from said city. That’s good for creativity, he said, and especially for the food.
“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. Often, though, they hurt.”
In a time when travel has become streamlined, Bourdain was true to the cultures he visited by showing us that it’s just as important to experience exotic places as it is to see them. Fans were affected by Bourdain because he was a character of authenticity. He brought his own persona to the show and, through it, showed us he was compassionate and infinitely interesting. He unapologetically narrated his view of the world and, more than that, he actively tried to broaden and integrate that view.
When we view the world through food, something we all share, we learn a lot about each other. We come closer and let our guard down. Bourdain showed us the inner lives of people we don’t know and will never be. He wanted us to see that the world isn’t a lonely place.
The reason we travel is the same reason we cook and the same reason we write: to define ourselves and our place in the world.
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I still have to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is not final resting place; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
Article by Nicole Van Den Eng
Nicole Van Den Eng is a writer who’s fiction leans hard toward the strange. She worked at a used bookstore for nearly a decade, hosts ConquerBooks.com with her sister, Rebecca, and writes articles for a local magazine.
Learn more about her here.