By now most of you have heard about the untimely death of the one and only Anthony Bourdain. For many of us in the travel community he was the ultimate traveler. For some I am sure he was just another self absorbed TV chef. Those who believe that, in my eyes couldn’t be farther from the truth. Bourdain’s days as a chef (outside of occasional gigs he chose) have long been over. He was a traveler who journeyed the world and took us into places we didn’t think of going, having discussions that even the best so called journalists couldn’t have, and showing us sides of places that we would not have seen otherwise on television.
Add to that, is that he used food many times as the ice breaker to delve further into the cultural mindset of so many places around the world. His actions humanized people that for many were just the other people in a place that many visited as tourists. They came home with no real immersion into the spaces they visited. Bourdain, in his television shows like “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, and recently his hit show “Parts Unknown” on CNN, made sure that we knew something about the places he visited that probably were not in our tour guides.
Setting Himself Apart
While celebrity chefs were spiking their bleach blonde hair or yelling “bam” when they introduced a new flavor, Bourdain was eating a local meal in a non-descript place in Vietnam with President Obama. He was chasing the shadow of drug addict writer William Seward Burroughs through his dark life in Tangier, Morocco, navigating a tense political situation in Israel while eating with both sides of the conflict, letting you know how important black Americans contribution is to Mississippi Delta culture and food, showing us that tribes in Tanzania are just regular people, highlighting without marginalizing.
In his Okinawa episode of Parts Unknown he tackles the task of the bloody history of the Okinawa people torn between China, Japan, and the US, while navigating delicious offerings from their local cuisine and introducing us to people we would love to eat and drink with. I can go on and on. Having lived in Japan and Thailand and been to Singapore and Vietnam, and Cambodia and Korea and Mexico, and Spain and Morocco and Montreal for example, I can go watch any tourist You Tube video of these places. When Bourdain ventured to these places I was left with a sight of the place that made me yearn to go deeper. To experience things in a different way then the guide books or the famous landmarks or things I had planned. There are areas that you just gotta show up to and see what happens.
I felt as if he were talking directly to me and only me at times. With my feelings coming out of his mouth. How does he know me? We have never met. He talks with a vulgar slip at times because sometimes that is the word needed to get to the “real” in a situation. Not every place deserves or should have an upscale well heeled restaurant. A guy with means like “Tony” who champions his immigrant staff, is never too good to get his hands dirty, eats what grandma cooks or what the locals catch and cut, weather at sea or on land, is more than a celeb chef.
An Unpretentious Celebrity
Not a celebrity chef? No. That is too pretentious for Tony Bourdain. He was a celebrity non celebrity. He was the Catcher in the Rye. Like J.D Salinger’s protagonist in that book who hated phonies, Bourdain was the the quintessential celebrity “non-celebrity”. Being snooty, fakeness, elitism that looks down on the proletariat….these are the things that Anthony makes clear he wants no part of across all of his shows; the two aforementioned shows as well as “The Layover“, a Travel Channel fave of mine, and even his beginning show “A Cook’s Tour“. Here he was younger and living the new experience of travel before our eyes and through returning to some of the same places and developing existing relationships abroad, we can see his growth.
For me? His politics were closer to mine than most. I didn’t always take his view but I understood his view when he let it be known. I respected how he shared his life and his struggles with his vices and his maturity over issues that affect us all. He was my fantasy celeb. The one person I would want to meet and hang out with and tell tales and imbibe with. And hang on to his experiences as a real man. A down to earth city boy like myself.
A friend of mine reminded me that you are not supposed to meet people you admire or as some see as their heroes. You will be disappointed more times than not. I believe this is because they have to put on or take off the veil, the facade, the act. The more I hear from those that knew him, he didn’t have a fake bone in him. He did have a darkness. And he struggled with the demons. But this he let us know in all facets of his celebrity, from interviews, to articles, to his show commentary.
Maybe I loved watching him because he wasn’t a celebrity chef. Maybe it was because he tried his best to be just a guy lucky enough to live a great life and be rewarded for it. Ultimately, we may never know if it was all to much, but in the mean time I thank you Mr. Bourdain. I was entertained, excited, intrigued and sometimes enlightened. You were by far the coolest celebrity traveler ever. The shoes are way to big to fill.
Thanks for stopping by to hear my musings. If interested more in Anthony Bourdain, here is the book that started it all, Kitchen Confidential.
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