Anthony Bourdain Showed Us a Better World
The chef, author, television host and progressive activist is gone but not forgotten.
The globe—from the markets of Manila to the jungles of the Congo to the coffee-stained streets of New York City—is trembling today with the loss of Anthony Bourdain, a man who truly was, in the words of Captain Louis Renault, “a citizen of the world.”
What a life he lived.
Albert Camus, the French philosopher, once wrote, “Every great work makes the human face more admirable and richer, and that is its whole secret.” Bourdain’s was a face etched with experience. It was the face of a man who never said no; a man who never shied away from a challenge; a man who grabbed life by the teat and milked it for every last drop.
He was an inspiration to many. For those who struggled with addiction like himself, he showed that you could burst forth from that suffocating cocoon and lead a life of wonderment and adventure, traveling across the world, indulging in its myriad pleasures. For those who felt walled off from the rest, he presented a glorious escape.
“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds?” he wrote in his groundbreaking book Kitchen Confidential. “Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”
Bourdain’s message—delivered primarily via his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, where he fashioned the template for travel-television—was about forging bonds and overcoming divides, mostly through meal and conversation. It’s a message that feels ever more resonant in the age of Trump, where talk of walls and “others” pollute the airwaves. Unlike our Fearful Leader, Bourdain was always open and inviting. Whether it be Barack Obama, Trump-worshipping families in West Virginia or a rickshaw driver in Southeast Asia, Bourdain could break bread with them and form a meaningful connection.
He saw the humanity in everyone he crossed paths with and fought like hell for the marginalized and oppressed, recently emerging as one of the most vocal male allies of the #MeToo movement. His was a keen sense of justice. One of his personal favorite quotes concerned the war criminal Henry Kissinger, writing in his 2001 book A Cook’s Tour: “Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia—the fruits of his genius for statesmanship—and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.”
When Bourdain traveled the world, we knew we were sending our very best. “I may be a miserable cranky bastard, but I am also a sentimental fool,” he said of himself. A lovable, sentimental fool at that—one eager to offer a friendly ear, no matter the time or place.
Upon hearing the news of his death, reportedly by suicide, my thoughts first went to his daughter and then to his good friend, chef Eric Ripert, who is said to have discovered the body. As enjoyable as his waxing rhapsodic about the Waffle House or journeying into the heart of the Congo was, there was nothing us No Reservations/Parts Unknown die-hards cherished more than the loving friendship of Bourdain and Ripert. That time Bourdain took his pal to the Sichuan province of China, torturing him with dish after scorching-hot dish (including rabbit head!); their ski-race down the Alps; the $1,000 bet over who could milk a cow; struggling to operate a pizza truck together in Marseille; their ridiculous feast at l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris. Theirs was a TV bromance for the ages.
“Anthony was a dear friend,” Ripert said in a statement. “He was an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many. I wish him peace. My love and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones.”
Most of all though, Bourdain taught us to get out there and explore the world; to not be complacent, but delight in all the marvels it has to offer.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river,” he wrote.
“The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).