Lately the world has become quite bleak. The daily barrage of ugly includes war, political corruption, blatant ignorance on every perceivable level and frequent, well-earned natural disasters. I watch old episodes of No Reservations to remind myself that beauty still exists and what is offered on this planet, as expertly navigated and explained through the eyes and mouth of an American author/chef/wise-ass with impeccable taste carved from a bounty of personal experience, good and bad. Never has there been a more talented writer who despite his best effort not to be was a true poet, culinary icon and permanent subconscious mentor to all with an open mind and empty stomach.
Bourdain’s words tangle in the best possible ways. Descriptive imagery perfectly capturing the setting while offering a sarcastic viewpoint so honest and relatable it inspired millions to explore and expand their horizons. His spectrum of influence spanned from people finally leaving their zip codes/state/country for the first time ever to simply cooking the style or dish featured on last night’s episode of No Reservations or Parts Unknown. Anthony Bourdain is not a role model by any stretch of the imagination and would be the first to tell you so. He was perfectly flawed with vices, anxieties, and ambitions. The legacy of Tony’s existence echoes through the catalogue of his thoughts and perspectives, eloquently captured on film and paper over the last two decades before his untimely passing in the summer of 2018. I think people completely miss the impact of his life because of the circumstances surrounding his death. With that in mind I completely dedicated the past few weeks to preparing meals he would find appropriate, making satirical comments throughout while listening to The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Ramones.
Anthony already knew exactly who he was when fame struck during his mid-forties. An accomplished chef and struggling author who had a breakthrough epiphany that maybe his so-called-life was interesting enough to document, dropped 2000’s Kitchen Confidential at age forty-four. The no-holds-barred memoir documented a pursuit of perfection in cuisine and personal destruction outside of it. The book quickly became a New York Times best seller and a rockstar was not born, but finally recognized. The tour ultimately led to television where he hosted A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown, traveling and shooting 250 days out of the year for two decades. Due to his liberal use of profanity and sexual references during No Reservations, the network added viewer-discretion advisories to each episode. Bourdain once described the concept as, “I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit, and basically do whatever the fuck I want.”
The ease total strangers from every country on earth seemed to feel within minutes of meeting him was perhaps his greatest attribute. A non-judgmental sponge of humanity eternally grateful for the hospitality and clearly knowledgeable of any culture he visited. The millions of miles he flew and hours of footage that resulted insured an immortal presence through constant reruns that are hard not to catch a few minutes of, instantly distracting by whatever exotic land or incredible food he was experiencing.
Cooking with him in mind these last days somehow made me miss him even more than I already do. A print of him hangs comfortably off-center over our small kitchen and is one of my most prized possessions given to me by the only person I want to cook for. Anthony lives on through every dish I create, simple or complex. His spirit is ever present. People should not focus on the questions of why he died. They should instead recognize and appreciate he was one of the few who really lived. Born in Manhattan, died in France. Lived through his passport, journal, and food. If experiences are all we take with us Tony B. was wealthy beyond measure. We should all be so lucky.
“Obviously if I’m shooting in you know Morocco or Egypt and I find myself on a sand dune in the middle of the Sahara looking over a perfect fucking moonscape, I’m smoking weed.”
“Quebec… the people who live there are tough, crazy bastards and I admire them for that.”
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
“Skills can be taught, character you either have or you don’t have.”
“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
“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. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat.”
“Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
“Next to making a proper omelette or wiping your own ass, rolling a joint is an essential life skill for any self-respecting member of society.”
“Don’t lie about it. You made a mistake. Admit it and move on. Just don’t do it again. Ever.”
“That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.”
“Live in a universe of your own creation.”