It’s wrong to call myself a fan of Anthony Bourdain. That overstates it. I read Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed it. When I watched one of his shows, I enjoyed it. But I didn’t seek his content out, I didn’t wait for news of new seasons or projects. But above all, I held jealousy of the career and life he had. It is a romantic way of life.
The vision of traveling the world to eat food and experience life around the world. I’ve been able to see many places around our world, and yet there remains a whole world that I haven’t seen yet. What I’ve done is a step more than most people, and those places I have seen have confirmed this famous quote by Bourdain.
If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.
Bourdain summarized himself perfectly and succinctly in his Twitter bio: Enthusiast. And that is a great way to put what I wish my life was. I dream of being a professional Enthusiast as he was. Not because I think it is an easy and happy life. I knew his life wasn’t, and today’s reading by and about him reinforced it. Even when I travel for at most 30 days a year, I face loneliness on the road. Sure I might go out with friends or coworkers, but at the end I go back to the empty hotel room and am left with myself. Bourdain says he spent 250 days a year on the road. That had to be lonely.
Hearing the news about his death was tough for me this morning. Recognizing that a voice which spoke uniquely has been struck silent, and the resulting silence, would echo for many. Add to that for it to be due to suicide is to force us to recognize that under what he displayed sat the darkness which affects so many, and for someone like him to succumb to it… well, it’s terrifying. He wasn’t someone down on his luck, exhausted from the fight merely to exist. He was struggling, with demons, with loneliness, possibly with mental illness.
National Suicide Hotline
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I’ve brushed up against this darkness and I know it’s a tempting exit but REACH OUT to ANYONE. Stay on this side of it — in the light and warmth. Where you get to try again, every day.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) June 8, 2018
As death has a tendency to do, it puts the person front and center of social media. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit; all of them were heavily centered on the death of a voice. And I let myself be swept along, reading posts, watching videos, and participating in conversations. One notable post, which I unfortunately did not save, highlighted something that was an underappreciated feature of Bourdain’s television work. He was one television show, if not the only show on right now, which focused heavily on convincing us we didn’t need to be afraid of other people in the world. It’s so common and so easy to be afraid of people in a foreign country if we’ve never been there or never seen what their lives are like. And Bourdain discovered, through the vehicle of food, that the world was big and amazing and he could show it to us one episode at a time.
In his showing us the world we also got to witness the evolution of his voice. I love the below quote. I initially shared it on Facebook, coming from EveryDayShouldBeSaturday.com:
He started off as a Hunter S. Thompson-quoting dude who might have tried a little too hard to show you his cigarette, the scotch in his hand, and his punk rock roots, all maybe compensating a little too much for a childhood that included trips to France to eat at La Pyramide, and an education that took him to Vassar. He ended up somewhere else completely: As a truly conscientious traveler, as one of the only men to really publicly examine his role in encouraging terrible behavior in the restaurant industry, as someone who began to understand that the truths of his stories were at best partial and happily highlighted the fakery of storytelling while still trying to expand its possibilities. To believe in it, and in the end tell a story that was human, and at its best, humane.
This quote is in context of a scene that many people lauded, Bourdain dove into what the American food chain Waffle House was. He didn’t try to bullshit about it, he didn’t wax poetically. He talked about it from the start as being a place that beautifully served food that is good for hangovers and serving blue collar people at 3am. In the video we get to witness him experiencing a pecan waffle, lathered in butter, and maple syrup. It’s no Michelin star restaurant, it’s normal food. And it’s delicious. He didn’t try to make us forget that the food we, regular people, could get tasted good.
I truly loved when I discovered his twitter bio was the infinitely evocative and simple descriptor: Enthusiast. That encapsulates my vision of him so perfectly. Food, people, the world–He was an enthusiast. The enthusiast. An example of this enthusiasm is captured beautifully in this Twitter thread about a chance encounter with Bourdain at a food festival:
I met Anthony Bourdain only once, while waiting in line at a food festival. Instead of hello he said "hey kid, you hungry?" and it was like I'd bumped into an old friend.
— shivana (to scale) (@toastasaurus) June 8, 2018
Sometimes I like to pretend that my ten minutes convinced him to visit. But that was his charm, really, that he met passion with passion. That he understood the complexity of people just as well as he understood the complexity of food.
— shivana (to scale) (@toastasaurus) June 8, 2018
The whole thread is a delightful retelling of having got to meet him, showing him and his fascination in hearing her talk about her home country. He was enthusiastic to learn more about it. And when he did eventually attend, he was enthusiastic about it. It is a wonderful snapshot of what it could be like to meet him.
I spent a bit of the day swimming through these stories. His stories. Experiencing a life cut short, but one which uniquely gave us plentiful echoes to experience after he is gone. He began his journey by writing a book about his time in kitchens. It’s his book, Kitchen Confidential, which holds a poignant quote that reaches full meaning today:
[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.
Bourdain’s voice and personality, his zeal for life and the world, are gone from creating those new things for us. But there is a lot of him out there. His book, his Ecco press book imprint on which he published numerous books, his articles, his shows. He isn’t gone. Not yet at least. Not until the last of us turns off Netflix and Parts Unknown.
Who would you want to write your life story?
I already wrote it. And though I don’t really care about what people say about me when I’m gone, I guess Jerry Stahl would make an entertaining — if not necessarily flattering — story of the gruesome details.
Added 10 June 2018:
CNN and Anderson Cooper did a fantastic remembrance of Anthony.