My interest in Anthony Bourdain came right after The BCPF and I met. She talked about liking his show, No Reservations, and how she really loved it and his bad-arsed qualities. It was an immediate reaction for me. Dang! This cat is cool and he loves food and travel. He dug into things that went beyond just food and travel, though.
He was a social activist. Which I know being a bleeding-heart liberal can turn a lot of people off. But, he was able to do that without being too in-your-face about it. He was outspoken about sexual harassment in restaurant kitchens as well as the circus that has become Hollywood’s own fight within about the same subject. In fact, his partner/girlfriend, Asia Argento, was one of the women that Harvey Weinstein allegedly harassed. But, he worked for better working conditions for restaurant workers.
Another thing that drew me to him was his willingness to try just about any food. He was especially fond of using varietal bits of animals, the stuff that most 21st century people wouldn’t think of eating. That caught on. I mean, a few of my favorite local chefs here in WSNC do what is called an offal dinner and use glands, hearts, gizzards and just about anything else they can find to use. That rubbed off on me, too. It was because of his adventurous eating that inspired me to do more of it myself. Sweetbreads. Foie gras. Glands. Organs. I will try many things like that, now. I love steak/beef tartare and it’s because of him.
But, it wasn’t the food and the activism alone. It was about the travel, too. He had a fascination with the people and cultures of Southeast Asia. He always said when he retired he would move there. The BCPF and I totally expected him to do just that. He loved Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He loved China, Malaysia, the Philippines and one of the most memorable episodes of his latest show, Parts Unknown, was filmed in Myanmar.
He loved to show his “TV friends” places that most likely would have been way off our radar. Sure, he went to some glamorous parts but mostly he dug deep into deep areas that were “less desirable,” and brought awareness, by way of “documentary-style” television. He got to know the natives. He befriended them, got to know them, lived with them for small amounts of time, learned about them and, perhaps most importantly, he learned from them. Thus, we learned from them. He was a rock star in travel and food.
The BCPF and I love to travel. We love being places. So much of our “wish list” is based on places that he’s been. The only reason we don’t follow through is financial reasons. But, we both love to learn about different cultures and immerse ourselves in those cultures. He did that for us and we would sit with him in our living room and learn more, benefiting from his insight, knowledge and learning. I’ve loved him. I’ve had a man-crush on him.
Just this past week, 3B, my 16-year old culinary hopeful, asked me who my favorite celebrity chef was. Without hesitation, I said Anthony Bourdain (and followed by Gordon Ramsey), even though he had technically moved from the culinary aspects of his life. He wasn’t completely out of it. He talked a lot about cooking, methods, ingredients, techniques and it was never not part of his conversations, at least on television.
He graduated from Culinary Institute of America in 1978 with an associates degree. He went on to become the executive chef of Brasserie Les Halles in NYC and eventually moved on from there. But, up until their closing last year, he was considered their “chef-at-large.” He was given an honorary doctorate from CIA in December 2017.
I haven’t always agreed with him, though. He’s a fan of the Ramones and I don’t care about the Ramones. He doesn’t like Billy Joel or Elton John and I really like both of them. I am with him on the Grateful Dead though, I don’t care for them, either. He’s been tough on some celebrity chefs and lenient on others. But, he admits when there are mistakes that he’s made and apparently he’s made a lot.
He’s had demons. He was an abuser of illicit drugs. He’s admitted to using LSD, cocaine, heroin, psilocybin mushrooms (which he would soak in honey and flavor his tea) among others. He was a two-pack-a-day smoker until a few years back which he quit for his daughter’s sake. That little girl is 11 years old, now. And she’s without a father.
You see, Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his Parisian hotel by his best bud, Éric Ripert, who appeared on many of “Tony’s” shows. It was an apparent suicide, although as of this writing, I don’t know how he did it. And, I don’t know if there is a note. I think this is hitting me as hard as it did when Prince and Bowie died two years ago. As I said, he was a rock star, at least to me. He sat in my living room. He helped (indirectly) strengthen my incredible marriage to my beautiful wife.
I feel awful about this. I think I’d feel less bad had it been natural causes or something that wasn’t his doing. But, this was suicide and I have an especially hard time with that. I feel for his 11-year old daughter. I feel for his fans. I feel for others that loved him that have also dealt with suicide directly by a loved one as this is reliving a situation. I talked to just a person like that this morning. I won’t go into that because it’s not my story but she touched my heart with her story.
Something very interesting is that he always said he didn’t care for Paris. The BCPF and I call it our favorite city. The last time we were there, we actually purchased his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly in Shakespeare and Company, an English-speaking bookstore which happens to be one of the most famous bookstores in the world. I look at it often and say, I want to read that. I have a feeling that I may get to that, now.
I also have a feeling that there will be a lot of binge-watching of old eps of No Reservations and current eps of Parts Unknown. Tony, I miss you already, sir. I need to pick up my culinary chops and do you proud (at least in my mind). Thank you for the inspiration and guidance, though we never spoke. Thank you for the cultural lessons and the social advocacy.
Until tomorrow, same blog channel…
Sad Scorp out…
“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. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.” – Anthony Bourdain