Honoring the Life of Anthony Bourdain
This writing will probably go out on or near the day Anthony Bourdain would have been 62 years old. Even though it’s been a couple weeks since news of his death woke me up on that strange Friday morning, and I never knew him personally, I still feel heartbroken at having written that first sentence. Why is that? More important, why is it that so many of you in “the industry” were also so affected by this tragedy?
Speaking for myself, Tony changed everything when he debuted on the Food Network late in my high school years. On ‘A Cook’s Tour’ he was eating his way through Asia, meeting people and participating in food rituals that were so far from my own frame of reference – so far from anything that I had ever experienced. I was blown away and immediately knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. From that point forward, everything I’ve done is to put me one step closer to experiencing and learning from those food cultures that are foreign to me, as well as appreciating and learning more about my own. Admittedly, I read Kitchen Confidential shortly after that (and then anything else I could get my hands on) and again I realized - those are my people! That is where I belong! Everything he said appealed to me, which is why I pivoted my focus in college and work, into the food industry. I’ve done a lot of different jobs in “food,” but I’ve never desired to leave the industry since. I realized from mourning that I’m still as excited about discovery and driven by food as he made me all those years ago when I heard his voice on TV and in books for the first time.
I know now that most people in food feel the same. I haven’t heard from one person who wasn’t deeply affected by Tony’s passing. Whether it was A Cook’s Tour or Kitchen Confidential, or No Reservations or some other work, he spoke to people, whatever their language, in a way they could understand. If you’re a cook, it was with camaraderie - a grueling, but loved, shared experience. If you were a traveler, it was with poetry that kinda perfectly expressed the indescribable-ness of a person or a place. I guess what I’m trying to say is Tony gave a voice, demonstrated respect for people, especially frequently marginalized people, encouraged cultural reciprocity, and in doing so, made this a better place for all of us. I hope he knew that.