It’s weird having such visceral emotions for someone I’ve never met. I've never been the one to be so affected by celebrities and their news. But this one… this one hurts. And, judging from all the posts and tributes I saw yesterday, it’s clear many people were equally as impacted by Anthony Bourdain as I was.
For me, the biggest thing I learned from him was to find humanity in food. Bourdain loved food, yes, but he didn’t stop there. He realized that with every dish, there are stories and cultures entwined with it. And so he travelled beyond the touristy areas and hung out with locals to try and discover the soul and heartbeat of a people or region. People were the story; the food was just a vehicle for him to get there.
He had a way of listening and finding common ground with others, and sharing it with the world at large. But he did so with respect and admiration, never acting like he “discovered” a culture’s food or “understood” everything about it. He’d eat pretty much anything, not to stress the “exoticness” but as a sign of respect to the people there. He was always, always humanizing the people, be it in Laos or the heart of Trump country.
And in doing so, he transformed food media but also gave voices to entire peoples and cultures. He reminded us that we are more than just tacos or kimchi or pho or lechon–we are parents, husbands/wives, children. He encouraged us to be proud of our heritage and foods. And he showed that we are all one humanity. If we all spent just a fraction of the time he did trying to understand those different from us, the world would be a vastly better place.
Thank you Chef for all you’ve done. For the culinary world, for people of color, for immigrants, for the #metoo movement, for so many other groups I don’t have the space to write about. I hope that you are finally at peace now.
“When cooks are proud, when food speaks for a region, for a culture… it's always good.” – Bourdain in the No Reservations Korea Episode