To millions of people, Anthony Bourdain was more than just a travel host; he was a hero and felt like an old friend. Almost everyone that knew of him or watched his shows envied his lifestyle, and his ability to travel and eat for a living. After the news broke the morning of June 8th, millions of people, celebrities and chefs, tweeted to express their shock and sorrow with the untimely suicide, truly highlighting his impact.
Anthony Bourdain changed the face of food, culture, and traveling in America. Everyone invited Bourdain into their homes when they turned on the TV to learn about new places, cultures, and food. Many of the foods that he tried while exploring crept into the modern American cuisine scene. Vietnamese, Indian, and Japanese restaurants began popping up in rural America, where cuisine was usually limited to the regional food based on traditional cooking passed down from generation to generation.
His greatest achievement in changing the landscape of food was introducing people to new experiences without exoticizing or claiming to have “discovered” the food. Bourdain believed it was special to have someone invite them into their home. And if they decided to kill one of their animals and make a huge feast for him, he felt incredibly honored. He made a point to try all the food and different parts of the animals presented to him, as a sign of respect, and because he loved animal liver.
In his first show, a Cook’s Tour, the audience could immediately tell this wasn’t the typical travel show they were used to seeing. Typically, travel hosts strolled through empty Baroque-era museums, ate 12-course meals at 5-star restaurants, took leisurely mid-day naps at the best hotels, focused on the bargains you could score, and traveled at a distance from the people and culture. Bourdain was quite the opposite: harsh, charismatic, and genuinely interested.
Bourdain’s longest-running show, No Reservations was what solidified his popularity. Bourdain and his crew often were caught in politically dangerous places, such as the Israeli-Lebanon conflict of 2006 and Iraqi Kurdistan in 2011, which made the most headlines. At the end of every episode Bourdain reflected on his time that often had somewhat cynical but optimistic thoughts of the specific country’s future based on his experiences. His last show, Parts Unknown, which he was working on during his suicide, Bourdain and Zero Point Zero Production Company won an Emmy for the Outstanding Informational Series or Special category. Parts Unknown gave him the ability to truly explore less-traveled places such as the Congo, Iran, Libya, Israel, Beruit, Senegal, Oman, and Nigeria.
Bourdain’s ability to be a universal magnet for authenticity and accurate portrayal is what made him instrumental in the food scene. After an episode in Hanoi where he ate Bun Cha with President Obama in 2016, people flocked to Vietnam to sit at the same restaurant they did. The restaurant framed the bottles of beer, table, chairs, and bowls they both ate. Despite the celebrity Bourdain became, one of his grips with filming was showing the places he went. As his popularity rose, he often regretted showing the places he went on TV because they ended up becoming tourist destinations. “There are times that I have looked at the camera and said, ‘Look, I’m just not going to tell you where this place is.’ I don’t want to change it. It should stay like this forever,” he said to NPR.
Bourdain pioneered (at the time) the novel idea that food was the way to understand people. He often stated in the episodes that the best way to get to know someone was in their house over a home-cooked meal. Despite enjoying some of the finest restaurants he could afford, he visibly seemed to enjoy himself more when someone invited him into their home. And often over those home-cooked meals is when Bourdain portrayed the humanity of the people who were often misrepresented in Western media. The people that invited him into their home were able to talk about the politics and how similar they wanted things to most Americans, which began to show a shift in Bourdain’s writing. His travels during his Parts Unknown era focused more on being able to relate to other people, and understand himself better in his travels.
None of us ever will know the real conflicts Bourdain had with himself. However, in a couple of episodes, he talks about his depression and desire to die. Despite his seemingly perfect life with free-reign to travel, eat, and explore, Bourdain took his life while he was with his best friend, 3-Michelin Star award winner, Chef Eric Ripert, to film an episode of Parts Unknown in Kaysersberg, France.
Anthony Bourdain has inspired and touched the lives of countless people around the world. He will be missed by many.
June 25th, 1956 - June 8th, 2018