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Bourdain and His Impact on Me


Like so many people across the world, I am still processing Anthony Bourdain’s untimely death. Honestly, I feel a little strange to be mourning someone I never met. It bothers me that I am so sad about a celebrity’s passing. Bourdain was not just a celebrity, but a kind of ambassador to all nations, reaching out and breaking bread to make a deeper human connection with all cultures and ethnicities. A role that he never initially intended to play, and quite possibly took its toll on him.

I was much more a follower of Anthony Bourdain long before Parts Unknown. Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the show that much because I thought it got too serious. I preferred the lighter, more food-centric shows like No Reservations and The Layover. But I first became an AB fan when I saw his first TV show on Food Network called A Cook’s Tour. The book of the same name was a follow up of Bourdain’s wildly successful Kitchen ConfidentialThe A Cook’s Tour TV show was born when in addition to an advance from his publisher, Food Network execs threw money into the ring for permission to follow Bourdain around with a camera crew and film his travels. Bourdain reluctantly agreed to allow Food Network do their thing. The first time I saw the show I was hooked. I also bought the book A Cook’s Tour, then I quickly circled back to pick up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. I wanted to read everything Anthony Bourdain wrote, including his first two novels Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. Never before had I read an author’s work that made me chuckle out loud so many times, while opening my eyes to faraway places and different cultures.

Anthony Bourdain made such an impression on me and made me excited to see the world outside of the small town of Franklin, Ohio (my hometown). Even though he was no longer working at Les Halles, I traveled to New York in 2002 to dine at the restaurant. I also tried Dim Sum for the first time in Chinatown (though I skipped the chicken feet that time). I went to Jacques Torres Chocolate. I was all of a sudden a developing (though I loathe the word) “foodie.” I was ready to open my mind to go beyond American staples. I wanted to experience different cuisines and regional specialties, and try dishes you can only get if you go to THAT particular restaurant. Like Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. BEFORE you could order the Devils Food Cheesecake online. 🙂

The New York trip was not just because of Bourdain, but a big thanks to a long-time friend of mine who had moved to New York much earlier and was able to curate the perfect culinary tour for me during my visit. But Bourdain definitely influenced me to try things I would not know if I liked or not.

“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. It’s a plus for everybody.”
-Anthony Bourdain

After the excitement of the New York trip I was ready to leave Ohio. Or at least travel more, but pretty much that was the beginning of the end for me in Franklin. In 2003, I went to Boston, Washington D.C., and to Honolulu, as well as San Francisco, the Napa Valley, and to the city I would eventually call home: Sacramento.

Sacramento? Hey, it is close to San Francisco and to Napa Valley, two cities I love but could not afford to live in at the time. Not to worry, there would be several jaunts to the City and to Napa or Yountville after I started this blog (formerly at cakegrrl.blogspot.com). There were also restaurants of all cuisines to be found right in Sacramento. I was beyond excited. Right away I found a dim sum place, a Persian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean… I was hungry for it all. I also fell in love with wine around the same time and frequently visited regions like Amador and El Dorado in addition to my beloved Napa to try all the wines I could and then report back on my blog. My life would never be the same again.

And all the while I lived vicariously through THE travel guru, Anthony Bourdain, eventually tuning in to No Reservations in 2005 and sometimes downloading the episodes to watch on my computer in patches when I did not have a TV or cable. I remember thinking, “God this guy is so cool and so funny, down to Earth and no BS–of all celebrities, he’s the one I would like to meet someday.”

In September of 2010, Anthony Bourdain came to Sacramento and I was lucky enough to see his show as a media guest with pretty decent seats. During the show (towards the end) there was a small audience Q & A session, but I felt like I would not even be close to coming up with an interesting (or original) enough question for AB, so I sat cringing and embarrassed for others as they asked some really dumb stuff. I decided that yes, it would be cool to meet him (but not be cool to act like almost everyone else in this auditorium), so I decided I would see him again on TV, and my guest and I left after the show instead of creeping outside the venue. Can you imagine how many people did this to him? Awkward for everyone involved, so no thanks. 🙂

In 2013, local (Sacramento) chef Adam Pechal appeared with Bourdain on The Taste. I’m slightly jealous not only because he has a picture together with him, but because he got to cook for AB. Via Facebook, Pechal is in the process of planning an event to honor Bourdain that will take place closer to the end of summer/beginning of fall and the proceeds will be donated to a charity (most likely a suicide prevention organization). I will definitely share with readers here when I find out full details.

The first time I saw Parts Unknown, I happened to also be traveling. My husband and I were in Carlsbad, California for a race, and I tuned into the show when were came back from dinner that Sunday evening. It was the first episode, and I was eager to see the new show. I didn’t fully understand the concept and I was surprised the show was different and a little darker, as AB began traveling to places that had been/still are going through poverty, war, and overall turbulent times. I confess I had never really given Myanmar a second thought, and never considered Libya on my bucket list of travel destinations. I would occasionally tune in to some episodes that featured places I did want to visit such as Spain and Las Vegas (which is one of my favorite places in the world). I missed a great deal of Parts Unknown throughout its 11 season run, and now thanks to Netflix deciding to keep the show on its roster for the foreseeable future, I can go back and enjoy each one from the beginning (LINK HERE).

I thought Anthony Bourdain would be around forever, and I guess that’s why I am so sad. Half asleep on the morning of June 8th, waking up to turn off my alarm on my iPhone and then peering into it for the latest news. This time it was “RIP Anthony Bourdain.” What? How did this even happen!? How could he do this? What a nightmare. Why? I can’t imagine where he was in his mind at the time, I can only say I am sorry he was feeling insurmountable pain. I am sorry he felt so alone.

Details are still emerging on his death and the toxicology report has come out, but none of the TMZ stories have made me feel any better or more resolved. My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, his coworkers, and anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Bourdain. The world has lost an iconic storyteller, but those close to him have lost a son, a father, a brother, a spouse, a comrade.

The time we have on Earth is so precious and finite. Hug the ones you love tightly and remind them how much they mean to you. Make people feel like they matter, even if it’s your server or your barista. If you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents alive, call him/her/them, you’re probably overdue for a hello. Tonight, Andy and I get to meet some friends for drinks/dinner at a place I haven’t been to in ages, and that makes me so happy. I’m also buying this Zamir Vodka Tshirt for myself so that I too, can spread peace through the message of vodka!

Now I am gonna go watch some more Parts Unknown episodes. I am looking forward to the future and traveling with my husband as much as possible. Besides our annual trip to Mexico, Greece and Spain are definitely getting closer to happening, and thinking about Spanish pintxos makes me giddy. This Tony’s 13 Things I Won’t Leave Home Without made me smile.

Anthony Bourdain, thank you for your contribution to the world. May we all be a little less ignorant about/afraid of people who don’t look or live the same as us.

Photo credit: Travel Channel website, Mozambique journal.

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