Anthony Bourdain’s life and lens changed our palates and our perception of the world for the better. We learned about new places and cultures, some of which we were inspired to visit. We saw new foods, many of which we couldn’t wait to taste. We listened to stories that impacted our view of the world and led us to question our our assumptions about what else is out there.
I remember the first time I saw Anthony Bourdain travel Vietnam, slurping down pho, eating crispy spring rolls wrapped in herbs and showing smiles on the faces of the welcoming locals. I can still recall the motorbikes throughout the city at all hours, the jungles, the misty rain.
I may never have bought that plane ticket to experience sitting down at a colorful plastic table in Hanoi, loudly slurping pho with friends and strangers alike. Bourdain’s love for Vietnam inspired me in such a way that I had to see it, and of course taste it, for myself. Along the way, as he predicted, travel and my time in Vietnam did change me. I was given a moment of pause the first time they referenced “The American War” and I learned more about the atrocities committed in Vietnam and surrounding countries.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
Since Bourdain’s passing, I’ve been watching many of his past travel adventures and reading about what those who knew him had to say. It’s clear he made a lasting impact on many. Some described meeting him for the first time but feeling like “an old friend.”
I met Anthony Bourdain only once, while waiting in line at a food festival. Instead of hello he said “hey kid, you hungry?” and it was like I’d bumped into an old friend.
— shivana (to scale) (@toastasaurus) June 8, 2018
Street food, like Anthony Bourdain’s many books and shows had a way of bringing people together, regardless of their walk of life or socioeconomic status. He also seemed to be genuinely interested in others and a fan of the underdog. He was the kind of guy who would motivate others to do better, as well as offer a helping hand.
— Jordana Rothman (@jordanarothman) June 8, 2018
He was even celebrated by a world leader or two. His episode of Parts Unknown eating noodles and drinking a beer with President Obama was a beautiful thing to watch. President Obama recently described Bourdain’s “ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.”
“Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.” This is how I’ll remember Tony. He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him. pic.twitter.com/orEXIaEMZM — Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 8, 2018
For those who knew him best, I can’t imagine how difficult losing him has been. Over the years, his crew seemed like an extension of his family. They worked together for more than 20 years.
We want to express our deepest & most sincere sympathy to Tony’s family. We’ll remember him for his immense talent & more importantly for his friendship. We’ve known & worked with Tony for 2 decades. This loss we feel today is deep & extraordinarily profound. We miss him already. pic.twitter.com/aCJAH3YGcs — ZPZ Production (@ZPZProduction) June 8, 2018
It’s difficult to know the demons Bourdain may have been battling and what he was struggling with. He has been very vocal about his history of addiction.
“I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.” – Anthony Bourdain
His career was based on his deeply honest, often brash sensibilities. He was open about the honesty of his storytelling and his lack of caring about what others thought. Like many of the greatest storytellers, he was inspired to create based on what interested him, without regard for how it might be judged.
“I joke about not giving a fuck being a very good business model for me … but it’s true. The absolute certainty that nobody was going to buy or read or care about Kitchen Confidential was what allowed me to write it. I didn’t have to think about what people expected. I didn’t care. And as a result I was able to write this book quickly and without tormenting myself. And that seemed to work out and I learned from that experience and I tried very hard. Whether I’m meeting with a group of television executives or telling a story, I don’t think about ‘the fans’; I don’t think about what audiences expect, and I’m not afraid of what will they think of me, or what if they don’t like it and I’m not on television anymore.” – Anthony Bourdain
When I left my life in the U.S. behind to travel the world for a year, places like Vietnam, Istanbul and Copenhagen may not have been on my list without Bourdain’s years of advice. As time went on, his experiences continued to feed my interest in local street foods. Eating at local taquerias, searching out pho, ramen and other street foods has become an important part of my life. That love of street food also became one of my primary reasons for creating this blog.
The way I eat and the way I travel has been forever impacted by this man’s life. I don’t have words to describe my sadness for losing this incredible human, whom I never had a chance to meet. I will, however, try to live with his level of passion for the great people, experiences and deliciousness this world has to offer.
I will also raise a glass and a soup spoon in his honor.
For more about Bourdain’s daily life, I particularly enjoyed this interview First We Feast from a couple of years ago.
We are not alone in this world. Be kind to one another and offer help when you can.
U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
U.K. Samaritans Suicide Prevention Line: 116123