Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain


I was devastated to hear about Anthony Bourdain. From all his work, his writing and his shows, he seemed like the most wonderful and fun person, with such spirit, such empathy and compassion, an always open mind, a complete lack of pretension, and a willingness to speak up sharply for what is right. I devoured his work eagerly, was always delighted by every piece of it I encountered. And because he always seemed so genuine, so vibrant, and so unabashedly true to himself, I feel almost as if I knew him. I still can't fully process what has happened. I feel such great sadness for his family and for his daughter. 

He had so much to teach us, in particular about the importance of doing our sincere best to understand other people, to meet them on their own terms. I couldn't possibly do justice to him in my own words, so I thought I'd share a few things that best captured what I knew of him. 

  • I only got to know his work a decade after Kitchen Confidential was published. I know that people sometimes find his depiction of super-macho restaurant culture and his past participation in it off-putting. Regardless, I truly believe that his body of work since then has shown his growth as a person, how his perspective has changed, and that he is absolutely one of the good people. Because I only read his book so long after it was published, I didn't necessarily see or understand that he had anything to apologize for from his Kitchen Confidential days, but what matters is that he did
  • The original New Yorker essay that predated Kitchen Confidential and gives a good sense of what's in the book is a must-read, of course. 
  • Last year, the New Yorker published a take on Bourdain and how he'd changed as a public figure over time. Parts Unknown, his current show, is still on Netflix, and I highly recommend it.
  • He did two Reddit "Ask me Anything" sessions, or AMAs, one around 2013 and one last year. They're both good, but I thought the one from last year was particularly great. You can practically hear his voice reading out his responses. 
  • I really appreciated how Bourdain was decidedly not a snob, was totally against anything pretentious. Beyond that, he was capable of great kindness and empathy. This is seen in so many of his shows, the foods and restaurants he featured, and the way he interacted with the people he met on those shows, and it was also seen here in his reaction to the hullabaloo when a small town newspaper's review of a local Olive Garden went viral quite a few years back. 

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