Yesterday, we, as journalists and people of the storytelling industry, lost a renegade leader who redefined what it meant to write about travel, food and the human experience. Anthony Bourdain, chef, author, global ambassador and father took his own life. He was found in his hotel room in France where he had been shooting for his award-winning show Parts Unknown. While his death has left a gaping hole in the world’s collective culture and media, it has also brought us closer together.
I first heard of Anthony Bourdain from my older brother – also a chef and someone who has always had his finger on the pulse of all things pop culture. When he told me about this chef and TV host who once had a crippling heroin addiction, I never thought the leathered skin man with silver-white hair, adorned in tattoos with a palpable no fucks given attitude would become my sort of idol – if 20-somethings can even have those. It was not until I binge-watched his shows, The Layover, No Reservations and Parts Unknown, that I developed a fetishistic respect for the man. Besides our inclination to write and eat food, Bourdain and I aren’t alike in any way. He was an abrasive, highly adventurous, balls-to-the-wall icon, and I, a recent journalism graduate from Canada who smiles politely and apologizes when I get bumped in the hallway.
But it wasn’t our similarities that drew me to him, it was the ways in which we were different. It was the ways in which I aspired to be like him.
His blunt, yet accepting intellect remains without parallel. His unapologetic and adventurous way of being is something I immediately envied. His work, whether on our screens or putting pen to paper, inspired a world to live spontaneously, to try new things with an open mind and humility. My mouth was agape when I watched him violently kill an old chicken for coq au vin while travelling down the Congo River in one episode of Parts Unknown. Watching this world-class chef get chicken blood all over himself to feed his crew was one of the first times I saw Bourdain practice what he so often preached: don’t be a snob. That mantra was embodied again when he ate a palpitating cobra’s heart in Vietnam, and every time he made us want to go to the dive bar or hole-in-the-wall noodle shop he went to.
When I finally read his first book Kitchen Confidential, I fell absolutely in love with Bourdain’s conspicuous narrative (I read every sentence with his voice) and his infatuation with the deeply human experience. Because of that, while it is a debatable title, Anthony Bourdain is my favorite journalist. So when I read Friday morning that the world lost this fearless, brilliant, and passionate storyteller, I, like much of the world, was gutted. I spent the better half of my day reading what friends and family close to him had written in his death and spiraling into a dark place with every Bourdain quote I read.
When I got out of bed for the Collegian’s weekly editorial board meeting, I half-selfishly pitched this op-ed in hopes that it would provide some sort of therapeutic closure for me. How could I, someone who never even met Bourdain, come to feel so devastated about this news? I honestly felt like I was unexpectedly overreacting to his death – I still kind of do. After reading countless social media posts and even more articles remembering him, I realized he had this effect on people around the world, even in its deepest, darkest corners. His candid, yet elegant storytelling and obsession with the human experience made him not only relatable, but it allowed us to come along for the ride. We were right there with him, with every adventure and every memory. I hope he is somewhere having a fantastic meal and a well deserved drink. Cheers, Tony.
If you are someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.