Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again. The Eagles Desperado, about a lonely cowboy “out riding fences, for so long now…”. The itinerant hobo, hopping trains to cross the country. Don Quixote, breaking away from the world he has known to go out and seek adventure in places unknown to him.
All these images educe thoughts and memories of Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018), American chef, author, and transient excursionist. Bourdain lived his life with a flair, never satisfied with the banal or ordinary in his food or his life.
The Smithsonian Magazine once referred to Bourdain as “the original rock star” of the culinary world, and “the Elvis of bad boy chefs.” Bourdain burst onto the American scene with his book Kitchen Confidential, part memoir, part expose, and wholly an irreverent behind-the-scenes look at restaurant life.
He explained his philosophy on food by saying, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” His biting sarcasm and wit were fully evident in his views on restricted eating habits, as he noted, “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”
The full text of Kitchen Confidential is available online at The Internet Archive. The success of his book led Bourdain into the world of television, with his first show, A Cook’s Tour, presented on the Food Network. Here, he traveled around the world, visiting exotic cities, and, true to his nature, eating exotic foods.
2005 found Bourdain moving to the Travel Channel, introducing his new show No Reservations, again giving him a platform to highlight his cultural and epicurean adventures from around the world. The Guardian referred to No Reservations as “Anthony Bourdain’s quest to eat the nastiest foods on earth…”
After a successful run, No Reservations was replaced by The Layover, where he exposed his love for travel by exploring global cities during his time between flights.
As Bourdain himself put it, quoted on Matador Network, “I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience [sic] or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one.
Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”
Perhaps his greatest success was his last, Parts Unknown, airing on CNN, beginning in 2013. Here, Bourdain visited obscure locations around the globe, with his aim to sample and understand their culture and cuisines, and, at the same time to show us the world’s cultural diversity, as well as how much we all have in common.
Matador Network quotes Bourdain referring to his quest, “It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be.
The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I still have to go, the more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough; to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go”.
His suicide in 2018 was a shock to all who knew him. As CNN put it in his obituary, “In death, as in life, Anthony Bourdain brought us closer together.” Perhaps Bourdain himself left the most fitting epitaph, “It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” – Anthony Bourdain.