When Anthony Bourdain’s name was trending on June 8th, the last thing I expected to see was news of his death. It hit like a punch to the gut. I’ve been following Bourdain’s travels for years. It seems insignificant to say that he merely wrote about food and travel; he wasn’t just a celebrity chef or a travelling food writer. To say that Anthony Bourdain was a ‘good writer’ would be the greatest disservice to a man that made food and travel writing kinetic and gave no time to the usual artifice of television and travel writing. When he famously said to the New Yorker in 2017, “I travel around the world, eat a lot of shit, and basically do what the f**k I want”, this was a classic Bourdain understatement.
“Without new ideas success can become stale.”
His dark humour and caustic wit allowed him to captivate the minds of those that listened to him or read his writings. He lived a life that he didn’t take too seriously and opened the door to the unexpected appetising spots across the world; some gritty and some beautiful. It’s an understatement to say that Bourdain was a culinary giant; he taught us life lessons in how to love, how to travel, how to eat, and how to live. I’ll miss reading about his adventures that filled me with a yearning to ‘be like Bourdain’ but will be forever grateful for the inspiration and lessons he, unknowingly, taught us. Here’s four of them…
“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
This is one of my favourite quotes by Bourdain. In a world that constantly churns out negative news about how we’re living and how we should cut out this thing in favour of that thing, it was always refreshing to hear Bourdain tell us to live life to the fullest. It’s this vibrancy that fascinated me about him. I’m not sure if it was the allure of travel, food, or drink that kept me reading Bourdain, but what I do know is that I saw a guy who was doing what I dreamt of doing, with an attitude for life I wanted to have. Anthony Bourdain was an inspiration for embracing life, cutting out the shit, and doing more of the things that make us happy — is there any greater lesson than that?
“Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.”
Go off the beaten track.
Bourdain once said: “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.”
He was renowned for taking us off the beaten track and had a knack for making us feel like we were there with him. He led us down the streets less travelled, into the homes of waiters and busboys, and here is where the people danced, ate, played dominos, laughed, and drank.
Celebrity chefs usually take us to picturesque scenes, usually in some Italian village or the French Riviera, but Bourdain took us to those less glamourous and shone a light on them. The Congo comes to mind. It probably helped to be a male with a camera crew, but let’s not take away his gutsiness and authentic ability to show us those roads less travelled.
“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. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
Respect the culture.
Bourdain’s attitude of openness and eagerness to learn was infectious. He taught us, with an enthused courteousness, that — no matter where we sit in this world — we’re more alike than we are different. Wherever he was, he was impassioned to eat their food, hear their music, and see their culture through their eyes.
“You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”
The ‘no assholes’ rule.
Bourdain once said: “It is truly a privilege to live by what I call the ‘no asshole’ rule. I don’t do business with assholes. I don’t care how much money they are offering me, or what project. Life is too short. Quality of life is important. I’m fortunate to collaborate with a lot of people who I respect and like, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
If you’re reading this on your dreaded morning commute or on your way home from another day at the office with the ‘assholes’, you’ll know that we don’t all have Bourdain’s ‘privilege’, as he put it. But it’s something to aspire to, isn’t it?
“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
Lessons for life.
Some of Bourdain’s lessons were stated plainly, while others were revealed less obviously. He wanted to encourage us all to learn more by slowing down and showed us that travel isn’t about living in a postcard, but an embracement of people and culture.
Tall, tattooed, quick witted, with an infectious attitude for life, Anthony Bourdain had an idiosyncratic way of sharing his love for the world. He had a way of projecting his steeliness; an invisible armour that protected him from the demands of the public eye, and — while the cruellest enemy of all is what got him in the end: the enemy within — he was the real deal. Anthony Bourdain: the benchmark of our creative outlook.
Has Anthony Bourdain inspired you in any way? I’d love your thoughts.
Photo: Laurie Woolever/Grub Street