A fan's tribute to Anthony Bourdain

The late Anthony Bourdain's television show on CNN wasn't really about food. It was about travel, exploration and a ...

Posted: Jun 11, 2018 10:36 PM
Updated: Jun 11, 2018 10:36 PM

The late Anthony Bourdain's television show on CNN wasn't really about food. It was about travel, exploration and a sort of restless, joyful hedonism in culinary conquest and conversation.

In his work, like in Hunter S. Thompson's journalism, he created a genre or art form that blended accepted concepts -- the travel show, the cooking show, the documentary -- into something wholly new, unnamed and unique to Bourdain.

I had no personal connection to Anthony Bourdain. He never bummed a smoke from me in a dark alley behind a restaurant or bought me a shot of local liquor in an exotic city. Yet, I feel his death keenly, for the loss of talent and what he represented at his best.

I read his book "Kitchen Confidential" shortly after college, after working as a grill man in a Mississippi kitchen with enough drama and substance abuse to feel like a pre-K version of a Bourdainian milieu. Because of that, I felt a special kinship with the author. But it was in his second career, on television, that Bourdain came to be more than a foul-mouthed raconteur with a string of unhygienic anecdotes about the food service industry.

He became a guide and champion of travel and experiencing the wider world, with shows that combined cuisine, history, culture, politics and everyday life around the world.

A Northeast native, he often visited places in America like a tourist, particularly when he ventured south to Houston, Charleston or Nashville, but he was truly in his element when he was abroad, and in areas that were obscure even to seasoned travelers.

Bourdain often injected his own opinions. His piece about London was really about his view of Brexit's utter folly, explored amid his consumption of fish 'n' chips. His more recent show in Istanbul was about the rise of repression and intolerance, discussed over a pide, or Turkish flatbread. In the pastas of a modern working-class Italian suburb, there was talk of the lingering echoes of the fascist past.

Bourdain seemed at his best when served a production curve ball. Take when monsoons trapped his crew in Manila during a visit to the Philippines. Instead of lamenting his inability to travel to nearby islands, he crashed the most bourgeois function imaginable -- a boozy office Christmas party -- and made it an entertaining window into Filipino culture.

He enjoyed playfully tormenting his longtime friend Eric Ripert (who, sadly, was the first to discover his death) with fiery-hot peppercorns in Sichuan and excessive liquor elsewhere.

My favorite episode is probably his visit to an estate built in the 19th century in the hill station of Shimla, in northern India, by a doctor who worked for the British East India Company. Over rich curries and in tattered elegance, they explored the legacy of colonialism and the current divide between India and Pakistan.

I view Bourdain, in some ways, as a throwback to that era -- a swashbuckling Victorian adventurer, like Sir Richard Burton or 'Chinese' Gordon, armed with a fork or chopsticks rather than a pistol or cutlass (and without the racism that those explorers fell prey to). I always pictured him steaming in a rickety boat up a river that no white man had ever seen.

It was a 2016 episode about a river that, since his death, I keep thinking about.

His narration began: "I was brokenhearted and at a crossroads in my life when I first went up the Skrang River in Sarawak, Borneo. The people who I met there, 10 years ago, hosted me and my crew in their longhouse, fed us, looked after us and treated me with great kindness. When the chiefs invited me back for their yearly harvest festival, Gawai Dayak, I said I would come. It took me a while, but in the end I did return. I have to admit, I was wondering if all the bad s-t running through my head the first time I went up that river was still lurking there -- if I'd managed to entirely put it away."

At the time, I assumed the, "bad s-t running through" Bourdain's head related to his well-documented struggles with substance abuse and addiction. Sadly, it seems he may have been talking about the silent, awful epidemic of mental illness, which it turns out he had not, and perhaps could not simply, "put away."

Up the Skrang River, Bourdain saluted a departed friend with a cigarette and liquor at his grave. We, instead, should honor his life and legacy in three ways: go somewhere you've never been, eat something you've never eaten and tell everyone you love that you love them, even if they don't seem to need it.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 6575
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Hennepin1009131586
Ramsey43165803
Dakota36375392
Anoka33335388
Washington22121258
Stearns18752201
St. Louis14822263
Scott13308107
Wright12538116
Olmsted1181788
Sherburne874172
Carver775640
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Rice670791
Blue Earth596635
Kandiyohi579674
Crow Wing521282
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Otter Tail483270
Benton447790
Winona418549
Mower405731
Douglas393368
Nobles387247
Goodhue386269
Polk343763
McLeod340049
Beltrami338651
Morrison324747
Itasca313646
Lyon313644
Becker312542
Isanti306756
Steele301511
Carlton300149
Freeborn282623
Pine282016
Nicollet259241
Todd248330
Brown245537
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Martin189928
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Rock115914
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Murray9488
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Wilkin67411
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Grant4918
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Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 335218

Reported Deaths: 5443
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk51785551
Linn19463313
Scott17080210
Black Hawk14924292
Woodbury13778212
Johnson1312174
Dubuque12416194
Dallas1019092
Pottawattamie9828143
Story959345
Warren511674
Clinton500784
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Webster494487
Sioux479169
Marshall463072
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Plymouth367478
Lee354252
Marion339869
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Bremer268754
Carroll266349
Crawford252235
Boone242830
Benton240354
Washington239047
Mahaska215246
Jackson209738
Dickinson202440
Tama202365
Kossuth198055
Delaware185540
Clay183825
Winneshiek182827
Fayette178635
Page177819
Buchanan176929
Wright173831
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Hardin169439
Harrison167169
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Iowa139423
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