When I was eleven years old, I bought Kitchen Confidential from the tiny bookstore in my tiny hometown. At that moment in time, I was a picky eater, not well-traveled, and in desperate need of a Mother’s Day present. My mother had mentioned a man named Anthony Bourdain and a book he had written. So that was her gift for that year; she still has it to this day.
At some point after I bought the book, my mother and I started watching No Reservations on the Travel Channel. I always appreciated Anthony Bourdain as a storyteller, a host, and as a critic. Over the years, I grew out of my selective eating habits, I traveled extensively, and I began acting. Now, I live in New York City, I’ll eat almost anything, and I write for blogs.
— The Nerds of Color (@TheNerdsofColor) June 8, 2018
What does Anthony Bourdain have to do with any of this? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing at all. But he cast his net so wide, and he reached so many different parts of my life, that it’d be hard to deny he had some kind of influence. I have no doubt that he influenced the way I look at culture. And I can’t deny that his irreverent writing style is something that I try to mimic in my own works. His presentation is simultaneously brusque and charming. I see parts of that in my own sense of storytelling.
Over the years, we’ve lost legends and we’ve lost irreplaceable giants of popular culture. Some of them I can track a direct link from where their influence began. David Bowie dancing around in too-tight pants as the Goblin King. Alan Rickman as a love-lorn Colonel Brandon. But then there’s others that I didn’t realize how they’d touched me til they’d gone. I miss Carrie Fisher every single day, and I had never really considered her as an influence. But her wit is something I had come to lean upon in a way I didn’t even recognize. The same could be said of Anthony Bourdain. His presence was always a comfort. But it was also so ubiquitous that I took it for granted. I didn’t realize until I read the headline “Anthony Bourdain, dead at 61” his impact on my life.
As I said, his reach was large. He waxed philosophic on travel, food competitions, fine dining, drugs, and so much more. Whether you preferred books or TV, there was something for everyone. I saw him and Éric Ripert during a speaking tour in Houston, TX. And he told a story about why Southeast Asian countries were his favorite places to visit. I continued to tell that story for years. He has woven his way into my life in small, seemingly insignificant ways. Only now that he’s gone do I realize how much I adored who he was and what he did.
Bourdain never treated our food like he "discovered" it. He kicked it with grandma because he knew that HE was the one that needed to catch up to our brilliance.
I wish so much for his legacy to take hold in western (mostly white) food media culture. What a loss. I'm so sad.
— Jenny Yang (@jennyyangtv) June 8, 2018
Anthony Bourdain introduced me to a world of travel and culture that didn’t rely on manufactured tourism, historical colonization, or Western assimilation. He told the histories of the places he visited without condescending from a Westerner’s gaze. He introduced the underbelly of fine dining and blew up foodie culture in the process. He introduced me to new places, ideas and concepts, and I didn’t even know it.
For many people of color, he also represented their cultures in a way that didn’t make them feel like others. He presented all cultures with curiosity, respect, and without an ounce of fear. To quote President Barack Obama, “He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.”
We could only hope and pray that someone will pick up where he left off.
I will miss the sound of his voice, his down-to-earth vibe, and his wry humor. Without him, I might not have traveled so far or eaten so well. And I didn’t recognize his significance until it was too late. All I can offer is a posthumous thank you. So here’s to the people who on the surface might play a smaller role, the people who poke in and out of our lives in the quietest ways. Don’t take them for granted. Celebrate them when they’re here and let them be loved.