(This is not an article on the life of Anthony Bourdain, but an article on how he changed my life, and made it better.)
Yesterday morning, Friday 8th June 2018, Anthony Bourdain was found dead in Strasbourg, France; supposed suicide. The very earth in which we stand shook for many as a realization of just how precious this life can be. He was gone.
Let that sink in for a minute.
We get this one life, we get a certain amount of years, a certain amount of months, and a certain amount of days and we get to fill them as and how we like, with whatever makes us tick. Anthony’s life was enticingly exciting, from hunting for Nazi’s in the tunnels of France as a young child, to eating his first oyster on a family vacation, also in France, that he said tasted of ‘somehow, the future’, and the very spot on that oyster boat where his life changed forever, to his first dish washing job and his career up to Chef-Dom – as he would say. Upon releasing Kitchen confidential his world took a different turn and he became the TV host of some of the best food shows around; in fact, thee best in my eyes.
It doesn’t matter were he came from for me, I always love to hear the tales and stories of his life, but what really matters is how he shaped himself and became someone that nobody else was. He paved the way for many and closed the door for some. He thought outside the box, he didn’t just ‘fit’ in to social norms, he pushed boundaries, he was bold, fearless, he said what was on everyone else’s mind without a moment of hesitation, he was proud, he was passionate, and through that television screen throughout my life he has connected with me in a way that no other host has.
When I was younger I’d watch awful food shows, watching the same recipe remade with perhaps a different seasoning, or a twist on the cooking, or maybe some family secret recipe to make it better. I’ve seen dinner parties broadcast to the world, I’ve seen countless hours of restaurants with BBQ in a non unique way, and greasy finger food dragged across my screen appealing until I couldn’t possibly watch anymore. I used to think I loved the food channels, I was right, but not the ones you’d think. I watched as people took on food challenges, at first excited over the spike of something different, and then repulsed and bored of a task that somewhat makes you think clogged arteries in the worst possible way. Shows had now become something I’d flick on and off, on the hunt for anything that could possibly keep my attention, but failing drastically and presuming that maybe my days of cooking shows were dead.
I realized when I was younger just how much I loved to write. It was my dream, and still is in many unrealistic ways, but I was unsure of what to write about. Sure, I was passionate, but I was passionate about so many things that I was bursting to tell the world each and every one; taking people on roller coasters of miss matched topics that didn’t blend or take form. I was scattered and unsure of how to hone my skills to feed my passion, but it was there – I could taste it – heck, I could see it just on the horizon running away from me and I knew I was going to have to run faster.
I wrote about food. I wrote about travel. I wrote short stories and novels, and news paper articles. I tried it all. Each subject was fun, but it wasn’t fulfilling all of the need inside of me to really get out to the world, all of my stories and adventures, just lost on a piece of paper that had no character or depth. It was passion, it was love, but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough.
That’s when I realized.
As I sat back home in England, with four months off of work I’d began to just write, get frustrated, and give up continuously. It was a slippery slope of misery that led me to thinking I never stood a chance. It was sad for me to think about how much I had to share with the world, but not quite knowing how to really grasp, well and truly with both hands the right means of delivery. My vessel was broken, my delivery drab, and the iceberg was coming regardless of the topic. I flicked through my usual tv channels and suddenly saw Anthony Bourdains: No Reservations flash across my screen. Today was going to be a good day. He was in Boston, of all places, and I remember watching the show, really watching, even though I’d seen them countless times before. Something inside of me clicked. This was it. He didn’t make mundane recipes or ‘his take’ on a recipe he’d eaten, he didn’t blab on about measurements or how his friends or loved ones would enjoy it. He didn’t direct me to a website, he didn’t laugh with a false smile and put on a show. He was just Anthony. He swore, he was outspoken, he was excited when he wanted, he loved a drink, and at times was lovingly grumpy. He visited the best restaurants, the best bars, the best hotels and met people from all walks of life. He was a human being, on the tv who had a passion like me. Someone I could connect with as an ordinary person, just living their life. Yes, I’d seen so many of his tv shows, but never once had I really seen it.
He put himself out there, he became the local, he learnt the history of the town he was invading, he learnt what the best cocktails were for each place, he drank the best whiskey, he drinks the dive bar beers, he did what he wanted to do and he did it well; no shame, no apologies, just him and his passion. He drank, he laughed, he told you a slice of history you’d otherwise never know, and amongst all of that he included delicious food to go right along with it. He was a storyteller of the best kind, the episode would take you on a journey of time and culinary cuisine. I remember once he said that each plate of food told a story, and if you wanted to get to know someone you should share a meal with them. I never knew what that meant until that moment. When I think of my family history, and the recipes my Mother would make for me, he is absolutely right. Each dish she prepared came with a family story of coal mines, or Scotland, and how each dish was passed down through the family. Even when times were rough and she wouldn’t have a lot of money raising my brothers as a single Mum, before she met my Father, she’d make recipes out of nothing and turn them into the most amazing meals, that were loved so much, she still makes them today. The recipes really do tell a story. We never went hungry, we never starved, and no matter how much the budget increased of decreased she would always have food on the table. That smell of fresh bread in a bakery often takes me back to my Mothers bread making in the house when I was a child, the sight of a corned beef can reminds me of coal mining and my family before who have been and gone, but of the delicious corned beef casserole that lives on to this day.
Those recipes are still all recipes I use for a reason. They are my favorites. Not because of the food, even though it’s absolutely delicious every time, but because of were it came from – because of the heritage and the memories it carried with it – Anthony opened all of that up to me. I finally understood. It wasn’t just a dish, it was a map – a map of life, and those who traveled the map found the best adventures awaiting with every click of metal on the plate.
That day I watched countless episodes of multiple shows, transfixed, and a lava field of excitement began to spring inside of me, bubbling wildly away, crushing anything in its path, unable to be suppressed without getting exactly what it wanted.
I’d returned back from Asia a couple of years earlier, and was devastated to not utilize his work while I was there; I was ignorant, too self believing, willing to learn from my own adventures and mistakes, not looking to research and see others doing exactly that who were bigger and better than me; my head too big, my pride too strong, and forgetting completely that on the grand scheme of things I was actually a ripple in the ocean of knowledge, and unwise to say the least.
My job is similar but not as intense as Anthony’s, and this is were I feel like I connect with him on the deepest level. I travel most of the year all over the world, and I eat everything and anything in my path. I like to try local cuisine, I like to try new food, and I love to, of course, travel. I now knew my purpose; I wanted to write about travel, and food; I wanted to create a world in which the reader would be dragged in to my every story. I wanted to learn and grow via Bourdain and his wealth of information, and knowledge, that he shared without even realizing it – only wanting to have a good time. I didn’t hold a culinary background, I didn’t have any skills or anything to propel me into a deserving place. I just had passion, heaps and heaps of passion, and a love that would not die. My hands, my imagination, and my palette were my only tools. I made recipes I’d tried from all over the world, I brought them home to share, and I basked in the satisfaction I got as I realized that I could bring a slice of the world to everyone else through words, and appetites. I learnt along the way, with so much more still to learn, and I realized that although just an amateur with a dream, it was a dream nonetheless and it meant something to me.
I idolized him. Some of his shows stick in my mind as some of the best times when nothing was particularly happening much, but the company was right, the show always perfect, and we didn’t need money to try and have fun. My husband and I started to watch The Layover in a dingy hotel room in Quebec City, a hotel that I’d previously stayed in a few years earlier when it caught on fire, and to this day I remember vividly how those days went down. We’d had some time off of work; we’d partied hard, we’d eaten amazing food, and we were ready to get started again and get some real paychecks coming back in. To counterbalance our wild spree of spending we decided to stay in the room until we were back into the swing of work. That night we made angel hair pasta, with vodka sauce from a jar, and pecorino Romano heaped up on top. Sat in our underwear, with our plastic bowls and forks, we turned on the tv – huddled close. It wasn’t anything much, but it didn’t matter, we had each other and we had all the time in the world it seemed. We’d sat down on the bed, as there was nowhere else in the tiny room to go, and we started from episode one – The Layover. We watched so many in that one night that long after the pasta bowls had emptied and dried, into bed we’d climbed, and the beer cans almost gone, we realized it was almost 3am. We’d had the best night. We didn’t need fancy dinners, we didn’t need to spend a ton of money, we just needed each other and those story adventures that we were so familiar with in our own life. It was as if someone else was doing the same thing as us, loving the same things, had the same passions, was connecting us more, and was succeeding in a way that gave me hope. Hope that maybe I could capture the true meaning of good food and travel during my adventures, and I could also share my passion. With my husband by my side, equally as enthusiastic, and in love with Bourdain long before I even knew who he was, I felt as though I’d had an epiphany. I was ready to really live my life.
Another time was exactly the same. Canada again, this time Winnipeg, the rooms were a lot nicer and we had a full kitchen. My husband cooked the best elk steaks I’d ever had in my life – I no longer wanted the common cow – and we sat down with a bottle of red wine to continue our splurge of ‘The Layover’ and basically anything Anthony Bourdain related we could find. We were hooked. I’ll never forget that night when my husband said to me ‘We travel the world, we go to all the same places, we eat at restaurants and try local cuisine. We basically do it all. We’re like Anthony Bourdain in our own weird way.’ And he was right. In no way do I have the experience, or the eloquence, of Bourdain, but I’ll be damned if I don’t give it a try; I’ve taken for granted too long all of the delicious food and cusines knocking on my door.
Bourdain spoke to me, he opened doors I didn’t know where there, he made me realize that I didn’t need to pick one subject to write about, because why do that when you can write about them all. He was always so forward thinking, and ruthless, and honest, and took the bull by the horns with everything he did. I loved that he was grumpy, because I am too. I loved his no bullshit attitude. I love that he didn’t care much for being on TV and wanted to write and just tell his story in any way possible, even if that meant tv, because I felt the same too. I love that even when it’s uncomfortable he still says it how it is and tells the truth. I felt connected to him in so many tiny ways and yet he never even knew I existed; as I’m sure the same for many other people in the world. He touched my life in a way that made it more full. I enjoy my time going to restaurants, I enjoy traveling the world and writing reviews, and most of all I love to bring the adventures and experiences onto the page. Maybe they’re not good, maybe nobody ever reads my work, maybe it’ll all just drift away into the abyss and never be anything. It doesn’t matter, because at this moment in time it means something to me, it fulfills me, it makes me a better person, and I feel as though anything that means something to you is worth it’s weight in gold, and I can’t see this feeling going away anytime soon. I crave the adventure. I finally feel as though I have found something I’m good at, thanks to Bourdain, and without his shows, books, podcasts, and even audiobooks when I drive, I truly believe it would have taken me so much longer to fill the gaps in my life that seemed to be missing their pieces. I needed a new passion that could embrace my current passion and turn it into one big beast that never slept. I wanted to wake up and be excited to go places again, I wanted to try the cocktails, I wanted to eat the food, I wanted to cook the food I’d tried for myself, and I wanted to take it home and share it with my family first hand, as well as write it for anyone else to see. I just wanted to do something that would make someone else feel the same way I did when connecting with anything Bourdain. If I could just change someone else’s day around, and make them happy, like I was, and make them forget the hardships of every day life with dreams of food and wanderlust, then it was worth every second of my time.
In many ways I connected with Anthony Bourdain, along with my husband, more than anyone. He wasn’t just a tv personality, a writer, or a chef. He was everything in one. He went to seek the great unknown, he traveled places most people wouldn’t travel if they didn’t have a job, or funds, allowing it. He ate the foods that people usually wouldn’t eat, he found out stories and histories and he shed light onto the less fortunate and their way of living. In a way he was a role model, a God, a savior to so many people whose lives he touched. It didn’t matter if you were watching from your sofa, if you were out living the dream trying to be him, making his recipes, or you were right there with him on the set; non of it mattered. It only mattered that from that moment you took something with you, you took a new outlook on life, you felt joy and pain on all of the adventures – good or bad – and you learnt from him that no matter what you’re given, no matter where you go, and no matter how you feel at that moment. Never stop. Continue to push forward and do what you love, and try everything and anything you see on the menu no matter how wild and weird. He was right, food is a story, food is the river of life; without it we would starve. It leads us to new destinations, it takes us back in time to old ones, it brings us joy, it comforts us when we’re sad, it floods you with memories of maybe a loved one now lost. Food is the ultimate binder of life. It binds us together, it unites us, it has a story with every bite and every face looking down at that plate, and I feel there was never, and never will be, anyone as perfect as Anthony to do that job.
Today my heart is heavy, and although I never knew him personally or had the pleasure of meeting him, I took it upon myself to write this article because he changed my life in many ways without even knowing he ever did – as I’m sure the case for everyone who is mourning today.
We lost the best. I only hope that whatever brought him to such a sad place has now been freed, and he is happier wherever he may be. I’d like to say that if anyone I know is going through a hard time, or considering suicide, then please just come and speak to me. Life is for living, it’s beautiful, it’s never ending, it’s too short as it is, and when you think you’ve really reached the bottom with no way out, then I’ll help you build back up. There’s beauty in every day. No matter how dark.
Anthony will forever live on as someone who changed the way I view the world.
Right now I am in Manama, Bahrain, writing from my hotel room on another set of travels, and I want nothing more then to dash out of the door as soon as my husband gets home and eat local cuisine. I have the bug, thanks to Anthony, and I won’t let it die.
I guess in this life there really are No Reservations.
If your thoughts are different from mine, your views not so similar, or maybe you just don’t feel the same or like this article. I’d advise you to stay away. This isn’t a political post, this isn’t a post of right or wrong, this is just a post from the heart. So let’s agree to disagree, and you can continue with your day.
Until next time,