The world has lost its greatest culinary storyteller and it hurts a lot of us in different ways
Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018) was found dead in a hotel in France, where he was filming a new episode for his show Parts Unkown. He committed suicide. There is disbelief and shock among many in the culinary world, because Anthony was the inspiration for an entire culinary generation. Weirdly enough I share some of that pain, even though I have never met him. I wanted to publish a recipe today, but somehow I felt the need to write this post.
January 24th 2011 – One day before I take my first bite of haggis
It’s a rainy evening and I’m sitting on a hard plastic chair at a bus station somewhere in Dundee, Scotland. I brought my warmest winter jacket but with the drafty designed bus station in below-zero temperatures, I’m shivering. Still, after the two hour drive from Edinburgh to Dundee I’m just happy to be alive. The RyanAir flight wasn’t too bad, but being on the wrong side of the street for the first time in my life, combined with the rather reckless driving style of the grumpy MegaBus driver forced me to just close my eyes and flee myself into the audio book that I was listening. Out of my earplugs still comes the voice of Anthony Bourdain who tells the tales of the culinary underbelly in his own book “Kitchen Confidential“. I have no idea who the narrator and author is but his tales of a coked-up chef throwing knives and pans in a kitchen puts a grin on my face.
Looking around I finally see a familiar face so far away from home. A childhood friend who I haven’t had seen in a few months greets me with a big warm hug. Even before dropping off my luggage at his place, we head to closest pub which is just a few minutes down the wet and grimy streets. My friend had warned me before I even bought the plane ticket: Dundee has the nickname Scumdee for a reason – it’s supposedly the ugliest city in Scotland.
We catch up in the pub over two beers accompanied by some soggy fish and chips, before heading to the flat my friend is living in while studying abroad for half a year. When entering the building I realize red powder on the ground. Once my friend explains that it’s chili powder to keep stray cats away, I try to remember how many days I would be staying in Dundee. We enter his flat which has had water-damage for months and the room that was destined to be the living room is actually unusable. Just stepping into the room, I get hit by the smell of cold, moist and moldy air. In the corner of the room there is something that looks like a wrapped-up pancake. It’s a giant mushroom growing in the unsanitary conditions my friend calls his new temporary home. He and his roommate have called the brown fungus ‘Rupert’, after the teddy bear in the TV series Family Guy.
We are heading to bed early because tomorrow is a national holiday. Once a year the Scottish celebrate their poet Robert Burns with bag pipes and a whole spectacle centered all around Haggis – different kinds of sheep offal cooked in the animals stomach.
I slowly and cautiously climb onto my fold-able army-bed and tuck myself in, hearing the whizzing sound of a portable radiator. Before drifting off to sleep I still have a vivid scene before my eyes in which a manic shouting chef with tossed-up hair throws utensils in an unsanitary room some restaurant is calling its kitchen. Anthony Bourdain is an incredible storyteller -as you have probably figured out by now- I am not.
Only years later will I see an episode of Anthony’s series Parts Unknown for the first time.
Food and travel
Anthony Bourdain’s talent to hook you from the first second is just remarkable. His show Parts Unknown with personal, raw and unpolished stories draws you in immediately. It feels like you are there with him and his “I don’t care if you don’t like me or what I’m telling. Fuck off and change the channel!”-attitude makes him charming in his very own way. He inspired me to take the route less traveled. Just getting lost in foreign cities and trying shady places for the authentic experience. Who wants to go to the polished tourist places anyway?
When I had to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria for work I had to do my utter best to convince a colleague to sit with me in a random side street restaurant. It was basically just a dent in building block with a few old weather-beaten plastic chairs. 4 tables – 3 empty and one occupied by two alcoholics, who seemed to have been at it for a while. It was about 2 pm at the time. We sat down and of course the menu was only in Bulgarian. The owner didn’t speak a single word of English and had the clear look of ‘what the heck do you want here’ on his face. The only thing that I remembered from the dinner with colleagues the night before were shopska salad and a spirit called rakia. Once I ordered these that immediately broke the ice and the awkward tension. After a while the owner grabbed a skewer with a look of ‘you want this?’, followed by the alcoholics trying to mime out chickens and pigs. The owner went to some kind of shed, vanished behind a door and came back with a literally a fistful of meat cubes. With hands and feet he was mentioning something like “chicken is out, we only have pork”. About 15 minutes later we got our skewers and shopska salad, which weren’t bad at all. All had worked out fine. The rakia served was obviously home-brewed moonshine with I’d guess about 50-60% proof (that’s 120 proof US…). That burnt the happy smirk right off my face again…
The only reason why I can tell stories like this is because Tony encouraged me to dare going to these kinds of restaurants. I have traveled 8 times last year and before most of these trips I watched an episode of Parts Unknown on Youtube about my upcoming travel destination. Anthony became my guide – not for actual restaurants, but for the dishes and parts of town to seek out. You grow when you travel and it feels like Anthony Bourdain helped me grow.
Just like Morgan Freeman is the undisputed voice of god in movies and films, Anthony Bourdain has taken that role for all voice-over work when it comes to food related travel – at least in my head. And weirdly enough, whenever I read a quote from Tony, his voice pops into my head clear as day, with all the pauses and ups and downs in his voice, whether I have actually heard him say these words or not.
A list with dreams and goals
The only way to end up at a destination is to know where you are heading for in the first place. A friend advised me to write down all my dreams on paper, that way I would know what to aim for and what steps to take. I have this list with dreams and goals that I want to achieve in my life on my phone. Obviously, a lot of these are directly or indirectly related to food. Food-wise there have been three idols in my life: Jamie Oliver, Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain. All of them ended up on the list of dreams and goals.
Jamie Oliver was the first culinary idol to ever enter my life. His charismatic way ignited my passion for cooking about 13 years ago. One day I wanted to be like him. Shortly after I got his cookbook “Jamie’s Dinners” I promised myself that one day I would write and publish my own cookbook. This is a dream I made come true.
During my student years my passion for food grew even bigger and I was searching far and wide for new and weird flavors. At some point I encountered Andrew Zimmern‘s show Bizarre Foods. This was exactly what I was looking for! His catch phrase “If it looks good, eat it” became my mantra. I became obsessed with trying everything weird and random in search for new flavors, textures and experiences. Andrew is the reason why I decided to write my scientific master thesis about Food Neophobia – the fear of unknown & novel foods.
Having a beer with Anthony Bourdain is on that list. From the bottom of my heart I had hoped to someday end up with Anthony somewhere at the other end of the world in a shady run-down hole-in-the-wall bar and listen to him telling me about his weirdest travel stories. Sadly, this will never happen…
It’s good to have dreams, but you should not wait too long to make them come true.
Anthony Bourdain, you will be missed by many…
PS: It is strange that someone you never actually met stirs up so much emotions in one. Anthony was an inspiration to me, as he was for so many. Maybe because he took his own life it’s even more difficult to comprehend.
I have battled depressive episodes in my life but suicide always seemed like a shitty option to me personally. As everyone experiences life differently however, some people feel that they don’t have any other way forward. Depressions are hard to get out of and most of us need help to end those vicious circles. Help can come from either friends and family or from professionals. I have had the support of all of these and I’m very grateful for it.
If you feel depressed or thinking about suicide, please get help. That step asking for help seems incredibly hard but you will be better of afterwards.
Care for your friends and family, and tell them you love them.
Photos via drifttravel.com, maxim.com and geekwire.com