Rob Idol

Vale Anthony Bourdain: Teacher, Poet, Our Grand Enabler

The passing of Anthony Bourdain hit me hard. However, the lessons he taught me will forever live on.

 

Growing up, I fantasized about traveling around the world. My most prized possessions was my atlas; I would pick all the interesting-looking places that I was going to visit one day.

We had a bit of a ritual at my parents’ house. Every Sunday, no matter how big a night we had the night before or whether we were living at the house or not, we would have a big fry up breakfast together. Then, without fail, we would take our full bellies to the couch and watch our new favorite show … Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

When we made it to Montreal at the end of our first overseas trip, we had two goals: 1) to eat the poutine at Resto La Banquise and 2) to eat the bagels at St-Viateur Bagels. We had watched his Montreal episode over and over again, captivated as Bourdain introduced us to two local delicacies in the way that only he could. Every viewing left us with an insatiable hunger for the food and an even more insatiable hunger to experience the city. Before I’d even flown beyond the borders of Australia, I’d already learned the most important travel lesson I would ever learn: The Golden Gate Bridge is great, but the hole-in-the-wall restaurant in an alleyway somewhere was far more interesting.

Adopting that philosophy has resulted in some of the best experiences of my life. I once drove for an hour in L.A. traffic in my rental car to find a small Korean restaurant that Bourdain described as “the best dumplings in L.A.” The dumplings were amazing, but I remember the adventure of getting there more than what was plated up for me. When I later lived in Montreal, I ate foie gras for the first time at Au Pied de Cochon, trying my best not to show my excitement when I was served by the same waitress that Bourdain was when he visited. I tried things on that menu that would have once seemed confronting and I did it with a big fucking smile on my face.

The food was only part of the equation, of course. As much as I’m a foodie, it was Bourdain’s infectious curiosity about every place he visited that had the most profound impact.

When news of Bourdain’s passing came on Friday night, I was shaken more than I expected to be. I knew he had influenced me, but the reflection that followed the shock illustrated to me how much he had influenced me. He was, to me, a hero; probably the only person I’ve ever genuinely described as such.

Not long after I started traveling, I started writing about it. It started with overly verbose emails back to family and friends and slowly melded into blogging. Much like the man whose footsteps I was following, the food I ate in various places became the thread that linked my writing. I wrote about the food I ate and wrote about whatever journey, large or small, that led me to each plate. As Bourdain himself said, “If you’re commenting on how crunchy delicious your salad is while your host is missing two limbs, you might want to ask them how that happened, and often you will get a story that’s far more interesting than what’s on your plate.”

 

The food was only part of the equation, of course. As much as I’m a foodie, it was Bourdain’s infectious curiosity about every place he visited that had the most profound impact.

 

That path led me to food blogging in my hometown eventually. Which in turn led to me having my first review published in Gram Magazine. Which led me to pitch an idea for an article to The Big Smoke a couple of years ago and I’ve been writing for TBS ever since. An experience that has also been one of the most fulfilling of my life.

I’m no orphan. There are people across the globe this weekend telling variations of the same story, countless tales of how an ex-junkie chef inspired us to look beyond the surface of everything this world has to offer. Stories of how the unlikeliest of bards infected us with excitement and curiosity and managed to do so with absolute unfettered honesty. He wasn’t afraid to put the real him on display, warts and all. He managed to do all of this with a kind of dark, twisted grace.

On the surface, Bourdain’s stories and experiences may have seemed like another exercise in the self-indulgent life of anyone lucky enough to be paid to travel to cool places and tell us what we’re missing out on. We may have tuned in for that next amazing location, but we stayed for him. He not only used his storytelling gift to traverse the globe and be paid for the enviable privilege, but he cut through the bullshit on almost any topic. He once called Henry Kissinger a war criminal with a raw eloquence that would have kept Churchill on his toes. He eviscerated the Harvey Weinsteins of the world while deftly sidestepping the limelight as not to draw attention away from the importance of the real issue. None of which was done with any agenda other than him calling out bullshit.

Bourdain was far from a saint. His past was filled with drug addiction, indulgence, and a litany of bad decisions, none of which he eve shied away from. This history naturally branded him with the type of anti-hero worship that is usually reserved for rock stars. I’m sure there are those out there that are twisting and turning that backstory now in an attempt to blame it for his fall. The truth is, it’s the reason for his rise. For we may all love a story about the excesses and indulgences of a rock star, but nothing is better than a story of redemption. Despite how it ended, Bourdain showed us that you can crawl out from the darkest, deepest depths and reach heights you couldn’t have previously imagined. We often define people by their mistakes, I prefer to define them by what they do in response to their mistakes. He owned his and used them to relate in a way that transcended the descriptors or labels that so often divide us, and did it without looking like a born-again pretentious twat.

I never knew the man. But without him, my life would be significantly poorer. I would have always settled for the comfortable, the mundane. What’s worse, I wouldn’t have known any different. They say that ignorance is bliss, and maybe it is, but it’s still a wire frame of an existence, a facsimile of the human experience. If I learned nothing else from him, I learned that the best experiences in our relatively short time on this planet only come from not just taking risks but by embracing them. Each of them, good and bad, should leave us hungry for more. Or, as Bourdain himself described it, “We are, after all, citizens of the world — a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s?”

 

Rob Idol

Rob is an aspiring writer who balances his time between a "real" job and his passion for politics, social justice, and all things creative. He has an MBA, an unhealthy obsession with current events, an even unhealthier obsession with pop culture, and has been known to offer favorable food reviews in exchange for free meals.

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