My Hero, Anthony Bourdain, Has Fallen
A Tribute to the Unapologetically Honest Chef and Storyteller
What an emotional 24 hours in the Hangry District.
As I scrolled through my social accounts this morning searching for highlights from the Capitals win, my eyes moist with tears of joy and a smile lacquered across my face, I happened to stumble across a link emblazoned: ANTHONY BOURDAIN DEAD AT 61.
No. This can't be real, this has to be a prank. Fake news, right?
As my denial faded and the facts came to light I was overcome with emotion. Bourdain was single handedly the reason I wanted to share my love of food with my community, and maybe someday, the world. His candidness, outspoken personality, undeniable skill, and passion for food was absolutely contagious, and I felt a strong connection to him.
I first read Bourdain's beloved Kitchen Confidential when I became a hostess in a restaurant at my first job when I was 16. Talk about a page turner. As someone who became very invested in the restaurant and hospitality industry at a young age, this book changed my life. I related to Bourdain's reluctant work ethic, his struggle with the realities of restaurant industry temptations (i.e. drugs and alcohol), his blessings of a spoiled upbringing, and his passion for storytelling.
Not only did his book (first written as this article in the New Yorker), provide the public with an eye opening look into the restaurant industry, but it paved the way for restaurants to clean up their acts, if you will, and do better. After Kitchen Confidential, restaurants wanted to disassociate with smarmy kitchens, bad products, and lazy staff - and I think we have Bourdain to thank for that.
I will say, to this day I avoid ordering mussels in restaurants, and I never order the fish special on a Monday.
His success led him down a path that most everyone wishes for: a traveling culinary host, who is immersed in the culture, the people, and the food of more countries than one could ever dream of visiting. His pure intentions of respecting traditions and cultures was apparent in his shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, as the most-times outspoken sailor-mouthed personality appears quiet and reflective in sacred places, or when gathering for a feast with a community who can barely survive due to lack of food. He had a kind heart, and was never afraid to be himself.
I have deep respect for Bourdain's unapologetic honesty. It helped me overcome my need to please everyone, resulting most times in unnecessary lies. If Bourdain can win people over with his love of nacho cheese and dirty water dogs, then why am I afraid to defend what I love? Who cares what other people think. With that, I decided to start writing about the food that I love, and my meager travels - always consulting Bourdain's travel guides wherever I went (I know you do the same!).
I always strive to immerse myself in the REAL culture of a new city or country, and say to myself, "What would Anthony do?" I also like to think I have his balls when I admit I hate uni, something he could never get enough of. I would often fantasize about taking him on my tour of DC, or welcoming him into my kitchen, where I have local ingredients, homemade pickled things, and the guilty pleasure of Velveeta cheese awaiting his arrival. But sadly, I'll never get to meet my hero in person now, because he was on a journey that is too often overlooked.
As I turned 31 this year, I battled with my first mental health crisis. It is an experience that I too questioned in the past; saying things like "why can't you just be happy?" or "you have a great life, what is there to be unhappy about?"
Depression is a feeling unlike any other, and if you've never experienced it, I don't think you'll ever understand. It's being constantly on the verge of tears, overwhelming thoughts of death or why am I hear/what is the purpose of life; accelerated heart rate/constant anxiety; alcohol and/or drug abuse, etc. And you know what the hardest part is? Asking for help. ESPECIALLY because of those people who think your life is too good to be depressed. As I experienced this overwhelming state of sadness and anxiety, I was EMBARRASSED. There are so many people in my life with "real" tragedies and I felt like I was not allowed to feel this way, let alone expect any sort of sympathy. So many times I hear "You're so bubbly and smiling all the time, how can YOU be unhappy?!" F THAT. Everyone has their own shit, and that's OK!
Lucky for me, I have an incredible support system and a strong will to live. I sought some help, made some life changes (saying no to events is hard, but necessary!), and am on the bright path back to happiness. But it is not that easy for everyone, especially if they feel the same sort of embarrassment as I did. It took me weeks to see my doctor, and even then I found myself laughing out of embarrassment when talking about my issues. The doctor was NOT laughing, but took my symptoms seriously, as should all of you.
Addiction and depression is scary stuff. From losing a close friend, to losing my hero, I think it's time we all took a moment to research addiction and mental illness and be brave enough to ask if someone needs help. Your life doesn't have to be perfect - Instagram isn't REAL. You matter more than anything else in this universe.
Bourdain once said,
"Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life."
It's my favorite quote, because who you're with and where you are ultimately matters more than what you're eating. If the food is good, but the company is GREAT, you'll remember the GREAT meal that you had.
Have a noodle bowl in honor of my hero this weekend, I hope he's at peace.
*None of these photos are my own.