Yesterday, Anthony Bourdain decided to peace out on 2018. I’m still coming to terms with that.
Bourdain was such an important influence on my life, and is essentially the reason for this site. I’ve lost idols before – Bowie, Steve – but idols exist on a different plane. You don’t go through your days thinking “What would Bowie do in this situation.” That’d be ludicrous. You’re happy to exist in a world that allows them to exist, but you know that you can’t be like them, and you probably don’t want to be. Bourdain was different. He was one of us – a guy with opinions and passions and neurosis, working really hard to do the things that seemed worth doing. Being like Anthony meant asking your cab driver where he likes to get lunch, calling bullshit on situations that are, in fact, bullshit, and openly embracing your own idiosyncrasies. Anthony never stopped worrying that someone would figure out he was pulling a scam, and send him back to making brunch omelettes, and that drove him to work harder and do better. A lot of us know that feeling.
I found Anthony on the cusp of a change in my life. I’d recently traveled internationally for the first time. But it wasn’t travel that brought me to No Reservations – it was exercise. I’d started trying to lose weight, and was walking on the treadmill every day. I needed TV to fill the time. An episode of No Reservations was the perfect duration for my workout. I pirated the whole back catalog, and started watching from episode one. I watched Anthony go from a guy playing a role on TV to a guy who gave zero fucks and loathed the trappings of celebrity but knew he could use his position to share a worldview that needed sharing.
Anthony taught me that it doesn’t really matter where you’re going. Everywhere has a story to tell and passionate people dealing with their own struggles. And yes, that food is a bridge for the curious traveler. He taught us that the way you push back on the bullshit you can’t control is by putting yourself out there and offering another perspective. His was a voice the world needed even more in the era of Trump, and that’s part of why so many of us are feeling so upset. We needed him, and he left.
So many of my best memories from the past five years are directly because of him. Vietnam, Malaysia, Senegal, Colombia. Detroit, New Orleans. Each time, the planning started by rewatching an episode of No Reservations or Parts Unknown. Not to study the specific destinations but to think about the attitude and the experience, the pace and the perspective. More than once, and in countries all around the world, I’ve eaten an amazing meal at a hole-in-the-wall or street food stall, thinking I’d discovered a real hidden gem. Then I spot the picture of Anthony on the wall, grinning from the same plastic stool, and I know that he was there first. Bastard.
I’m going to miss him enormously. His was a voice that won’t be replaced. A “food show” that gives you a lesson in the colonial history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo? How did that ever exist? It’ll obviously not be allowed to exist again. But hopefully his broader inspiration will live on, for everyone working hard to do a thing that seems worth doing. We’ll all just keep riding this scam until someone catches on.