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Narratives Exclusives

Anthony Bourdain

Gutted.

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At a book signing with Anthony Bourdain after his Massey Hall appearance back in 2010 (yes, I splurged for VIP tickets just to meet one of my TV idols)

It’s been a day since the world has lost an influential globetrotter, student of the world, and treasured storyteller who shared culture, history and politics through the lens of food. An advocate for the underdog, compassionate skeptic, industry ambassador, Anthony Bourdain was a vastly admired media personality who asked questions and listened, and a doting father.
I’ve only had fleeting experiences with Bourdain, but his influence, ever since the first episodes on A Cook’s Tour on Food Network – which I followed religiously before discovering his raw and refreshing writing – to brief meetings (as a fan, attending his talks and book signings, then as a food writer for local write ups or at events), highly impressed on this (and still) budding restaurant and travel writer.
He inspired many of us to look beyond the surface; revealing the stories we never knew or knew to look for. As a constant seeker of knowledge, uninhibited in how far I’ll go to learn about or from the best, my interest to uncover the story or personality behind the plate stemmed from what Bourdain did (aspiring to his excellence, or at least a fraction of it). I found value in it that went beyond seeking the “delicious” (because I learned early on, in attempts to retrace the No Reservations host’s steps, that I didn’t always share the same taste) and relished how it nourished my insatiable appetite to learn more about the world around us.
What I admired most about Bourdain was how he used his platform, writing and TV shows to share stories that many would not, even could not (due to access, censorship, or having hands politically tied up), touch. He wasn’t afraid to be put in an uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous, and often unusual situation. He wasn’t afraid to speak out on behalf of those without a platform or a voice, nor did he hesitate to tell it as it was (unlike many who play it safe while holding onto their influence).
My condolences to those closest around him. My heart goes out to his daughter who he’s shared time and time again as having changed his life. To his loved ones and Éric Ripert, I have no words for this devastating loss. To his team who collectively helped change how many of us now travel, eat with open minds and stomachs and perhaps shake off any hesitation from trying “squeezle” (9:05 of No Reservations S01E04), being gracious and accept the hospitality offered from others even if it’s something different (remember when every strange concoction was something that made you “strong”), strange (warthog anus,* anyone?), or down right scary (being caught in Beirut at the beginnings of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict (No Reservations S02E14), and then returning in Parts Unknown to share the stories of the people there). May we live his legacy to travel curiously or at least with an open heart. May we ask, listen, learn, share, and strive to be worldly. And may we realize that even the best among us could have their own struggles to battle, and to actively reach out with help as best we can.
Today we mourn, but may we be charged to follow in Bourdain’s footsteps knowing there’s still so much left out there in the world around us to learn and appreciate.
We’ll miss you, Tony.


*DAVE DAVIES: (Laughter) Is it true in Namibia you were offered an unwashed warthog rectum?

BOURDAIN: Yeah. Well, they killed a pig, and apparently that was the – you know, the chief yanks that part out and throws it on the grill and grills it medium rare and splits it with me. And I look – the whole tribe is watching. He’s offering me what he sees as the best part. That’s a clear take-one-for-the-team situation.

What am I going to do, refuse him, embarrass him in front of his people, look ungrateful? That changes the whole tenor of the relationship. I mean, when somebody’s offering you food, they’re telling you a story. They’re telling you what they like, who they are. Presumably, it’s a proud reflection of their culture, their history, often a very tough history. You turn your nose up at that important moment, the whole relationship changes, and it will never be the same. – Anthony Bourdain On ‘Appetites,’ Washing Dishes And The Food He Still Won’t Eat, NPR’s Fresh Air (transcript and audio)


There’s been a great outpouring of personal interactions, stories and tributes, online and in print that are much more beautiful and eloquent than mine since Bourdain’s passing. Here are some that resonated with me the most:

Anthony Bourdain Was the Kind of ‘Bad Boy’ We Need More Of, by Sarah J. Jackson in The New York Times

Anthony Bourdain shone a different light on the Middle East, a look at just how the travel documentarian was able to provide insight to the rest of the world (and in particular, the Middle East), by Angela Dewan, Tamara Qiblawi and Gianluca Mezzofiore in CNN

Despite his brand, Anthony Bourdain’s life was an education, not a bacchanal, for the Globe & Mail Rebecca Tucker captures the feeling that many of us food and travel writers feel

Anthony Bourdain and the Power of Telling the Truth, a touching tribute by his friend and food scribe Helen Rosner in The New Yorker

About Renée Suen

Renée Suen is a food loving freelance writer and photographer based in Toronto. Her insatiable appetite, curiosity and camera are often found travelling around the world in search of memorable tastes and the stories behind the plate. In another life, she is a PhD candidate in Cardiovascular Sciences.

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