What Bourdain Day Means to Me

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

“Drink heavily with locals whenever possible.”

Today is Bourdain Day, a new holiday created by renowned chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andres to honor their late friend and inspire others to experience the world the way that Anthony Bourdain did. I absolutely love this idea, because it celebrates a person I admire very much and aspire to be like.

Why did Anthony Bourdain mean so much to me? What did he represent? I’ve asked myself that a lot since his death last June, news that legit brought me to tears. Why did his death affect me as much as it has? Why do I find myself missing a person I’ve never met?

To me, Bourdain was more than a celebrity chef turned author and travel journalist. He represented the way I want to travel and learn about the world, the way I want to engage with my fellow humans. He was endlessly fascinated by people’s stories, traveling not just to see the sights but to meet and understand a place’s soul. He searched out the best flavors from a place, whether at a high end restaurant with celebrated chefs or sitting at his cameraman’s grandmother’s kitchen table. Underneath his grouchy New York persona was an open heart eager to learn about lives unlike his own. He shared those stories with his audience in an attempt to make the world a little bit smaller, a little bit kinder, and a whole lot more connected.

“Nothing unexpected or wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.”

When Justin and I travel, we aspire to follow in Bourdain’s footsteps, seeking out delicious flavors, engaging with locals, learning some history, all in an attempt to better understand a place and its place in the world. Yes, we want to see the view from the Top of the Rock, get photos of the Sagrada Familia, make our way down Graffiti Alley, walk the Freedom Trail — you have to do the touristy thing whenever you go to a new place! But after we knock out the highlights and grab our photo opps, we want to get a little lost, meander through the city, stumble upon a local music festival or accidentally stop at a brothel for drinks. I often ask myself “What would Bourdain do?” In order to push myself to be less rigid and open to winging it. I’ve learned to plan our trips less, leaving more room for happy accidents and unexpected experiences.

“I think food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable.” 

Bourdain has always searched for the why in his travels. Even back on No Reservations, his more food-focused travelogue, it wasn’t just about eating delicious things, but examining the roots of a place’s food culture, digging into why a chef cooked a certain way or wanted to open a certain style restaurant. Food was more than just food; it was part of a place’s narrative, history, and societal makeup — food could reveal the why of a person or of a place.

When he interviewed people on his show, engaging them in dialogues about food and local politics and culture, he strived to provide them an outlet to share their view and their stories, with his audience. Bourdain worked hard to show us what life was like in places in ways that aren’t often portrayed in media, like showcasing the surprising hospitality in Iran, or highlighting the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. Though at times brash and rather gruff, he approached his subjects with humility and compassion, never condescending to his guests or audience, always eager to learn more and understand the world through the eyes of others. He pushed himself and his travel companions outside of their comfort zones, whether it was cooking dinner with no light and a dull knife on a boat in the Congo, learning about hentai from a Japanese artist, or visiting an erotica museum in Peru. He didn’t shy away from tough subjects such as poverty, religion, LGBT rights, the longterm effects of war, or government corruption. Behind all of those F-bombs and his crackling northeastern snark was an incredibly curious mind and empathetic soul. He used his tremendous platform to help expand the worldview of his audience, inspiring us to walk in someone else’s shoes, or at least to eat their food.

In short, this man embodied how I want to live, and what I want to teach my son. We can’t just be tourists in this life, focusing only on the highlights and photo opps and what we ourselves need. We must engage each other with empathy, live curiously and fearlessly, step out of our comfort zones, so we can better know, serve, and lift up our fellow humans.

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

So how did we celebrate Bourdain Day in the Schwannema house? We’re actively planning a trip to a new place, satisfying our wanderlust; tonight we dined at a locally owned diner, Nadeen’s, a place we think Bourdain would have loved, where he could engage with locals and better understand this area; I’ve started a new memoir by a Somalian immigrant, to learn something new about a part of the world unknown to me; and we’re rounding out the evening with an episode of Parts Unknown, to stoke our curiosity. 

How did you spend Bourdain day? What did Anthony Bourdain mean to you? What inspires you to travel, and how does travel inspire your every day life?

 

 

(All block quotes in this post are Anthony Bourdain’s words. The featured image is borrowed from https://explorepartsunknown.com/remembering-bourdain/)