By now, you’ve probably heard of the passing of food journalist Tony Bourdain. If it weren’t for him, this blog might never have happened. I write about beer because it matters. Bourdain played a big part in showing me how.
An incredibly gifted story-teller, he showed us how food matters because in the ways he connected food to people all over the world in ways we never realized. His breakthrough book “Kitchen Confidential” changed the way we looked at restaurants because of all the insightful and sometimes inconvenient facts he shared about the people and their struggles to transform raw ingredients out of sight in the kitchen into the food we either quietly enjoy or slurp down without thinking very much about how it got there. On his TV food travel documentaries, he comfortably co-existed with both high-end French gastronomy or street vendors in crowded cities with surprising ease. In a world weary but enthusiastic voice, we’d listen to him talk about his travels to some part of the globe, watching him as he succinctly captured the culture of where ever he was at over a few meals with locals. How he did it so effortlessly, yet with such inexhaustible curiosity and passion was something none of us ever understood.
Unlike much of food writing, he never hesitated in taking on political issues. He showed that the simple act of eating manifested itself in numerous practices and cultural traditions all over the world, even though that all come from the same basic desires and needs. Unfortunately, that truth he uncovered is in itself an uncomfortable political statement all too frequently.
Since he died by his own hand, I can’t avoid the temptation to speculate why. Whatever demons were haunting him, I have to think he was running away from them by spending over 200 days a year all over the globe filming his shows. Where we might see a simple restaurant, perhaps Bourdain saw them as places of refuge where he could withdraw from whatever pain he was dealing with, places he could feel truly alive and share that experience with the world. I can see Bourdain, tired and broken down in a hotel room after decades of this personal battle, muttering “Fuck it, I’m just too old for this shit” and ending it all.
Rest in peace Tony, and thank you for showing us the way.