An Ode to Anthony Bourdain

When today started, I thought the saddest thing that was going to happen to me would be sitting through the new Dave Matthews Band album. Unfortunately, I was incredibly wrong.  I don’t usually get upset over celebrity deaths—while most of them have entertained me at some point, that’s the strongest connection we have—but since Bourdain is one of two recent celebrity deaths I’ve actually become emotional over (the other being Gord Downie), I feel I should write something.

I’ve never agreed with everything Tony said or wrote.  I read too many “this is how you SHOULD do things” article and interviews involving him, and I don’t believe there is one right way for anything.  You do things your way.  If you want to eat sushi by dunking it in soy sauce, knock yourself out.  I also didn’t agree with his incredibly obnoxious views on vegans and vegetarians—people are just trying to live their lives the best way they see fit, and if someone wants to live in such a way as not to harm animals, who are we to judge?

But what I did like—and, probably, loved—about Anthony Bourdain was his constant traveling.  Not even necessarily for the food, which is my main focus on the road, but just going places.  Places that could be incredibly uncomfortable.  I firmly believe no place is as savage as we think it is, but I still wouldn’t go to Iran.  Especially for a major news source with a camera crew.  But Bourdain did it, he talked to people, and he revealed the one universal truth about the entire world: we’re all basically the same, trying to do the best we can.  There are, of course, pockets of bad people who are trying to upend that, but people on the whole are just trying to do what is best.  We’re not so different, you and I.

I thought his recent episode of Parts Unknown in West Virginia was incredible.  Having lived there for over 10 years, trying my hardest to get out, and then going back as infrequently as possible, he painted the state—and its people—in a wonderful light.  I can’t say that I’m dying to go back because of the show, but I do have a newfound respect for the people struggling there, as I think anyone who watched the show would.

A lot of times, people ask me for tips on traveling, or how I plan a vacation.  Once a location is decided on, the first thing I do is find the episode of whichever show Bourdain did there, whether it was No Reservations or The Layover or Parts Unknown, and take copious notes.  It’s because of him that I knew about bun cha in Vietnam.  He’s the reason I had amazing sausage at Belvárosi Disznótoros in Budapest.  He is why I dragged LeeAnne to Plachutta Restaurant in Vienna for a large meal of tafelspitz, despite already eating a massive wienerschnitzel (also gleaned from the episode) and being incredibly underdressed for the restaurant.

Food and travel are two of my favorite things, and some of my greatest memories of those two things can be linked directly back to Anthony Bourdain.  I’ve had some of the best meals of my life, and some great times, all thanks to his recommendations.  Selfishly, I wish I would have been able to meet him, if for no other reason than to shake his hand and tell him thank you.  Luckily, though, I will not stop traveling or eating, and he will certainly be able to leave his mark on all of my future trips the same way he has in the past.

I will keep wandering, Tony, I will keep eating great food, and I will keep writing about it.  And I will keep thanking you for leading the way.