There are some people who show up to Life and remind you how deeply connected we all are as human beings. Many times they are linked to one theme, audience or industry...then there are the greats, the legends and history makers who blaze paths and shake things up a bit. They go whenever and wherever needed, leave a special mark and then humbly blend everything back together as if nothing ever happened.
Today I speak of Mr. Anthony Bourdain: always in rare form and a true culinary rockstar. He holds a very special place in my heart. I have always been a big believer and advocate of following your dreams and pursuing your passions. Growing up I was very curious and bold. I loved books, math, writing, cooking, talking to people, cultures, learning, and stories. I sought out adventures amidst a daily routine. As I got older none of these loves faded- they only intensified. The variety also calmed my spirit, because what I did not enjoy was putting all my eggs in one basket. The thought of that made me cringe, as I declared early on I was not going to place a cap on or exclude anything I loved from my life. I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up, so my answer was always 'happy.'
When it was time to graduate high school I had narrowed careers down to an accountant, flight attendant and chef. The culinary school I wanted to attend was far away and too damn expensive to not be certain. I ended up studying accountancy and working with children or food, until a flight attendant position presented itself. All the while I traveled, ate and wrote about my adventures. I was happy and in the midst of the happiness, picked up a book that would change my life. "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" by Anthony Bourdain.
I had seen a few episodes of him hosting, A Cook's Tour but not being a heavy television viewer, did not see every episode. When I saw him on the cover of a book I shouted, "I know him!" and bought it because I was still curious about becoming a chef. Everything still revolved around culinary arts. Could I really do it? Am I too late?
The book swept me away. It was a raw, uncut and hilarious truth about the culinary industry. It appeared at a pivotal point in culinary history, when celebrity chefs were the talk of the town and making a breakthrough, Bourdain was giving a behind-the scenes 'zero fluff' description and viewpoint of his life as a professional cook. It.was.everything. What started off as a block of a few hours to read, turned into an overnight Bourdain party. The only breaks I took were to stretch and grab more snacks. It read like a movie and was spiritually nutritious; he had answered all my questions, while validating the specific feelings I could not get anywhere else except in a kitchen. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be him, meet him, dine with him, cook with or for him, party with him or marry him. By the end of the book, I felt we were friends. The only thing better than finishing the book was finding out he had written other ones.
I write this blog because I have such a deep appreciation and admiration for Mr. Bourdain. As a writer, he's taught me to express myself right where I am in life and quite frankly, not care who reads it, so long as it is what I feel called to do. He has mastered the art of storytelling. As a chef, he was the ultimate uniter of food lovers. Looking back on his life, I am reminded all of the subtle ways he snuck back into mine and helped me come out of whole lot of heartache, confusion and pain.
*After Kitchen Confidential, I ended up enrolling in culinary school. :) As a gift to myself, I purchased the updated edition of the book only to smile at his growth, recognition and thoughts about now being a celebrity chef. During orientation we were given a sponge which represented the importance of all the knowledge we were encouraged to soak up, mixed with a message that if it ever dried up, we carried the power of placing ourselves in spaces where our appetites could be whet again. It sits on his book.
*A year or two later, I became ill and had to stop attending school. My issues caused me internal pain, inability to stand for long periods of time and other graphic stuff that made leaving school a necessity rather than a choice. I knew I had to heal from the inside out, or else the issues would resurface. It took years to heal, and it broke me; I felt like a quitter/failure and chefs don't quit. We slow down, we shift gears, we try something new or become something else with food as our guide. I picked the book back up and publicly connected my love for writing with food, traveling and people. I started a blog.
*Somewhere after the blog and in between a declaration of facing my fears, demons and doubts, I realized my love for alcohol extended beyond classy wine and cheese pairings, cigars and bourbon, friendly dinner dates and the occasional good, organized and safely planned drunken night. My fears, demons and doubts had appeared in many forms, but drinking was my way to curb them. Curb, ignore, enhance, blur, numb- whatever they did was always in the moment and I learned were directly connected to my thoughts. Many people helped me out of this space, but before asking for help from a specific person I wanted to double check my heart space and see if I still wanted to become a chef. I picked the book up again, read half of it and knew the only way I would be able to enter back into the culinary world would be to actively work on my mental health and stability. Way easier said than done, and sometimes I cringe trying to think back to specific dates because I really don't want to have to go through my journals just to remember that. Recalling the feelings and pictures were enough.
*In 2015, my sister passed away. If there was a pair of people that we used to say best described our friendship and connection, it was Anthony Bourdain and Chef Eric Ripert. We adored them individually, but loved how they screamed best friends and balanced the other out. It showed in everything and everywhere they went. She and I used to do many things together; all of it food, writing and culture based. I thought I knew what heartache was until she passed away, and then I was certain. I spent countless hours watching all types of foodisms with them together to feel her spirit and regain encouragement. It worked! They helped tremendously, especially seeing them belly laugh or question one another with deep curiosity and as if they had never met. One of my favorite memories was watching the episode of Chef Ripert's "On the Table with Anthony Bourdain." I think I have seen that at least 10 times.
*Fast forward to today, 8 June 2018. Waking up to the horrible news that Mr. Bourdain passed away from suicide. Deeply sadden and shocked, my prayers extend to his daughter, family, friends and colleagues.
We lost a revolutionary culinary genius. We've traveled around the world with him as he passionately and enthusiastically shared the lives of others. We have 'tasted' cuisines and experienced cultures from places many of us only dream about and he has brought it to us in the most captivating ways. He managed to connect and honor what being a classically trained chef means while connecting and welcoming all levels and types of cooks and food lovers. On top of that, he shed light on many difficult subjects in and out of the food world. To me, Anthony Bourdain is the epitome of and reason why people should show up and be honest with themselves and their own life path. We all encounter bumps in the road, we all feel strongly about stuff, we all have our own fears, demons and doubts. That still does not mean we cannot change, nor does it discount the fact we are all connected. We have been shown food and our cultures to be a vital source of our commonalties. May we learn to be a little kinder, listen better and live in the moments. May we honor his life contributions by doing what we can to call more attention to the fact health is beyond material possessions or one dimensional. It is about ALL aspects of our health: mind, body and soul.
Here's to uncovering all of the parts unknown, no reservations.
The Smitten Chef