The shock from the sudden tragic death of food writer and TV personality Anthony Bourdain is still hovering in the air. I won’t even try to do justice to him and his life by writing this blog post, but still feel that I must. I can’t write a recipe or give some culinary folklore today as if it were any other week without first addressing his death, and the sadness that has come with it, for he was loved for being himself, but like other celebrities, was also bigger than just himself and he impacted the lives of many around the world, including me.
He and I both shared a special connection to Sardinia, this magical island that steals your heart as soon as you step foot on it. He was married to a Sardinian woman, Ottavia Busia for 10 years and he spoke about his love for this island many times. For me anyone who has ties to this island feels closer to me than a random stranger. There is something about Sardinia that pulls people together when they love her. That mutual love connected us. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought it very likely I could meet him someday, as Sardinia is a small island, and even though I am just a small time food writer, we shared a profession. It seemed so possible, until it was not and that is the finality of death, the end of possibility.
He was always a writer before a TV star, and many of the early episodes of No Reservations revealed that it was from a writer’s mind that his creativity came, and as a writer, I greatly admired that in him and have been inspired by his work and talent. I just found out today that he also wrote a graphic novel about the culinary world in addition to the several culinary mystery novels I knew about. Another thing we had in common – food writers who also write fiction!
And of course, I looked forward to decades more of his TV shows where he had a special way of allowing people to open up to him and reveal things about their lives and their passion for food that they would likely not talk about in the same way to another person. I am deeply saddened by the loss of his talent and his humanity. He had a real gift with people. Maybe it was his sometimes irreverent nature that allowed people to be so open and say what they truly felt because he always did so himself.
He was a huge advocate for traditional foods, and preserving the foodways of diverse cultures, not in the same serious way that many food writers do, but in a light, humorous and sometimes gluttonous way that taught many lessons to viewers about the importance of these foods and traditions without them even knowing it because he did not dwell on the more serious aspects about it. He often said he admired vegetarians who put aside their eating habits when traveling out of respect for local cultures. Those statements were near and dear to me because when I traveled to the Navajo Reservation, where the diet is largely based on animal products, I put aside my 10 years as a vegetarian so to not be a burden on my hosts. By doing so it taught me so much about how sustainable meat is raised versus industrial and after that experience, I never was vegetarian again. If I hadn’t gone into the experience with an open heart and mind, I would have missed important life lessons that only travel can teach, and Anthony Bourdain knew all about that.
He was also a very adventurous eater, having tried a variety of insects, a whole snake, raw eyes and other organs most people would think disgusting, but he has been quoted as saying even with all those experiences the most disgusting thing he ever ate was a Chicken McNugget. Again, his way of exalting traditional foods and bashing American fast food.
I also personally appreciated the way he revered chefs, cooks and other restaurant personnel who were immigrants from other countries, underpaid and unrecognized for what they are – the backbone of the US restaurant industry. In several of his shows, he visited the homes of some of the people he worked with over the years in the restaurant business, sitting down with their family to enjoy a meal prepared by the grandmas. You could see that he was honored to sit at that table and enjoy a meal made with love and passion.
The day the news of his death was released I was having a really bad day. Not for any particular reason, it was just not a good one. I was battling with my own depression. Perhaps I felt something in the air since one of the most influential people in the food world, a world I am deeply connected to was tragically gone from this world, not to mention someone I greatly admired and who seemed so full of life. When I came across a post on Instagram by Jamie Oliver stating that Anthony Bourdain had died, I couldn’t believe it, my heart just sank. I didn’t see any other mentions of it on social media, so I confirmed with a Google search and found a few articles about it. See, Jamie and I are both in Europe, and when the news of Bourdain’s death in France was released, America was still asleep. But as the East Coast woke to the news, and then the West, there was an immense outpouring of love for a man who had stolen many hearts with his non-censored writings on food and travel.
When a personal hero or a celebrity who has touched your heart dies it can be tragic and painful. We live in a world where it is easier to follow the lives of the artists we appreciate through social media and on-demand streaming of videos, TV shows and movies. You could literally watch them and listen to them every day if you wanted to. I think that is part of why we feel some of their deaths so deeply. Some may think it silly or not even possible to actually grieve the death of a celebrity, a person you never knew. However, if their art and their craft touch our own lives in fundamental ways, then they are a very real part of our daily lives and when they are gone, so is the way in which their lives enrich our own. Sometimes a book or a song can help us through a difficult time in our lives, or binge-watching No Reservations can give our wander lusting heart the chance to see more of the world even if we can’t afford to leave our hometown. This makes the death of our personal heroes very real, and often very difficult to bear.