Remembering my friend, Anthony Bourdain
Carlos De Loera | Thursday, August 30, 2018
On June 8 it was reported that master storyteller, chef and TV show host Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in his hotel room in France while on location for his CNN show “Parts Unknown.”
The nature of his death came as a surprise to many, especially those who viewed his life as idyllic, and it’s hard to blame them. Bourdain’s job was to travel the globe, eat delicious food and engage with interesting people along the way.
In the wake of Bourdain’s suicide, I went back and watched season after season of Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” Viewing his show turned out to have a surprisingly profound influence on me.
This wasn’t the first time that I ventured into the world of Bourdain. In high school, I was a very casual viewer of his former Travel Channel show “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown.” I remember the now-famous episode of “No Reservations” where Bourdain and his crew were trapped in Lebanon because of the 2006 Lebanon War. In that episode there is footage of the moment when bombs hit Beirut and in that moment the viewer can see the fragility of life and the harsh realities of world. That moment has stuck with me since I watched the re-run of it about seven years ago. After a while, however, I just stopped watching his shows altogether for no reason in particular — I just naturally drifted away from it.
So I had some experience with Bourdain’s work and was ready to jump back into it, but the truth is that I wasn’t. I did not realize that watching “Parts Unknown” would have such a profound influence on not only my summer plans, but also my own state of mind.
At the time that I started re-watching “Parts Unknown,” I had just started my summer internship in the far-off city of Houston. I knew no one there, I didn’t have much to do and I had no means of transportation. I had just gone through a rough semester where I struggled both academically, but more importantly, mentally. So I was looking for something to bring some light into my life, and luckily, I fell into the sun.
Coming into “Parts Unknown,” you might think that you’re stepping into a show about what people from different countries eat, but that’s not quite it. Bourdain was always more focused on how and why people ate what they ate. If the show was truly about food, then Bourdain could have easily gone to the highest-scale restaurants in a given city and eaten there. Instead, he went out of his way to eat street food and talk to locals about how they experienced everyday life. The perfect example of his admiration for the everyday was when he decided to share a meal with then-in-office President Obama in a small noodle restaurant filled with locals in the middle of Hanoi, Vietnam.
The magic sauce of the show, however, was not the guests Bourdain would have on or even the places that he visited — it was Bourdain’s voiceover intros, lead-ins and outros. These blurbs allowed for Bourdain to insert his deeply pensive, charming and humorous ponderings on his adventures, and they made for excellent storytelling. Sometimes he would reflect on the absurdity of eating something out of the cauldron of a street vendor. Or maybe he would talk about how despite sharing almost no ideological similarities with the locals, someone would always open their house for him. Or maybe he would shift his attentions toward coming to terms with his own bias and demons. No matter what it was, Bourdain was able to communicate his ideas thoughtfully, eloquently and effectively.
Bourdain was someone who had many of his own problems, yet he embraced many of them openly and sometimes wore them as a badge of honor. He understood that he was just lucky to be alive after overcoming his drug addiction and that he had such a ridiculous job. It was this disposition that drew me into his world. It was with this wacky dude that I felt I had made a deep connection. And as crazy as it sounds, I felt, and still feel, that he is a good friend. He was able to help pull me out of my own depressive state, even if it was only for 40 minutes at a time, and show me a world so gloriously absurd and beautiful.
For this, I will always be thankful to my good friend Tony.