Farewell, Anthony Bourdain

Image Credit: William Mebane

OPINION | I was chilling out at home on Friday night, watching Netflix, when I received a Whatsapp message from my brother Jamie “Holy shit. Bourdain”. I had no idea what he was talking about, so Googled news about Anthony Bourdain and immediately the headlines and tweets appeared – “Anothony Bourdain is dead”. A hoax perhaps, but the appearance of enough reputable sources quickly confirmed that this was not fake news. I clicked through to the New York Times article “Anthony Bourdain, Renegade Chef Who Reported From the World’s Tables, Is Dead at 61” which at the time was a developing story that only confirmed that he had died, and that the cause was suicide.

For those who don’t know, I started the City Lane back in early 2009 as I embarked on a three month trip around Europe followed by living and working in London. It started as a way to share personal travel and food adventures with my family, and grew into something much bigger. Over the past nine years The City Lane has changed a lot but its mission has remained the same – to help people travel and eat like a local. One of the biggest inspirations for this was, and continued to be, Anthony Bourdain.

Bourdain’s first television show was “A Cook’s Tour”. It ran on the Food Network from 2002-2003 and introduced me to the man for the first time. At the time I had only travelled to one foreign country, Singapore, and I caught the travel bug instantly. This was where my food adventures began. Prior to visiting Singapore for the first time I’d always “played it safe” with the food I ate, which was mostly the (excellent) Macedonian/Eastern European food that my mother and grandmothers cooked, the quintessential ‘meat and three veg’, and a few other bits and pieces. Suburban Westernised Chinese food was about as adventurous as it got. In Singapore my mind was blown – green paste that tasted like coconut (kaya), dessert with corn, shaved ice and syrup (ice kacang), and a uniquely fragrant rice and chicken dish (chicken rice). Admittedly safe dishes for a Westerner, but three things that changed food for me immensely. How could I have lived this long (I was only 17 at the time) and there be all these awesome flavours and ways of preparing familiar ingredients that I’d never known about?

A second family trip to Singapore was coming up and I was hungry to research as much as I could about the place. In the course of my research I came across season two, episode 10 of A Cook’s Tour – “Singapore: New York in Twenty Years”. It was unlike any travel show I’d ever seen. Who was this guy going to all of these cool places around town, smoking, drinking, swearing and above all, truly exploring? A Cook’s Tour was unlike any other travel show on television at the time, and Anthony Bourdain was no regular travel show host.

Soon enough I’d caught up on all 35 episodes of A Cook’s Tour and was well and truly a Bourdain fan. I was inspired more than ever to get out of my bubble and explore the world, and try all food at least once, but first, university and some serious saving of cash. Fast forward to 2008 and my overseas travels were still minor – several weeks over multiple trips in Singapore and Hong Kong, plus half days in Shenzhen, China and Johor Baru, Malaysia. Even so, I’d become much more adventurous with my eating, happily visiting all kinds of non touristy parts of those cities to try particular dishes. I also developed a real love of street and hawker food. If Bourdain had eaten somewhere, I needed to go.

With my studies nearing an end, the time came for me to start my biggest adventure of all, the aforementioned Europe trip and living in London. I booked my one way ticket to London in September 2008, departing February 2009, and started planning, along with my brother. By this time I’d watched all the episodes to date of Bourdain’s second show, No Reservations, which ran from 2005-2012 on the Travel Network.

Many of the cities that I visited during my three months travelling around Europe I was inspired to visit because of No Reservations, and you can bet when I visited a city that the places Bourdain had eaten at were on my list. In Berlin it was currywurst from Konnopke’s Imbiss and a lunch with local workers at Rogacki Gourmet Deli, wiener schnitzel in Vienna at Wratschko Restaurant, roasted bone marrow in London at St. John Bread and Wine, and deep fried haggis at The Mermaid Chip Shop in Edinburgh. You get the idea. When I moved to Melbourne in 2012, it was Bourdain’s 2009 No Reservations episode that kicked off my food list, and I was lucky enough to see him speak when he was in town for Melbourne’s Good Food Month in 2012.

Bourdain’s two most popular books, the New York Times best selling “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” from 2000 and “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook” were huge influences on my writing, and helped me find my own writing voice when figuring out how to write about my travel and food experiences. There aren’t too many books about the world of food that are more honest, and entertaining, than these two. I’ve always tried to keep The City Lane “real” and true to who I am, and a part of that is because of Bourdain.

Bourdain’s third show, Parts Unknown, which first aired in 2013 now ends with Bourdain’s death, placed a greater emphasis on political and social issues. As with many great conversations, discussions about these things often occurs over food and drink. My style of travel developed over this time, again influenced by Bourdain. I wanted to visit places further off the beaten track, be it relatively unknown (from a tourism perspective) neighbourhoods, cities, or even countries, and wanted to meet regular people and hear their stories.

Travel to me is walking through the streets, doing ‘nothing’ as such but simply taking in the atmosphere of a place, observing people and everyday life unfolding before my eyes. I’d rather sit in a bar and talk about life, politics, social issues, or just sports over a few beers after striking up a conversation with a complete stranger than tick off a check list of sights. Sure, if a tourist sight interests me I’ll check it out, but there’s no better way to learn about a place and its culture than by talking to regular people who live in a place, and sharing food and drink with them.

Would I have ever visited countries like Iran or Colombia if it wasn’t for the influence that Bourdain had on me? When in the United States would have I visited Oakland when in San Francisco, wandered through Skid Row in Los Angeles or headed out of Manhattan into Queens if it wasn’t for Bourdain’s inspiration in exploring the unknown? There have been several people who have influenced the way I travel over the years, but Bourdain’s influence is undoubtedly the biggest.

One might ask why Bourdain would have committed suicide when his life was, from the outside, fantastic. In 2016’s Argentina episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain traveled to Argentina for psychotherapy and when asked about his depression stated, “I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy from people, frankly, I have the best job in the world, let’s face it. I go anywhere I want, I do what I want.” Indeed, when people would ask me what my idea job was, my response would be “Bourdain”. The thing is, depression doesn’t follow logic or rules. It’s always there, not matter how “good” or “bad” one’s life might be. Speaking from first hand experience there’s no real way to describe it, everyone’s experience is different and everyone has different methods for coping. It’s being randomly sad for no reason whatsoever, even when things are great. It’s like having a dark cloud permanently hovering above you, and all you can do is hope that it doesn’t start raining. Sometimes it drizzles, and sometimes it pours, but the one thing that’s constant is its presence. The cloud never goes away.

Anthony Bourdain, your wit, inspiration, and presence will be missed.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 (Australia), National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1800 273 8255 (USA), Samaritans 116 123 (UK). For those elsewhere, this Wikipedia article lists suicide hotlines for several countries.



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