We share a name, Anthony Michael, and he was the embodiment of my aspirations. He understood that food was a portal to people’s stories, their pride, their memories, and their happiness. Through food, he could draw someone out of their protective shell.
My greatest moments are when I make connections with the world. Throughout my travels, it is never the museum or the beach that I remember best, it is the impromptu gathering, the chance encounter with a local–a connection–that I did not anticipate.
Food is often the medium for these connections and Anthony Bourdain understood this better than anyone. He seemed to appreciate the simplest foods, noodles, raw fish, or a fried bit of some lowly creature; and, I think it was because that food led to a deeper world. It was never just the food on the plate, it was always about where he was, with whom he enjoyed it, and the complete context of the meal.
I read Kitchen Confidential almost as soon as it came out in 2000. What captured me from the start was what a gifted writer he was. He was in one of the first classes at Vassar, to allow men, and went on to become a badass chef in a New York City restaurant. He was also a rare example of someone who had beaten a heroin addiction. He had wanderlust, and a worldview that contained an exquisite blend of reverence and irreverence. But most of all, the guy could tell a story. It was his writing skills that catapulted him into stardom.
I have never forgotten one great example of this, when he spoke of how rude he found vegetarians, speaking mostly tongue in cheek about how hard chefs work to create a dish and for someone to simply exclude an entire category of the menu from their diet! He then continued with this unforgettable line, “the only group ruder than the vegetarians is their Hezbollah-like splinter group, the vegans.” He could turn a phrase and he did not mince words!
I watched him use food as a stepping stone to get to the real story, someone’s upbringing that made this food a fond memory, their struggles with oppressive governments, he had a way of penetrating their barriers, and he used food as his port of entry.
We are fortunate that he left a sizable body of work, available constantly and for free on Youtube, the internet, etc. I will return often for inspiration. He has already inspired me to explore “parts unknown” such as Viet Nam, Morocco, and the less touristy sides of Los Angeles, and Detroit.
Much will be said of his suicide, and the pain that follows for those left behind. There will be speculation on his state of mind, missed warning signs etc. I am not qualified to comment on any of that.
What I am qualified to comment on is the impact he had on my life. I did not consciously set out to emulate Anthony Bourdain, but my blog developed initially as a food blog, and evolved into more of a travel blog. If you explore the pages of tonemanblog you will find that increasingly I sought that connection with the places I visited rather than just a survey of the best hotels and restaurants.
I am not the writer that he was, but he gave me such validation that I was following a worthy path in using food to gain entry to people’s lands, their history, and their souls. I am so very grateful for all that Anthony Bourdain produced, and I will continue down the path he blazed.
It has been a couple years since my blog was active, and recently I enjoyed some fabulous travel to Morocco and Portugal, all in the same spirit that AB would have pursued. I will use his departure from this world as a milestone to resume blogging, and I hope whoever follows tonemanblog finds some hint of “the Bourdain” in my work.