The apparent suicide of globe-trotting food adventurer and chef Anthony Bourdain has shaken many of us way beyond his original impact on our lives.
Oh, we watched his shows. We read his books. Some of us had even tracked his meteoric rise from bad-boy, renegade chef into his super-star, culinary-traveler status.
But the sudden loss of his talent, wry humor and seemingly easy charisma emphasizes what his death means to those of us who traveled vicariously to remote places with him from the comfort of our Barcaloungers.
Our lives probably were the antithesis of what Bourdain was about, but part of each of us yearned to be more like him.
Maybe his impact on foodies like us and those who don’t give a rip about what they eat was because, in many ways, Bourdain in his 60s was who we’d wanted to be in our 20s.
A relatable road-warrior, Bourdain was an erudite wanderer ferreting out the world’s hidden treasures and neighborhoods. He seemed to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, as he learned about life through strange foods and warm connections made with people he probably would never see again.
His work made me realize again that I had been a fortunate teen, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I’d sampled the wandering life, although certainly not on Bourdain’s scale.
My footloose, talented chef stepfather went from job to job, place to place, dragging my mom and me with him.
Along the way, I learned much about people. Bourdain-esque, I found I had to relate to people quickly, because wherever I was, I wouldn’t be there long.
I saw places I’d never have seen otherwise … the back side of mountains, the open sea, the desert, harbor towns, big cities and wide-ish spots in remote roads.
And I learned first-hand about food service and the quirks, pleasures, creativity and sheer drudgery of commercial kitchens and being a chef or baker.
Then I settled down, sort of. But the lure remained strong, the yearning for the merry-wanderer, kick-ass living on the open road that I’d had as a teen, always mixed with food-related adventure, of course.
Those escapades were harder to accomplish by then, requiring more planning and determination. That tamped down the spontaneous, drop-everything fun of it all.
Then there was our Ensenada trip with our bowling team, no less, where I discovered much about Mexico, tours and the differences in how people travel and how they eat when they’re on vacation.
Bourdain would have been amused, I think.
My husband and I were young and energetic, looking for fun and unique experiences and foods. We enjoyed really nice Baja-style cuisine, filled with fresh fish, seafood and local produce.
Culinarily curious like Bourdain, we sampled and loved all kinds of Baja specialties, from sea urchin and cactus to some things we could neither define nor pronounce.
Meanwhile, some others in our group stuck steadfastly to meals they recognized, like chicken-fried steak or eggs-over-easy with bacon and Wonder Bread toast, or the ubiquitous Mickey D-style cheeseburgers and fries.
Most of their meals were predictably so-so or worse, and they complained repeatedly at full volume about them. Hadn’t they ever been told “when in Rome ….?”
We two sampled street campechanas and other luscious Mexican pastries while the others whined about the lack of good bagels, waffles, doughnuts and cheese Danish.
I loved my Caesar salad … made where it was invented … while our compatriots griped because it tasted different than the bottled-dressing versions they ate at home.
Not surprisingly, those were the same people who were vociferously unhappy when the roads were rough, the bus was late, the towels weren’t plush enough or, for heaven’s sake, when it was difficult communicating with a person who didn’t speak much English.
I’m not patient enough to be a tour-taker sharing close quarters with adults who are acting like spoiled 4 year olds. I suspect Anthony Bourdain wouldn’t have been, either.
We and so many others will miss him, and we’re grieving about the way he died, so young, with still a lot to accomplish and share. We hope he knew, deep down, how much he and his work were appreciated, and that we still want to be like the Anthony Bourdain he showed us every week.