Wooden cutting board with a skull in a chef hat burned into it.

Thank You, Chef: Remembering Anthony Bourdain

Mark Stewart Opinions 40 Comments

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind. Anthony Bourdain

I’ve tried several times to write this post, each time unable to get it right. First I wrote out of anger and frustration, the second draft came out of sadness and confusion. Empathy, in a subtle way, came next. I’d never met him, yet my emotionally-charged, incoherent ramblings would suggest otherwise.

I’m not here to pretend to understand the man, I didn’t know him. Like most of you I only know what he shared publicly – in his books and on television. All I can do is share my own thoughts on how much of a profound impact he had on mine and Kylee’s lives.

Inspiration is an Understatement

He was a mediocre chef who helmed several average restaurants during his 30-year span in the industry. He was also a junkie. His own stories painted himself as the cliché New York City addict, scratching his arms in some back alley in the 1980’s, waiting to get his next fix; hoping it would be enough to get him through the next 14 hours on the line – a place he called home.

After kicking the heroin and cocaine – all on his own – he pushed on. He accepted his life in the heat and sweat and chaos. Hardly a glamorous lifestyle when viewed from the outside world, it was the only life most cooks knew.

It wasn’t until that fateful article in the New Yorker. Laden with cynicism and inside-jokes, this exposé of restaurant life was to not only educate outsiders, but to praise his comrades in arms. It did both, far more than anyone could have imagined. Even the final lines of the book that would arise from this article showed that Anthony had accepted his place in the world:

“I’ll be right here. Until they drag me off the line. I’m not going anywhere. I hope. It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

In The Kitchen

While this seemingly straightforward memoir was simple entertainment to most who read it, it was much more to the rest of us. The outcasts from regular society; night-owls whose only glimpse of daylight was during the painful, hungover moments on the way into work.

For many of us, this life of debauchery was all we knew. The camaraderie of our fellow cooks was all we had.

###To us as misfit cooks toiling away in the trenches, forearms scarred from burns, reckless and full of youthful ignorance; we suddenly felt part of something bigger. While the book has its share of flaws, it spoke to so many of us in words we could feel. Kitchen Confidential was like a fucking bible – Anthony Bourdain was our prophet.

By the time the book reached the masses, Bourdain had a TV deal and a second book already in the works. 44 years old, he went from living paycheque to paycheque in a rented apartment, unable to afford basic health insurance, to being a New York Times best-seller travelling the world. While his blunt honesty brought so many cooks closer together, his success brought us hope.

On The Road

In the years prior to beginning our own life on the road, Kylee and I would watch Anthony travel to exotic locations while eating the strangest food. Without question, he is one of the biggest influencers in our own journeys. It was through “A Cooks Tour” that we were first exposed to the idea and simplicity of street food, and just how important it is.

Not only the simple stuff, but the weird shit. By the time we made our way to Korea, we were veteran bug-eaters, but we likely never would have known to try Sannak-ji if it weren’t for Bourdain. Fermented shark in Iceland? Same story. To be completely honest, the worst part about having dengue fever in Vietnam, was that I didn’t have the energy to track down the live cobra heart I once saw him slurp down.

He encouraged us to go further and look deeper. We stray from the path of normalcy in search of new and unique experiences. We skip the hotel bar for the dive at the end of a dark alley, often the only foreigners in a dark room filled with locals winding down after a long day of work. We ask more questions, talk to the locals, become part of the location rather than pass through.

We spent our honeymoon in Sardinia for no reason other than the praise he gave the stunning island. To this day it’s one of our favourite places on earth.

I have no doubt in my mind that Kylee and I would not be the travellers or the cooks we are today if it wasn’t for the curiosity he instilled in us – and the confidence to follow it through.

Blue water of the Mediterranean Sea with several boats.

Our Introduction to this place was through Bourdain.

An Accidental Journalist

He opened our eyes to much of a world hidden from view. While he would never call himself anything more than a simple storyteller, he was more of a journalist than most journalists are these days. He asked important questions, simply and casually. His laid-back demeanor relaxed people enough to answer occasionally tricky questions.

A path that began with a travelling chef exploring unique and interesting food evolved into so much more, often shedding light on issues rarely touched on in the mainstream. Ranging from the significant importance of undocumented immigrants in professional kitchens to the Israel/Palestine conflict, and taking us with him to conflict zones and so-called dangerous places.

While bridging two worlds through the universal language of food, he brought viewers to places they’ve only heard about in the news. In doing so he showed us names and faces, laughter and smiles. With that, he gave a truly human element to groups that are often little more than statistics or, even worse, “collateral damage”.

Anthony Bourdain spoke his mind, he always had opinions and shared them openly, often defiantly, unapologetically. He also wasn’t afraid to change. To evolve and acknowledge the mistakes of his past; most notably very recently in discussing the role Kitchen Confidential played in glorifying the often sexist behaviours of the restaurant world.

It was fascinating to watch this evolution from the outside. Even more incredible was that he had lived what many would consider an entire lifetime, before we’d ever heard his name.

Anger and Gratitude

Our lives wouldn’t be what they are right now if it wasn’t for Anthony. Yet we’ve never had the opportunity to meet the man, let alone get to know who he really was. That’s the funny thing about celebrities, we only ever know what they decide to share. Although he may have had the best job in the world, something he would often say, it’s clear that there was so much more going on than what we could have imagined.

His life came to an end in much the same way that it was lived. From kicking heroin addiction on his own, to his seemingly complete control over Parts Unknown, and his hard-line stance on so many important issues; his final act – as selfish as it may have been – was done on his terms.

While we are unable to forgive him for how he departed this world, we’re eternally grateful for not only the imprints he left on it, but for the impact they have had on our lives.

Thank you, Chef.
If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.Anthony Bourdain
Please ask for help if you’re suffering from depression, don’t deal with it alone. While your situation may be entirely unique to you, depression and anxiety affect everyone. Do not be ashamed of your emotions. Don’t wait until you feel you’re out of options. Talk to someone. Call a friend or a family member. Reach out to anyone you can.

If you aren’t comfortable, or feel you have nobody you can talk to openly, check out one of the links below for a list of resources and phone numbers you can call all around the world, completely anonymously.

For everyone else, pay attention to those around you. Reach out to them, it may be exactly what they need but don’t know how to ask.

Finally, be kind to one another. Smile more, say hello to strangers. The little things may seem insignificant to some, but can literally be life changing to others. Life is already too short.

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About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is the co-founder, photographer, author, and part-time editor of These Foreign Roads. A former chef, he left the professional kitchen in search of interesting experiences and unique cuisines from around the world.

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2 years ago

Very well said. Having been chefs yourselves certainly gives you another perspective on his life, but I think everyone can relate to the transition from backbreaking job to dream job. And he just did it so damn well.

2 years ago

I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I’ve never watched any of his show (I know it may sound like I’m living in the cave, but I never did!)… I only know him as that dude who had dinner with Obama in Hanoi. But then again, I’m concerned with how so many of his fans who actually followed his journey, who never expected him to depart this way. Mental illness is indeed something that more people need to talk about. As a chef yourself, you might relate to the life he had I suppose. Let him inspire you, and… Read more »

2 years ago

Anthony Bourdain passing away has been the saddest and the most shocking news I have heard in 2018. Depression is a hidden enemy. You never know where its hding and who its affecting. He was such an inspiration.

2 years ago

I was absolutely gutted to hear of his passing. His journey was an inspirational one. I apologise for my bluntness but I do not feel it is fair to say his decision was selfish. We do not know the struggles he was choosing not to share with the world. Stating suicide is selfish can just perpetuate the stigma. I think it’s imperative that, regardless if individuals are showing signs of depression, we check in with our loved ones and friends. It is often those who brave the world with a smile and positive facade that are suffering the most.

2 years ago

Bourdain made a huge impact on our (my boyfriend and I) lives. When we started traveling the world full-time in 2014, we always made sure to watch every episode of him and where he went. He was an inspiration to us. We miss him dearly. Thank you for this amazing post in remembrance of Anthony Bourdain.

2 years ago

After seeing the news about Antony Bourdain, I didn’t feel anything at all cause I didn’t know him. But then I was curious and read about him. This is so awesome : Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.
I am doing it on behalf of myself. Hope he rests in peace now!

alison netzer
2 years ago

This is a great article, I could totally relate. Although, like you, I never met Anthony Bourdain, he was such a big part of my life with my husband. He took us to far off places together, taught how to really eat and immerse in a culture. We always felt he was speaking right to us. He will be missed.

2 years ago

This one is definitely emotional for all of us travelers out there. He was such a great story teller and gave us all so much.

2 years ago

Its amazing how some people can have a strong impression on our lives and inspire us to do what we do! Hope you are able to make peace and let go for the positive impact he has had on you, when you have not met him at all! Thank you for igniting the message on suicide prevention in your post as well. A good reminder that we have to be there for one another!

This is such a wonderful, well-written post. Anthony Bourdain seems to have been a very influential force in your life (I mean, he basically chose your honeymoon destination), and I think you captured that so well.

2 years ago

Such a great tribute to someone that inspired many. My favourite is when he says: People are generally proud of their food. A willingness to eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice… they open up to you in ways that somebody visiting who is driven by a story may not get.

2 years ago

I really don’t know much about him, but sounds like he had quite the journey. Unfortunately demons won in the end. Suicide/depression is something we need to talk more of daily.

2 years ago

Well said! I honestly didn’t know he had authored a memoir that ‘started it all’. I just loved his TV series. I will have to get my hands on a copy!

2 years ago

Such a well put thought. Anthony was an inspiration to many and you have given a fresh perspective to that. Thanks for sharing.

2 years ago

This is a perfect tribute, beautifully written. It’s been very touching reading about the influence Bourdain had on travellers all over the world. The lights of the world all became a little dimmer when he passed away.

2 years ago

It was really heart breaking to see the news about an inspirational person going through depression and then committing suicide. I hope the legacy he has left behind prevails.

2 years ago

ive watched his show and i love how he told stories of a place and discuss the dish. he is surely a legend in travel world.

2 years ago

Lovely Post on such a legend

2 years ago

What a heartfelt and engaging post, Mark. Thank you for sharing your story with us, I read your words with a mix of interest and sadness, it was touching to see the positive impact that Anthony Bourdain had on you both. Thanks for sharing.

1 year ago

Wow, Mark beautifully written! A joy to read!