The culinary world, the Pickens Technical College Culinary Arts Program, and the wider world at large was shocked at the passing of all-time great chef, author, and groundbreaking travel television host Anthony Bourdain. Even though I’m not a chef by any stretch of the imagination, his death still has a lasting effect on me a year later. Why? Because my experience of Bourdain was primarily through his travel shows. Over the past decade or so, I’ve watched many hours of No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown, and I’ve gotten to see Bourdain develop a loose philosophy as he’s been exposed to all parts of the world, along with its people and food.
While you’re in a better position than I’ll ever be to carry on Bourdain’s culinary tradition, I wanted to focus on a few of the many lessons I’ve learned from watching Bourdain over the years explore all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica) on television.
A theme present in all Bourdain’s television episodes is not only his being welcome at tables all over the world for the best food in existence, but his being welcome to the communities that produce that food. Bourdain is always respectful to the extreme, yet he’s clearly just as comfortable eating a meal in Kinshasa as he is in Houston. How does he do it?
Bourdain appears to be welcomed by his hosts not only because of his connections as an internationally-recognized chef and television host but because of his open mind and curious personality. People love explaining their culture, their food, to outsiders. People love telling their stories, and food is a large part of anyone’s story. Bourdain is simply open to those stories and eager to listen. If you take that curiosity into your culinary career, you’ll be more open to new experiences, ingredients, and dishes.
In many of the later episodes of Parts Unknown, Bourdain oozes humility. At times, I was even a little put-off by it. He’s just as willing to try the food at the dive bar down the street he heard about from some locals as he is to try his famous chef friend’s newest creation. Bourdain, one of the few celebrity chefs in the world, takes the time to learn about each place he visits. He doesn’t compromise when it comes to trying the local delicacy, whether it’s pork roll or caviar. He never oversteps his bounds as a guest on his shows, presenting respect to the people preparing his food and explaining the cuisine. Chefs, especially those who have struggled for years to earn their place in the industry, aren’t always so humble, and they lose opportunities for inspiration and artistic expression because of it.
Above all, Bourdain taught me on television and with his death that nothing should be taken for granted, and everything should be savored. Celebrate your creations, take your time when trying new food, and always finish your plate. You’ll never run out of inspiration and passion for your cooking if you live a little bit like Bourdain.