For Bourdain, food was storytelling tool – and passport
By Jocelyn Noveck
AP National Writer
Many people thought Anthony Bourdain had the most enviable career in existence. He didn’t deny it.
“I have the best job in the world,” the globe-trotting food-taster and culinary storyteller once told the New Yorker magazine, stating the rather obvious. “If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.”
Bourdain’s stunned fans were mourning the loss of that singular imagination on Friday after his death from an apparent suicide, recalling everything from his fearless consumption of a beating cobra’s heart or a sheep testicle – “like any other testicle,” he remarked – to his outspoken support of the #MeToo movement, to his blissful paean to syrup-soaked pecan waffles at Waffle House.
“I want it all,” he wrote in his breakthrough 2000 memoir, “Kitchen Confidential.” “I want to try everything once.” And it seemed that he pretty much accomplished that, traveling the globe some 200 days a year for his TV shows, reveling not in fancy tasting menus – which he scorned – but in simple pleasures like a cold beer and spicy noodles in Hanoi, which he once shared with former President Barack Obama. For him, food, though a huge pleasure, was more importantly a storytelling tool, and a passport to the world at large.
It was a lifestyle that, while undeniably glamorous, took a toll, he suggested in a 2017 New Yorker profile. “I change location every two weeks,” he said. “I’m not going to remember your birthday. I’m not going to be there for the important moments in your life.”
Not surprisingly, it was on the road, in eastern France, that Bourdain, 61, was found unresponsive Friday morning by good friend and chef Eric Ripert. He’d been working on an episode for the 12th season of his CNN show, “Parts Unknown.”
A prosecutor said he had apparently hanged himself in a luxury hotel in the ancient village of Kaysersberg. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, from his second marriage.
In a 2008 interview with The Associated Press, Bourdain had said his daughter’s birth had changed his outlook on life: “I feel obliged to at least do the best I can and not do anything really stupidly self-destructive if I can avoid it.”
At the time of his death, his girlfriend was Asia Argento, the Italian actress who has accused Harvey Weinstein of rape. In an essay written after fellow chef Mario Batali was accused of sexual assault, Bourdain wrote that “one must pick a side ... I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women.”
Argento wrote on Twitter Friday that Bourdain “was my love, my rock, my protector.”
Traversing the globe meant visiting areas of conflict and also intense poverty, and Bourdain didn’t shy away from either. In “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, he went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2011, and reflected on his ambivalence at being there. “I’m there talking about local cuisine, and that means I’m shoveling food into my face ... that a lot of those people can’t afford,” he said. And he described how his well-meaning efforts to feed locals around him led to chaos and “hungry kids being beaten with a stick.”
There was, of course, a more lighthearted side to his travels, including some wild and bizarre eating experiences. In Morocco, it was that roasted sheep’s testicle. In Canada, it was a raw seal’s eyeball. In Namibia, it was the wrong end of a warthog (he wound up with a parasite.) In Vietnam, it was the still-beating heart of a cobra that had just been sliced open.