Remembering the World's Ambassador
Anthony Bourdain's legacy inspires us to travel and experience eating broad more than ever.
As of this writing, the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death is five days old, and the world he documented mourns a legend.
I didn’t know him personally, but Bourdain’s suicide cuts deep. In 2001, I tore through the pages of Kitchen Confidential, his memoir, which launched the greatest second act of any chef in history. For me, that book validated the notion that I could go out and make a living in a liminal zone between cooking and writing. A few years later, after I quit my newspaper gig and moved to New York to become a “real” cook, I saw Bourdain at a bar and bought him a beer to thank him. My hero shooed me away, already weary of adulation.
Bourdain’s star rose just as media coverage of global food culture exploded. For 18 years, he was alone out front as an author and TV personality, the narrator of the ride. When my youngest daughter was still in diapers and my job as an editor tethered me close to home, Bourdain’s fourth TV show, Parts Unknown, served as my eyes and ears to the world. His 2014 episode in Iran especially challenged cultural assumptions. Look how gracious these people are! Look how hospitable. See how they shower guests with food? That was Bourdain’s special gift: Whether in Tehran or Detroit, he wove us all more tightly together, using the common threads of food, drink, and conversation. He made the world feel smaller. And he always championed underdogs. He advocated for restaurant workers and immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America who are the backbone of the food industry. More recently, he became a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. If in the early days he drew blood with macho dark humor, his final years were marked by brash empathy. “Uncle Tony” may have softened along the way, but he kept his wit sharp.
Thankfully, the tall, wiry man who swaggered through the great cities of the world leaves behind his stories—books, articles, and episodes filled with soul and truth. We’re left with an even more critical part of his legacy as well: the enduring spirit of curiosity. Curiosity is more powerful than divisive, isolationist jingoism. Curiosity opens the door to cultural exchange and understanding. In this spirit, we turn our lens south to celebrate our neighbor, Mexico, with this special issue. Our narrator is gone, so let’s turn off the TV for a while, OK? Let’s open our doors to others, cook without borders, and gather stamps in our passports. Let’s push down tall walls to make longer tables.