Weekend Binge: Let’s travel the world with Anthony Bourdain, like we used to
Every week, we will curate a collection of titles -- movies, TV, general miscellanea -- for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.
While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.
Everyone should read Kitchen Confidential, regardless of whether or not you’re an aspiring chef. Even if you’ve never set foot inside a Michelin-starred establishment, even if going to one is nothing but a faraway dream, and even if, in the words of Anthony Bourdain, you happen to be a vegetarian -- a faction of humanity he once described as being ‘the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit’ -- you should read his book.
I remember devouring it in two days – it was lent to me by a friend who dreamed of one day opening his own restaurant, and winning Michelin stars for it – and it blew me away. Having grown up with Bourdain on television, we’d become accustomed to his dry wit, his lacerating tone, and the general air of anarchy that seemed to follow him on his adventures.
Kitchen Confidential is a Bible of sorts, aimed at anyone who’s ever dreamt of breaking free of the roles society had set for them, which is all of us. It’s a furious, take-no-prisoners account of one man who rejected order and esteem in favour of chaos and disrepute, who denounced the establishment in favour of freedom.
In the coming months, when news of Bourdain’s death sinks in, the book will see a resurgence, as will the several shows that he hosted – the latest of which he was filming in France when he was found dead.
Through these shows, he taught Americans to not be afraid of foreign cultures, to learn to be more inclusive, more empathetic to others’ problems – and these lessons are as valuable now as they were then. “No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American,” he wrote. And with these words in mind, here’s looking at the legacy he left behind.
Nothing captures the spirit of Anthony Bourdain better than the show through which he became the Anthony Bourdain we know. He’d walk around the dank streets of South East Asia, the gullies of India and the boulevards of Europe with that trademark swagger, a cigarette perpetually hanging out of his mouth, through which he would make complex observations about our world.
And it was fantastically produced, too - setting the template for so many food-travel shows of the future that would try and ape him. In a recent interview - as recent as five days ago - he said that one of the biggest qualifications he looks for in crew members is an obsession with films, particularly those of Kurosawa, Antonioni, Tuffault, Fellini and Goddard. “I can’t really even start a conversation unless you’re already familiar with those guys,” he said.
Fittingly, the show Bourdain hosted between his two most popular ones was about living in limbo, stuck between home and the destination. The concept was this: Bourdain would spend two to four days exploring a city along with locals who’d take him to the most famous tourist landmarks, but also off the beaten track.
Every show he hosted was basically a variation of the same concept - Bourdain travelling the world and trying to understand it the only way he knew how: food. In Parts Unknown, he attempted to explore uncharted territory. From dining with Barack Obama in Hanoi to feasting on dhaba food in Amritsar, no corner of the world was out of bounds, and no person was too strange to have a conversation with.
I end with the message my friend sent me - my chef friend who, inspired by Bourdain, went on a culinary adventure across India after quitting his fancy job at a fancy restaurant and spent every last penny he’d saved. “It’s OK,” he wrote, when I texted him immediately after hearing of Bourdain’s death. “We should remember his life. Not how he died. I bet he’s in beer and steak heaven.”