It took some time for me to process the news that Anthony Bourdain took his own life. I found out about it while sitting at a cafe in Porto, Portugal; a trip I had immediately turned to Bourdain’s shows for ideas and inspiration. My normal trip research begins with viewing any episodes of his shows in the locale. To me, he was a true inspiring figure as someone who championed the idea of traveling, rather than just touring. Imbibing the culture and actually experience all of a place were hallmarks of his approach and ones I personally took inspiration from. I was amazed to see the outpouring of support from so many others upon his tragic death and just how wide his reach was. Though I never knew him, I felt massively influenced by him and was greatly saddened by his death.
When I was younger, watching Bourdain on the Travel Channel was tradition. As a family of people who loved travel, his shows spoke to us with new and interesting destinations where he went beyond the typical shows which only showed the normal tourist destinations. He’d really discover a place, usually with a local friend as his guide, and was able to present in a way that was neither patronizing or false. Sure he was salty, but it added to the authenticity.
Bourdain’s take on travel had a massive influence in how I like to travel now. His love of exotic food and destinations got me to look beyond the popular tourist destinations and be more adventurous. We chose Singapore for a destination one year based largely on his passionate admonition that their hawker centers were the best temples to food in the world. His Croatia episode informed many of our stops and experiences like getting out on the water in a small motor boat and eating nothing but seafood. His approach to travel where full immersive experiences dominated simple sightseeing was how I lived my travel life.
His impact on me went beyond just travel though. His experience in the food industry and books like Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw informed my eating out habits and what I look for in a restaurant. Thanks to him, I know to never order fish dishes at a Sunday brunch. But I also learned about food I’d never dreamed of trying like Korean Chicken and BBQ, octopus, and things like gizzards and chicken hearts; all of which I’ve at least tried thanks to his approachable take on these and how when made right, they can be quite delicious. I also learned a ton of regional alcoholic spirits and liquors thanks to his exploits. But maybe most importantly, I learned the importance of treating every culture with respect, dignity, and curiosity. Destinations I would never dream of visiting like Lebanon and Iran became fascinating and beautiful thanks to his exploration of them. He demystified these locales in a way that made them approachable and interesting.
Anthony Bourdain was a person I feel I would have been friends with if we had ever met. His passion for good food, company, and especially drink resonates with me and had a huge affect on how I travel now. Judging by the response to his suicide, many others felt this same connection. I already miss him and his influence, but know I’ll continue for quite some time to start all of my trips with research on a location through his shows.