Going Beyond Food

How Anthony Bourdain has become the new face for foodies

Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”

I learned how to make mosaics when I was 11. That year in school the left side of my brain really came alive — mostly due to 6th grader teacher, Mrs. Stefanki. She was so creative, always finding a way to integrate music, art, and food into every lesson.

Mosaics are unique art installations made of large or small pieces that when placed together, form a greater image. From far away, all you can see is the big picture; but up close, you start to understand the painstaking details that make each piece of that puzzle one of a kind.

Hidden across the mosaic’s landscape are tiny flecks of, “eye candy,” random pops of color in an otherwise homogenous region of monotone.

Anthony Bourdain will always be eye candy to me.

His revolutionary non-fiction, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” which exposed the raw marginalized culture of the culinary industry, put him on the map in 2000. Sixteen years later, the former executive chef currently hosts CNN’s hit series, Parts Unknown. Each episode, he explores a new city or region, analyzes its history, samples the cuisine — and drinks whatever alcohol is handy.

Though the show has a cult following, I can’t help but think that thirty years ago, Anthony Bourdain would have been an unlikely candidate to host the Emmy award-winning series.

“I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”

Sure he’s tall, rugged, and moderately attractive for a 60 year old white guy. But he’s also covered in tattoos, has absolutely no filter, and is a former addict.

Chefs have a reputation of being egotistical and abrasive. A Commander-in-chief, their kitchen is a well-oiled machine of “Yes, chef,” “No, chef,” “Right away, chef!” A select few bodies moving so anthropomorphically graceful in white buttoned down coats, you’d think you were watching synchronized swimming.

In “Kitchen Confidential,” one of his three New York Times’ bestsellers, Bourdain frankly describes his former addiction during his career as a chef in New York City, including how he once resorted to selling his record collection on the street in order to raise enough money to purchase drugs.

The restaurant industry is particularly incestuous, especially in New York. Any hint of insubordination or push back could cost you your job, even your career. That amount of pressure is enough to drive anyone straight to a drug dealer — that and the 12 hours shifts often spanning from the early afternoon to the wee hours of the morning.

“It’s very rarely a good career move to have a conscience.”

Even with the career’s immediate connotations, chefs are revered in every culture. They have an omniscient presence that’s almost mystical. Chefs have the ability to manipulate something essential and create something extravagant.

But digital media has changed the way we consume food — literally.

There are nutritionist blogs, reality TV cooking competitions, viral recipes videos — hell you can’t even go to a restaurant without seeing at least one table documenting their entire meal!

Chefs recognize the food fetish phenomenon and have adapted to it well, even going so far to plate their dishes with tweezers to make sure its picture perfect for optimal sharing capabilities. The competition surrounding food culture is steep. Millennials set high expectations not only capturing out attention, but holding it.

“Basic cooking skills are a virtue…the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill. [It’s] as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money.”

In Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain strips away the obvious role of sustenance food plays in an environment and instead, starts a new dialogue for foodies in an otherwise homogenized subculture.

He goes beyond food.

Each episode is unique. No continent, country, or culture is off limits. Bourdain will explore them all without subscribing to a formula or pattern. However, the little gems of unfiltered wisdom littered throughout the hour long show are what keeps his fans loyal. I include myself in that category.

Music inherent to that particular culture is integrated throughout the show to give the gorgeous cinematography depth. Viewers are never deprived of stimulation. Bourdain breaks up the landscape by pausing to interview an influential person native, or at the very least bias, to the region — always over a delicious plate of food provoking unrestrained salivation, jealousy, and empathy.

I admire his unabashed honesty as a journalist, and the way he leaves himself vulnerable to the imprint of travel while remaining humble and inquisitive. He has the uncanny ability to reduce an entire civilization to the simplest, shared human experience: two people enjoying a meal.

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
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