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  • Writer's pictureJH

On Anthony Bourdain

I borrowed this photo from CNN.

June 11, 2018

We rehearsed for a couple of hours and then gathered in the Ferwerda family dining room for an unexpected treat: snert.

Yes, snert.

I know what you’re thinking, but snert is actually a split pea soup with thick sausages and sausage medallions, mopped up with the softest whole wheat dinner rolls I’ve ever eaten. The soup was warm and a bit salty. Deep flavour. Heavy. Nutritious. It found the proverbial spot and delivered a perfect poke. So, so good. I think another of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain, would have loved it. Maybe he needs to do a Parts Unknown episode on Friesland. Or I do.


What do I say about Anthony Bourdain?

I was about to write that he was one of my heroes, but I can’t really say that because I didn’t know him. I knew his persona, so the truth is that my perception of him was one of my heroes. I liked the public Anthony Bourdain. I admired him. I wanted, in a certain sense, to be him. Or at least to be like him.

Let me qualify that.

Anthony Bourdain was, by appearances, a bit crusty, a bit grumpy, a bit cantankerous. That’s not me and I don’t want it to be me. But Anthony Bourdain also (again, by appearances) lived life exactly on his terms. He did what he wanted to do, whether it was cooking in helter skelter kitchens or writing books or doing some genuinely interesting television. He did his thing and he did it with vision and courage and personality and humanity, without sucking up to anyone. He was simply himself and he did it his way. I love that about him. I want to do that too.

There are sections of my tour book November that attempt to channel Anthony Bourdain (and no, I'm not comparing my little tour blog to some of the finest television of its kind that's ever been produced anywhere). I even referenced him a few times along the way, as you can see above. He had this curiosity about everything around him. I think he would have loved some of the home-cooked food we encountered in our travels, as well as the regional delicacies we sampled in The Netherlands and Germany. I tried to approach some of those experiences with his openness and his appreciation of culture. I obviously don't have his depth of experience or insight, but it was a lot of fun to pretend for a little while.

Anthony Bourdain is proof that you can build a life beyond your wildest imagination. That the world can be your playground. He was just a chef living in the smoke of a bizarre culinary underworld. He wrote novels that got published but didn’t really go anywhere. He was nobody from nowhere until he published an article that eventually inspired Kitchen Confidential. Who would have thought that a book about the chef life would make someone a star? And who would have thought that the author would have such a talent for documentary television? I don’t think Anthony Bourdain had any vision at 20 years old for the life he eventually lived. Frankly, I don’t think he expected to live much past 20. But what did he do?

He put himself out there.

He told his truth. When television came calling he had the courage to try. He worked and he learned and he made the most of his opportunities, culminating in the CNN show Parts Unknown, which is just a terrific, honest, and compelling look at people and food and the world. Maybe you don’t want to do travel or food television. Maybe you don’t want to be a chef. That’s fine. But whatever you do want to do – play drums, for example, or write your own books – take from Tony that it’s possible. Learn from his life that you can be who you are and achieve great things, and that incredible opportunities will unfold if you're willing to embrace them.

This isn’t a post about suicide. I don’t know what happened or what was going on in the real (as opposed to the television) Anthony Bourdain’s life. I can’t and won’t judge him either way on whatever happened. It’s hard to imagine a person as successful as he was feeling like life wasn’t worth living, but again, I didn’t know him. Don’t look at his end as some evidence that dreams don’t deliver. He was he. You are you. I am I. Look instead at his life and see what’s possible, even after drug addiction and depression and who knows what.

You can build an amazing life.

You can dream big.

You can make it happen.

Farewell, Tony Bourdain. Thanks for the inspiration.

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