Very few people have touched my life the way Anthony Bourdain has. I’ve read and re-read his books. Watched his shows. Listened to him lecture. Read other books because he liked them. Reading Kitchen Confidential convinced me not to pursue a career in restaurants. I was born into the industry, and as much as I love it, I’ve kept a safe distance as an adult (thanks, Tony!).
But it was reading A Cook’s Tour that changed everything for me.
Before I was able to see so many places and people around the world with my own eyes, I saw them through his. I think I watched every episode of A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations — following along as Tony explored the world through the lens of food. I could never get enough. Eventually that following along became following in his footsteps. I set off to explore the world — to see, smell, and taste it all first hand. What started as six months around Asia has now been nearly six years of travel.
These days, I hardly ever watch his shows. I still love them, but I don’t need to watch Tony. I internalized him a long time ago. A voice in my head that encourages me to get out of my comfort zone, go a little further off the beaten path, and to try something new and different. I think of Tony like a friend. I thought that we might meet one day, maybe even work on something together. I suppose that was his charm. His ability to make you feel like an old friend, sitting there at the table with him, even when you were thousands of miles apart. Judging by all the reactions I see in the wake of his death, I guess I must not be the only one who felt that sense of closeness from afar.
Perhaps now that he is gone we will realize the magnitude of the impact he has had. An entire generation of “travelers, not tourists” who perform pilgrimages to the back alleys of Bangkok. Forget the Eiffel Tower, we’re heading straight from the airport to the local market. Tony taught us that the best restaurants in the world don’t have three Michelin stars. They have no more than three dishes on the menu. Or no menu at all. Somewhere in Saigon, a couple of American kids are squatting on plastic stools under a bare lightbulb, slurping down a bowl of noodles each, the best meal of their lives.
Rest in peace Tony. We will miss you.