I have to take a minute, break from the politics for a bit, and get something important off of my chest. It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of one of my television inspirations, celebrity chef and world traveler, Mr. Anthony Bourdain. When I woke up Friday morning and heard the news, well, my day officially started with a dark twist. I’m not going to say the man was my idol, no way, but I was a fan of his work. After all not only was he a great human being with a beautiful outlook on life and the world, he was also a Jew.
No, he wasn’t religious at all. In fact, he was quite the opposite, and yet life was his religion. What were his rituals? To explore the world, not tourist traps, but to get down and dirty, to sit down with the lesser known people of the world and have a meal with them. This unique method of culinary wonder earned Bourdain a most impeccable reputation not only in media, but in the hearts and minds of millions of viewers all around the world and the people who crossed paths with him.
Born in New York on June 25th, 1956, Bourdain was the eldest of two sons born to a French Catholic American father and a Jewish American mother. He was raised in New Jersey, growing up on rock music and his love of literature. He eventually graduated from college and earned his title from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. In the years that followed, his exceptional skills as a chef were proven to all. After many ups and downs, a lot of sweat and hard work, he quickly rose the ranks and became the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in 1998. Soon after he began to write culinary reviews, his sumptuous reputation already firmly established, his books became best-sellers, his first infamous article was titled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” In the year 2000 he published his best-seller – “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” In 2002, Bourdain embraced his destiny as he started his first tv-series on the Food Network titled “A Cook’s Tour,” where he traveled the world in search of delicious cuisines from the most exotic cultures. His love of food and normal-every day people, along with his rough-n’tough personality became world renowned. In 2005 he started his hit series, “Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. I was in high school at that time, and remember watching his show for the first time and thinking, “Man, I wish I had his job!” I was hooked, I loved tuning in after school, and occasionally whenever I stayed home “sick in bed,” and watch the episodes.
In 2013 Anthony once again made a come-back, this time on CNN, his most famous show titled, “Parts Unknown.” The title says it all, and this was my favorite series. Like him, I love to travel to new exotic places, and much like him, I hate being “the tourist.” I’d much rather strike up a conversation with a local cab driver and ask him to point me to the places he likes to eat, share a drink or two, and get a real taste of the local culture on my tongue. In fact, I got much of my travel habits and personality from watching his shows. So, I guess you can say Anthony unknowingly had a hand in raising me. Some of my favorite episodes he ever did, were his visits to Miami – my hometown, Lebanon – my father’s country, and ISRAEL – OF COURSE! Like Bourdain I’m also Jewish on my mother’s side. It was his unique unbiased approach to sitting down with folks on both sides of the political fence that really won my heart as a viewer. He began his Israel episode by saying, “By the end of this hour, I’ll be seen by many as a terrorist sympathizer, a Zionist tool, a self-hating Jew, an apologist for American imperialism, an Orientalist, socialist, a fascist, CIA agent, and worse.” He also stated, “It’s easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world, and there’s no hope — none — of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody, off. (https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/08/world/anthony-bourdain-middle-east-intl/index.html) I laughed hysterically at both comments, because growing up attempting to avoid the subject with either my paternal Muslim family, and my maternal Judeo-Christian mixed family, but always caught in the middle and being forced to talk about it – I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT HE MEANT!
You may think my favorite scene of him was when he posed for a picture wearing tefillin at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which was an awesome pic, but not my favorite scene. It was actually from an episode where he sat down with a couple in the West Bank territories of Judea-Samaria. The husband was Palestinian-Muslim and the wife was Israeli-Jewish, and an AMAZING blend of culture and tastes. It was a very colorful display as Bourdain sat down with the couple, proving to the world that when love is involved, peace is indeed both possible AND DELICIOUS! Anthony passed from this world on Friday, June 8th, 2018 and left a sorrowful after-taste in my heart and that of so many fans around the world. His humor and rough-around the edges manner of connecting with the most unexpected of peoples from all corners of the globe, will be sorely missed and I can only hope, to one day be half as successful as he was. The final and most heartbreaking way I related with him, is depression. While I probably could never understand his exact predicament or the reasons why he made his fateful decision, I do not judge him either because I know exactly what depression is like.
Quite frankly, I wish I could have known him personally, or at least have maybe been there in his final moments. Perhaps I could have talked him out of it, and showed him how many people he inspired, and maybe he just didn’t realize we were there the entire time. But in the end, the sad reality is what hits us, and we are left with the sour ending of a modern icon whom I consider to have been one of the first legends of the 21st century. But that itself is what I loved about who Anthony was, because he had a way of taking the bitterness we thought we knew and showing us an entirely new side of the same story. If you ever thought someone else’s food smelled funky, he had a way of putting you in their shoes, and letting you know your food smells just as funky to them. Anthony showed us the world in a way so many of us had never seen before, and proved that the fastest way to the human heart, no matter what the difference, was through our bellies. So as a fellow Jew, I will keep him and his family in my prayers. As a fellow human soul, I toast and raise a glass in his memory. RIP Mr. Anthony Bourdain 1956 – 2018.
Here’s a clip from an episode of “Star Talk” where Anthony is interviewed by another favorite celebrity of mine, Neil deGrasse Tyson