Anthony Bourdain and Kitchen Stories

There will be a lot of internet ink used today to talk about the life and work of Anthony Bourdain. As I write this on Friday morning, people are filling twitter with words from him and about him. Many people are going back and recalling his advocacy for people in developing countries and his insistence on pointing a camera and a pen at the harder stories going on in the world. People appreciate the way he showed equal love for five-star kitchens and street vendors, how he could sit at a table and start a conversation about food that ends up being about history and justice and what it means to be people.

People will be writing about how the story of his life, and his death, will also now be linked to stories about mental health and anguish. Along with Kate Spade’s suicide this week, we are reminded that sorrow is no respecter of fame and success.

This may not be the most important angle but we want to honor him and hold him up today as a storyteller. The cinematography of his shows made every corner of the world look beautiful and his words honored the stories being lived and cooked all over the globe. Perhaps there are more important things to say about his work but here’s why his storytelling mattered and why yours does too:

-Stories make the world smaller and larger at the same time. Bourdain and his crew helped us to see the widest possible world from the safety of our couch. If we had a limited view or food palate, his work helped us to see other possibilities. But if we had some fear of those possibilities, if we felt intimidated by the grand world or strange foods, he also brought the camera and pen into kitchens, bonfires, family picnics, and showed us how similar dinner can look around the world.

-We are forever connected to the stories we tell. Stories hold us together in a web of narratives about what matters to us. The more stories we tell and the more stories we lift up of other people, the greater our collective memory will be. As people reach out for the words to appreciate Bourdain, they remember his attention to immigrant workers, to people trying to make a life in poverty or war-torn places. One of my favorite stories connected to him is the time a woman’s sincere review of her local Olive Garden went viral as a target for internet snark and Bourdain was the lone voice who came to her defense and he eventually helped Marilyn Hagerty to publish her work. 

-In a world with less and less empathy, we need more and more stories. It’s hard to watch people all over the world go through the ritual of making a meal and still fear them. Whether it was out of a love for food, or people, or getting the right camera shot, Bourdain’s work masterfully reminds us who we all are and how delicious it can be to be alive and around a table together.


Photo cred: Dave Rossman