Maybe Anthony Bourdain would have kicked off his 62nd birthday on June 25th, 2018, with Oto, a dish of mashed yam and eggs fried in an onion-infused palm oil (Ghana).
Perhaps for lunch, he would have enjoyed a bowl of Mi-yeok-guk, a hearty seaweed soup (Korea) or a bowl of Chang Shou Mian noodles (China.) I’d like to imagine he would have finished off the meal with taarties (The Netherlands) or arroz con leche (Mexico.)
I feel certain that throughout the day, he would have expressed appreciation for the hands and hearts that served him each meal. He would have asked about each dish and the tradition behind it.
I like to imagine that Anthony Bourdain would have spent his 62nd birthday doing what he’d done so well for so long: traveling the world, diving deep into the food and culture surrounding him, and taking us along for the ride. His unique, contradictory blend of brashness and humility would have been on full display.
I regret that he did not get to eat any of those delicious birthday meals, or take us along with him to those places, or introduce us to those people. He quietly ended his life, alone in a hotel room in France, just a few short weeks ago. The loss is incomprehensible to his family and close friends, and the millions around the world who were fans of him and his show.
We may not ever understand his death, but we can certainly appreciate his life. Here’s how Bourdain’s moxie can continue to inspire us:
Moxie sometimes appears in the second act.
Bourdain had enjoyed a solid, if somewhat obscure, career as a chef from his early 20s to mid-forties when he put pen to paper and wrote an essay entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” That essay grew into the memoir Kitchen Confidential, a bestseller which pushed Bourdain out of the kitchen and into the front of the house.
“I was a journeyman chef of middling abilities. Whatever authority I have as a commenter on this world comes from the sheer weight of 28 years in the business. I kicked around for 28 years and came out the other end alive and able to form a sentence, said Bourdain.
He grabbed on to the opportunity with his characteristic gusto and seemingly effortless excellence. His writing crackled with wit and clarity and poetry and raw honesty. To read his writing was to hear his voice.
Bourdain was deeply, deeply in debt when the opportunity to write came along. He didn’t waste it. He crawled out of the hole he was in and vowed to make the most of his fresh start.
Moxie stays on the move.
Bourdain’s unique voice and point of view quickly attracted and held attention. He was the kind of guy you wanted to share a meal with, a raconteur whose stories you wanted to hear. The networks came knocking, and Bourdain was ready. He hosted A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network from 2002 – 2003, No Reservations on the Travel Channel from 2005 – 2012, The Layover on The Travel Channel from 2011 – 2013, and Parts Unknown on CNN from 2013 – 2018.
The shows featured a common theme: Bourdain took viewers on adventures around the world, sharing food and culture with people from all walks of life. The shows were about more than travel and more than food. They were about breaking down barriers between people, connecting and appreciating your fellow human beings, and more. Bourdain’s approach revolutionized the genre and broadened horizons.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody,” said Bourdain.
Moxie is always about getting out of your comfort zone and stretching to try something new. In this regard, few have more moxie than Anthony Bourdain.
Moxie stands on principle.
Bourdain must have been tempted to parlay his platform into a personal financial empire. He might have made millions off endorsement and licensing deals. But he steadfastly refused, choosing carefully to remain true to himself and his voice. He wasn’t about acquisition, and was deeply opposed to rampant consumerism. His principles proved to be more important than his pocketbook.
Bourdain also spoke up for the powerless and the disenfranchised. In recent months, he became a strong vocal supporter of the #metoo movement, in support of his girlfriend Asia Argento.
Bourdain was an intense, passionate man of integrity. I wish I’d had the chance to share a meal with him.
If you had a chance to share a meal with him, what would you choose? What special meal would you prepare for him?