Today would have been Anthony Bourdain’s birthday: Here’s how he changed my life
Back in 2000, I was a recent college grad armed with a degree in fashion design that I certainly wasn’t using in my web design job. I knew the internet was something that I wanted to be a part of and it was exciting to work with designers from Carnegie Mellon and coders who were also learning what HTML could offer the world. The Y2K hoopla was all for naught and everyone and their mothers were making dot-com new money. I spent some of mine traveling to Tokyo, buying cute stuff I didn’t need, and reading Kitchen Confidential while eating $5 bowls of ramen. The travel bug bit me and all I knew was that I wanted to learn more about Anthony Bourdain and his grit.
When I read A Cook’s Tour the following year, I realized that that’s what I wanted to do: to keep traveling—but also travel to eat. I started obsessively writing about food and travel (my first domain, ext212.com, was purchased in 1999) because I so wanted to be like Bourdain. Because of him, I wanted to learn and experience other people’s cultures and traditions through the food they eat.
I even sent in a video to audition for his show, No Reservations, hoping that I would be the one to show him around the Philippines, my country of origin. I didn’t end up winning that spot, but I remember all my friends texting me when the show finally aired in 2008. “It should have been you,” they said. It should have been me, I thought.
But even though I never really got the chance to work with Bourdain, I wanted to be the one who tries to eat everything too. Because he taught me that it’s a privilege to be given the chance to eat everything; an honor to be invited into people’s homes and be fed; an advantage to be able to share tastes with strangers. Everywhere I’ve traveled so far, I have walked, hiked, run, and biked to eat because of him.
He introduced me to everything Fergus Henderson and made me realize that all that nose-to-tail cooking and eating was a big part of my own upbringing. I found hot dogs made by Japanese people in Vancouver and ate more hot dogs in Iceland because of him. I got my fingers red-orange from the sup tulang spot he liked in Singapore. I remember taking a cab ride during a layover in Houston from Panama to find the BBQ joint he visited; even the cab driver asked, “There’s BBQ there?”
I watched ducks being fed in a Hudson Valley farm to learn where foie gras comes from and to judge for myself and form my own opinion about the ethics of the delicacy. In Guatemala, the crappy cabin we spent our nights in turned out to be okay because the pupusa lady set up right down the beach in the morning. I accepted an invitation to someone’s basement in Saugerties, New York, to listen about mushroom cultivation. In Colombia, I ignored the hotel concierge’s advice not to go to the open market to eat—the cops had to stop me from filming my food. In Ireland, locals asked if I was sure I wasn’t Irish because I liked Guinness with my oysters.
I ate herring the proper way in Rotterdam after him. Our Airbnb host taught us everything about minced meat in Istanbul. I was so humbled when I was offered the first piece of warm bread at sundown on the Sahara during Ramadan in Tunisia.
I remember being in a car driving on winding roads in Trinidad for the shark and bake he also ate. In Bhutan, I steered our guide to find the momos the market workers were eating for breakfast after we just had breakfast.
In Myanmar, we would open pots and pans and order multiple dishes we’ve never heard of with our eyes. One of the longest days during my climb to Kilimanjaro, I called the camp dinner “mirepoix” because what else do you call a combination of carrots, celery, and onions even at 15,000 feet?
I’ve always wanted to tell those stories as well as he did. And until last week, I was traveling through Spain and Paris, eating, learning, savoring, and appreciating–just like he taught and inspired me all these years.
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