I come home every day feeling worn down with good and bad words. It makes me the most tired. It’s rewarding and hard, but I am too ripped up, sometimes.
I was half way through making our day’s batch of grits when I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death. Truly truly truly, beloved by millions — conflicted and misunderstood by many as well, I assume — but each person having their own relationship with him, his stories and his active pursuit of good in the world.
There are always words. Even when I can’t come up with any. I owe him some of mine, because of all he gave me.
I’ve read so many pieces from others, explaining why it hurts so much — that Bourdain was the best and worst in all of us — the realest — the guy we all wanted to drink a beer with.
When I lived in Portland, it was his book Kitchen Confidential that inspired me to take my first knife skills class with a bunch of 60 year old women at a fancy kitchen supply store in the Pearl District. I was way too timid to start in a kitchen anywhere, but was working in coffee shops, so I had the spark of a good hustle.
And I started to like the hustle.
He became my person. Like everyone else who loved him, we saw him as one of our own — somehow able to keep one foot in a different universe and the other sitting across from us, talking about our love for cheap hotdogs and steamy hot noodle bowls.
He made us all feel cooler, and perhaps more sane, by liking him.
I was so angry. It was ripping me up. I was getting texts from friends, asking if I was okay, because they all knew he was an important figure to me and one if not the biggest influencing factors of my career.
I resonated with his bittersweet homesickness. To be everywhere and to be home at the same time. That there’s nothing like leaving home, and nothing better than coming back to your place.
The part time writer and cook side of my own world loved it all. His constant humility to the working class, blue collar side of humanity. The way he talked about kitchen life made it seem respectable — and maybe the first time in a long time, the brutality and passion and anger of kitchen and restaurant work was getting the attention it was never allowed to get.
He made the table a sacred place. To feel secure and learn about other people, even if you didn’t agree.
He made the kitchen a place where it didn’t matter what language you spoke or where you came from…but that you showed up and did the work and did it well.
The traveling and writing was work, too. Just like cooking. From everything I’ve read, he took everything seriously, and professionally. He hustled. He showed up early and never left anything for the swim back.
Bourdain may have brought me to cooking, but it’s been the people sitting at our tables that keep me coming back to it.
The food on those plates is, in a way, a testament to his life’s work: inspiring us to be open minded, hard working and kind.
I am so sad you are gone, Tony.
Thank you for helping me not feel so alone.
That it’s okay to be a cook. That it’s okay to question yourself, daily, on what it is to be good in this world.
thank you for everything.