The Passing of a Legend

I took one twenty-four hour period away from the Internet last week and took the girls up for their first visit to the cottage that my parents rent for the summer, and it seems like in that time the world decided to fall apart. The local and world political stages became even more polarized, interpersonal crises reared their ugly heads… And on Friday June 8th, Anthony Bourdain, one of my absolute favourite celebrities, committed suicide.

I’m having a very difficult time articulating why the death of this man has hit me so much harder than the passing of other famous people. It’s definitely not because I had any kind of personal relationship with the man; in fact, I had never even met him (although it was kind of a personal goal to get him to sign something at some point). Perhaps part of it is because he was not yet old, and still very vibrant. After all, he was working on Parts Unknown when he died. Perhaps part of it is because of the way that he died. Depression affects many of those that I hold nearest and dearest, and so it is brought up to the forefront of my mind that I might lose loved ones the same way.

So I sat in my favourite corner of my house — the end of the living room couch that I have claimed as mine — with copies of the Bourdain books that I own and an iPad running the old episode of No Reservations about Quebec. I poured myself a stiff drink and listened to his voice over — and honestly, the attitude that came through in his voice overs (and in his non-fiction writing, which played in my head in his voice) were the best part. For example, when describing poutine: “I’d like to introduce you to that most magical and indigenous dish for which every Quebecker holds a rightfully special place in their heart. It’s called poutine, and it’s as unlikely a melange of ingredients of any of the other incongruously bizarre yet much loved national dishes. To experience this conceptually nightmarish yet thoroughly wonderful gastronomic trainwreck, my friend Ian takes me to La Banquise, where demand for this stuff is such that it necessitates staying open twenty-four hours a day.”

It wasn’t until then that I could put into words why Anthony Bourdain’s death devastated me in a way that David Bowie’s, or Alan Rickman’s, or even Carrie Fisher’s never did. You see, although I love music, I will never be a great musician. I love film and television, and even though I worked in the industry it was always behind the scenes — I just don’t have the right stuff to be an actor. But I can cook — not always successfully, not always beautifully, and definitely not professionally, but I can cook. And I can explore. And I can travel. And I can meet people and learn about cultures and traditions and life.

That was what Anthony Bourdain, his writing, and his television career were to me: an inspiration, and a gateway to the world. He traveled and ate and wrote and I could live vicariously through him. Not only that, he didn’t just travel to the hot spots and eat in fancy restaurants, he visited peoples’ homes and ate home cooked food. Heck, he even had a soft spot for street meat. Haute cuisine or a family dinner, he saw it all as important, and he forced us all to see that for all of our differences, we all have at least one thing in common: we all have to eat.

Anthony, you will be greatly missed. The world is lessened with your passing.

Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.
(Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly)

But I do think the idea that basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill, should become as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money.
(Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook)

Unless you’re one of us already, you’ll probably never cook like a professional. And that’s okay. On my day off, I rarely want to eat restaurant food unless I’m looking for new ideas or recipes to steal. What I want to eat is home cooking, somebody’s — anybody’s mother’s or grandmother’s food. A simple pasta pomodoro made with love, a clumsily thrown together tuna casserole, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, all of this is pure exotica to me, even when I’ve been neck deep all day in filet mignon and herb-infused oils and all the bits of business we do to distinguish restaurant food from what you get at home. My mother-in-law would always apologize before serving dinner when I was in attendance, saying, “This must seem pretty ordinary for a chef…” She had no idea how magical, how reassuring, how pleasurable her simple meat loaf was for me, what a delight even lumpy mashed potatoes were — being, as they were, blessedly devoid of truffles or truffle oil.
(Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly)

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