Five years ago I was living alone in New York City. And after a crazy few months of work, with the Boston bombing and then the America's Cup I was burnt out. I sat at home in my apartment one night, watching a TV show on YouTube, and it inspired me to get online and book tickets for a holiday, half way around the World.
I had a magical time in Istanbul. I was there for ten or twelve days. I travelled alone. I walked everywhere. And as with my very best travel experiences - and I'm lucky enough to have had a few - I dedicated myself to food.
I still have this photo… I get it out to shock people sometimes… of me eating a whole roasted sheep's head… eyeballs, tongue, brains and all, on the side of a Turkish street. I remember fondly the bustle of the Beyoglu fish markets right next to the Bosporus. The delicately spiced chicken and almond perde pilave… which means hidden rice pilaf. I ate beautiful baby lamb roasted in the traditional Kurdish style. I snacked on lahmajoun. I walked the city's walls and used the tiny bit of data on my phone to find a whole in the wall worker's café, for a lunch of hot spiced bean stew.
None of these experiences I would have ever had, if not for Anthony Bourdain.
I wouldn't have eaten feijoada in Brazil if not for Anthony Bourdain. I might never have visited Oaxaca in Mexico. The very first time I ever travelled alone properly, was in Rajasthan India… the most beautiful meal of my life I ate by candlelight at the edge of Lake Pichola in Udaipur. From whom do you think I took that recommendation?
I remember one cold Wednesday night in New York… sitting in my apartment having just finished my dinner… I turned on an episode of Bourdain in the Bronx. There was Tony, eating fried pork.. chicharron and Dominican dumplings. I packed up my things and I walked out for a second dinner… greasy and gorgeous. In Vietnam, the same thing with grilled dried squid and hard liquor.. plastic stools on the side of the road by the honking scooters and the dirt. In Colombia, sizzling arepas where the meat juice ran down my hands.
When I travel, and I love to travel, I don't check Lonely Planet for places to eat. I watch Anthony Bourdain. And now he's dead.
I don't know what to tell you. I just woke up this morning to news of his suicide and texted my best foodie mates in Bourdain's hometown, New York City. Maybe Raechel hadn't wanted to wake me overnight. She says she never has a physical reaction to celebrity deaths… but this is different. She feels sick.
I don't know what it is about brilliant creative people. Sometimes I guess, brilliance comes at a price. Tony Bourdain had drug issues in the past. He still drank a lot. But if you watched his TV shows, he had a maturity in recent years that could be misleading.
Whereas in the past he acted like a bit of a dick sometimes… I think about his visit to New Zealand when he defied his quad bike instructor, rolled on a sand dune, and almost broke his neck… or his first trip to Cambodia, where he almost thumbed his nose and laughed about genocide and couldn't wait to go and shoot antique Khmer Rouge guns…Anthony Bourdain grew up.
He wasn't the World's greatest chef. But he used food as a vehicle to learn about people. He wasn't stuffy. He liked to eat on the street. As Obama said this morning… cold beers, plastic stools… and sizzling meat. It was the Anthony Bourdain way.
He actually went back to Cambodia to make amends for his first visit. This time he told Cambodia's story with nothing but respect. He was, as someone put it, Hunter S Thompson's heir apparent. A loud mouth gonzo, flawed, absolutely, but nothing if not authentic.
Of course his work lives on. All of those award winning shows and series. I'm not sure if I'll go back and watch many. I'm off to Buenos Aires in a few weeks but I think watching Bourdain there might make me really sad. But I suppose he lives on in memory for me… because in travelling the World, and taking his guidance, Anthony Bourdain has played a small part in some of the very best experiences of my life.
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