OPINION: Learning from the legacy of Anthony Bourdain


Scott Rainey

Scott Rainey

The American chef and TV personality, Anthony Bourdain, became one of the most well-known and well-liked chefs on television. His rugged look, dry wit and vulgarity paired with his poetic writing and love for food made him unstoppable. His critics, of course, hated him, and his fans, like myself, absolutely loved him.

His death was the first time a celebrity death really affected me. In many ways, celebrities are so far removed from our day-to-day lives, that — even if we’re a fan — they somehow seem larger than life, almost as if they don’t actually exist as a normal human, just as an icon. Bourdain was the most human celebrity I had ever seen.

Perhaps this is because in his first book, “Kitchen Confidential,” he discussed, in plain terms, the grotesque and exciting nature of a New York kitchen. In his subsequent television shows, we saw him sitting and eating with normal, everyday people from everywhere in the world. It felt like you could have him in your own home, eating the meal you just cooked and enjoying every second of it.

After recently coming across “Kitchen Confidential” on my bookshelf, I remembered how he made me feel while he was alive and doing his work. I also recently bought his cookbook and remembered how wonderful of a writer he was. Now I’m here, writing about him. There are a few things I learned from Bourdain that I want to share with you.

He never acted like he was better than you because he could cook well. He wanted you to be able to do the same. He wanted you to know that he was an imperfect man, a man who had a serious drug problem, a man who, for a long time, knew the world only through the eyes of a chef. In “Kitchen Confidential,” he describes chefs in this way: “If the chef is anything like me, the cooks are a dysfunctional, mercenary lot, fringe-dwellers motivated by money, the peculiar lifestyle of cooking and grim pride.”

He was curious. He always asked what it was like for people to live the way they did and how the food they ate impacted them. He was always able to try a new dish or activity.

He knew that people came first. He always had some friend or guide to take him around the parts unknown. He met with the locals — the people who could really tell you where to get the best bite to eat. He had them share their stories. He asked them how the city they grew up in affected them. He asked them about their hopes and dreams. And he asked them how they made their food taste so good.

He was honest. He was aggressively against the latest food trends if he didn’t like them. He also really hated beer snobs (sorry beer snobs). He spells out, in great detail, exactly what you need in a kitchen. He tells you what is BS, what is superfluous, and what is great. He hated the Food Network.

He could fiercely defend what he believed in. He was deeply involved in the #MeToo movement, he hated the President, and he defended a lovely 85 year old woman for reviewing the new Olive Garden that was built in her town. He even helped her get a book published, and wrote the foreword to it.

He certainly was not a perfect man, and we shouldn’t necessarily idolize him for every good and bad thing he did.

That being said, he was important. He was able to show people what other cultures were really like, he was able to show you how to cook good food, and he was able to do this while remaining true to himself. His death was devastating, but his legacy will remain strong.

Scott Rainey is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].