Chef Unparalleled: How Anthony Bourdain Brought My Plate to Life

He brought a grandparent-like charm to dinners and lunches, telling a tale while you tucked in.

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America’s rugged bad-boy chef, Anthony Bourdain.
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(This story was first published on 8 June 2018. It has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Anthony Bourdain’s birth anniversary.)

If you’ve mulled over what’s on your plate, relished an assortment of viands, and thought of food as more than mere nourishment, you’re an epicure. And chances are, like Remy from Pixar’s Oscar-winning Ratatouille, you track and follow the Gusteaus of the real world. Anthony Bourdain was my Gusteau.

For a man who thought of himself as the Chuck Wepner of the culinary world, a suicide comes as a bolt from the blue. But as I smell the coffee and wrap my head around his permanent disappearance, I find myself consumed in the afterglow of Bourdain’s undying love for food and culture. The man changed the way I looked at food and the industry it spawned. For Bourdain, line cooks were heroes – not sous chefs.

We’re living at a time when the evolution of food is possibly at its peak. From deconstructions to the less-is-more philosophy on plates, as gastronomy became more and more an obsession, Anthony Bourdain kept it simple – think about food identity.

Through all his shows and books, he brought life to dishes native to the remotest of regions, expounding the stories behind them. What appeared on a plate was an amalgam of subcultures and identities, he said. He brought a grandparent-like charm to dinners and lunches, telling a tale while you tucked in.

Bourdain and Obama Eat Cheap Noodles, Drink Cold Beer in Vietnam.
Bourdain and Obama Eat Cheap Noodles, Drink Cold Beer in Vietnam.
(Photo courtesy: Flickr)

In his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Bourdain delved deep into the kitchens that routinely churn out the best fare, exposing the nightmarish truth to the profession while brashly and refreshingly elaborating on his lust for drugs. But something set Bourdain apart from the rest. While he often lavished on exotic fare or even bizarre foods, he avoided glamourising it. It is Bourdain’s raw touch to food and his take on the personality of the dish that stood out for me.

“To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one’s own hands – using all one’s senses. It can be at times the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second),” he wrote in his kitchen memoir, with his usual unmatched wit.

His food escapades made me experiment in my kitchen with ingredients that could be easily sourced, sometimes even trying the bizarre, like weaver ants.

No Reservations’ kept the television exciting at prime time. Bourdain learning to play cricket in Mumbai and savouring a Rajasthani thali in Udaipur amused me, as did his travels across the world. What a coveted profession, to travel the world and tickle your palate. Not quite, he proved.

With Bourdain’s demise, a void has marked its permanence. No longer will I wake up to his Instagram stories or just be content knowing he is travelling to some obscure part of the world and whipping up magic in a kitchen somewhere. Plenty of chefs and gourmands to still take inspiration from, but none like America’s rugged bad-boy chef. Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain.

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