Sunday, June 17, 2018

After Bourdain: Essays on food, drink and life


The passing of Anthony Bourdain left a jagged hole in the middle of my chest. It was a like a brother from a different mother departed this earth. 

As an “essayist”, the title he gave himself, he was peerless. Superficially a food writer or a travel host he was much more than either. He gave us a window into the greater world, with food as the catalyst for knowing our brethren better. His efforts prompted countless people to get passports and to become world citizens. He recently said, “I wish more people would get passports.” I'm pretty sure he meant that folks would benefit, would grow, if they visited other places and discovered that people are more alike than different, everywhere. As our country turns inward, that revelation is essential.

Bourdain started travelling in earnest at 43 though he had spent some summers in France as a boy. It was there that he slurped his first oyster, marveled at its briny sweetness and was changed forever. We, also, travelled to Europe for the first time in our early forties. We inhaled it deeply and became citizens of that greater world, empowered but with a twinge of regret that we hadn’t done it much earlier

On that adventure, one that happened during a three-year sabbatical, we travelled first cabin, stayed at four-star hotels and reveled in memorable meals such as the unforgettable dining experience at the Priory in Bath, England. From the swank Royal Crescent in Bath we drove to a manor house in the midst of manicured gardens. We sipped champagne while waiting to be seated, selected a magnificent 1966 La Fort de la Tour Bordeaux, Chateau La Tour’s second label, had a sumptuous meal with dishes I don’t remember, and repaired to the library for brandy and cigars. The event, the only appropriate word for it, was so historic that it stands as “our best meal ever” after 34 years perhaps because it was our first such extravagance. A 2011 lunch at Alain Ducasse's Bastide de Moustiers does challenge for the title, I grant you.

Yet other meals in that exploratory voyage of 1984 are also etched in our minds, meals not riven with pomp and pretense. They were of simpler sensibilities and, as such, more warmly remembered. Bourdain spoke to this contrast in a recent interview. His words were, in effect, that as he got older the less interest he had in the self-congratulatory fine dining performance and craved unprepossessing restaurants and food carts where he could eat with the people in their places.

Breaking bread with a stranger or, for that matter, toasting them with good Irish whiskey brings you closer to them. Connecting with another human being is what makes us tick. As Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact. I just know that it’s true.”

No one makes friends with the front waiter or sommelier at The French Laundry or Le Bernardin, but you might if you met them as equals in the taqueria of their choice. Barriers of position and class disappear and you’re just a couple of swells enjoying fish tacos and icy Negra Modelo.

Anthony Bourdain was doing what a lot of us dream of doing, travelling the world, immersing ourselves in exotic cultures, digging beneath the surface and striding brashly across the television screen while reporting in bold, expressive prose what we saw and what we believed it meant in human terms. It’s certainly my dream job. Which is like wishing I’d written a best-seller about the dark profane crazed underbelly of the restaurant business but without the descent into addiction.  I’d call it “Kitchen Confidential” but I think that title has already been used.

Food is thread with which my life has been woven. Every milestone moment in my long life is punctuated by a dining experience or a “food epiphany”, a magical taste of something so different it’s life altering.

This is the first in a series of essays about food, places and people.






8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Bub. Thanks for the memories.

John Ellsworth said...

This is just wonderful. More, please!

Steve Immel said...

Thanks anonymous. Our mission, should we accept it, is to make more memories. And, Juan,there will be more. Can't help myself.

Daryl Black said...

Your blog "After Bourdain: Essays on food, drink, and life" is perfect in every way. An absolutely delicious piece of writing. Judging from the number of people with whom I have spoken about him after his death, he had an enormous influence on people around the world. It is just as he had hoped it would be - rich, poor, every age, color, shape, and from every country - savoring his travels and words and foods that he brought to our attention. I wonder if he knew. Here's to many more food experiences in your life, Steve, as we all ponder Bourdain and his legacy.

Steve Immel said...

Maybe he didn't appreciate the contribution he was making. That would be another tragedy wouldn't it? He made an impression on me that's for sure. And it's no exaggeration when I say I wish I done it. It would be cool to find a variation on the theme and carry it out even it's just a travel journal with food as the catalyst. And to figure out how to reach more people would be the icing on the cake. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Daryl.

Carla said...

Thank you for these onsighti!

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