There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said, and yet I feel compelled to add my voice to the chorus of people crying out tonight. I'm shaken; the sun set over Colorado tonight in that beautiful, memorial kind of way - making silhouettes out of the mountains, yellowing the plains, reminding me in some subtle way that there is life left to live.
Ilana and I were talking and neither of us remember if we ever actually met Anthony Bourdain - because our memories are elusive and because he made himself so available and so vulnerable through his books, shows, interviews, and social media, that it feels like we all knew him in some way. I remember the day I cooked for him at The Spotted Pig in 2015 - he was about ten feet away from me and my knees were shaking; I'd had a crush on him since I started cooking. I fell in love with his honesty, his tenacity, even his darkness - because that darkness spoke to his unapologetic humanity. He was more human than any of us - he dove fully into his life, his curiosity, his indulgences.
It was his writing, brilliant and brash, that grabbed me first. Kitchen Confidential both encouraged me and terrified me to cook in restaurants. A Cook's Tour is one of those books that both inspires me to be a better writer and makes me feel stupid for trying - because how could I ever illustrate the world, or a meal, or the magic of an experience as well as he has?
He's brought me to a crab shack on the coast of Maryland where I have memories of licking Old Bay off my finger tips with piles of blue crab bodies and cans of Shiner beer. He brought us to Southern Thailand, to a small restaurant in Phuket, where we ate a crab curry so spicy I was wiping my tongue with a paper napkin.
It was never just about food, though. It was about connection, about relationships forged through sharing a meal, about the deep cultural history of a place, about exploration. He embodied the best parts of being human. He was a rebel who showed us that we can find success by being ourselves. He challenged us. He encouraged us to be rebellious, to be tenacious and uncompromising. He "radiated life," as my friend put it this morning.
I feel like we've collectively lost a battle. Like we've collectively lost ourselves. Like we could have, should have tried harder to save him - even if we didn't know he was hurting. How do we reconcile that someone who seemed to embody so much life and so much humanity, struggled enough to cut his life short? I don't know. I don't think I've ever been so shaken by a stranger's death. I feel empty. And every social media post from nearly everyone I know, layman or famous, reminds me of how much of an effect he had on all of us. His reach was far further than the food industry.
And yet we must accept that that reach will only be in memory now. To quote Tom Collichio, "RIP doubtful. Tony’s restless spirit will roam the earth in search of justice, truth and a great bowl of noodles."
Thank you Chef. This world is not better without you.