Dear Mr Bourdain,
Meeting you has always been at the top of my bucket list. I watched, replayed and recommended your TV shows to others whenever the topic of food and travel came up: No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and the Layover. Your travels have inspired me so deeply that I even paid a visit to the restaurant Los Amigos, which you featured in Cuba.
Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room on Friday.
You were the type of person I aspired to be: the underdog, traveller, non-conformist writer and chef, who appreciated the rich tapestry of cultures without being patronising towards your interviewees, who wouldn’t hesitate to sit on a low plastic chair at the side of a busy road to get to know the locals more by sharing a meal with them, who would finish his share of an exotic dish so as not to offend his host family while still being able to relay honest feedback of what the dish tasted like to the TV audience. You engaged the audience through your down-to-earth approach in getting to know the locals of your travel destinations better, and with a subject that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers: food.
Whenever anyone would ask me what my dream job would be, my answer was to do what you have been doing all these years since leaving your executive chef role at Les Halles. You used television as a medium for many years to promote cultural respect and understanding, in both popular and lesser-known destinations. You went off the beaten path in your travels, and focused your attention on "ordinary" locals, who, after sharing their stories, seem both familiar yet extraordinary at the same time.
Despite your "original bad boy of the kitchen" reputation, you consistently showed your respect and appreciation for the people you worked with. I will never forget that episode where you featured Puebla in Mexico. You visited the mothers of the cooks who worked for you and marvelled at how their traditional ways of cooking inspired their sons to develop a love for food. In turn, the success of these men in the culinary industry enabled them to have better lives.
You inspired young people like me by living the dream: to leave an established career in the rat race and pursue a job with no walls, cubicles or any sort of physical partition between oneself and the bigger workplace that is the world we live in, one that is rich in culture, people and food waiting to be discovered.
You recently tweeted that "we will be judged eventually by seemingly small, random acts of kindness and sincerity …". May you rest in peace knowing that society will remember you as the eclectic yet authentic icon who put the spotlight back on the people and cultures behind the dishes we enjoy today.
Mr Bourdain, thank you for sharing your stories on colourful cuisines, for insisting on travelling off the beaten path to meet kindred souls, and for reminding us that the world we live in is big enough to have many adventures in, yet small enough for us to be connected to one another in meaningful ways. The media and the culinary world will never be the same without you. You identified yourself as a chef, who was "always on the lookout for extremes of emotions and experiences", who "would try anything, risk everything and had nothing to lose". You dedicated yourself wholeheartedly to your craft and left a lasting legacy in today’s society.
You will be missed greatly.
Monyq San Tropez is studying for her PhD in sustainable tourism and Latin American studies.
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