The back cover of 'Appetites: A Cookbook' by Anthony Bourdain. Photo courtesy of Bobby FIsher.

In memory of Tony

Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama dining in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Pete Souza/Barack Obama Twitter
Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama dining in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Pete Souza/Barack Obama Twitter

Today’s post is not about art. One year ago, Anthony Bourdain left us and left a small hole in my heart and mind. Today would have been his 63rd birthday. His dear friends, Eric Ripert and José Andrés have asked that all those who loved him and were inspired by him to celebrate him today by a few words, a delicious bite or a good sip.

Here are my words, written exactly one year ago:

Why am I so heartbroken over the death of a man I’ve never met?

Why do I feel as though part of me is gone too?

Anyone who knows me knows how much I have loved and admired Anthony Bourdain. So much so that I would refer to him as Tony as if he was my dearest friend. So I am mourning the loss of a dear friend.

I first fell in love with Tony when I stumbled upon A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network during a strange time in my life. I was not in school, and I was working a job that wasn’t for me and through this incredible show, which was unlike anything else I’d seen on TV, I could escape to these amazing places with this handsome man who was as passionate and curious about food as I was. I could travel and taste vicariously through him and learn a whole new set of vocabulary: larb, pho, (which would quickly become and still is, one of my most favorite foods), mole, pulque, rillette, the list is endless.

I learned about sushi. I learned about Vietnamese and Thai food that stretched far beyond anything I had encountered before. I learned about French cuisine, and through Tony, was introduced to other chefs that I’ve come to adore like Thomas Keller and the great Spanish chef, Ferran Adria.

Whenever I could, I tried to seek out and replicate these flavors that Tony had experienced whenever and wherever I could.

From that moment on, I followed him wherever he went–place to place, network to network. I bought his books, read his essays. And then, when I was finally able to travel, I turned to him to show me how to see–how to see Montreal, Paris, Mexico City, Glasgow and all the other places I’ve been.

Anthony Bourdain in Couva eating after a stick fighting match. Photo courtesy of David S. Holloway and CNN.
Anthony Bourdain in Couva eating after a stick fighting match. Photo courtesy of David S. Holloway and CNN.

I was astounded when he decided to visit my little country, Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 for Parts Unknown. In a one hour episode, he not only showcased the intricacies of the cuisine of my homeland, he got us in a way that outsiders usually don’t. He understood the complexities of our history as a former British colony; he rejoiced in our music and most importantly, he presented us to the world with an open heart and what we like–an empty stomach.

In closing the episode, Bourdain astutely observes what sits at the very core of our tiny island nation:  “What might look like a utopian stew of ethnicities and cultures living together under swaying palms is, of course, a far more complicated matter. But Trinidad has done better than most and in proud and unique style.”

The greatest thing I’ve learned from watching my dear friend Tony is that if you are brave enough to step outside the “resort” version of a place, there is magic on the other side, magic that stays with you forever and changes the way you move through the world. You will be eternally rewarded. I’ve had some of the greatest meals of my life because of him and have gained such a remarkable understanding of the planet that I inhabit that I don’t think I would have just by conventional learning.

So thank you, my dear friend, for opening my eyes to possibility- the marvelous, the dirty, the smelly, and the delicious.

I have dealt with depression and anxiety for most of my life. Cooking has been one of how I have calmed my self in times of crisis and will continue to do so. The language that we use to describe mental health needs to change. It’s not for lack of willpower or discipline that we are plunged into bouts of sadness and anxiety. My brain isn’t weaker than yours; it’s just different.

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