10 Things Tony Taught Me
Before I start going off on who Anthony Bourdain was, I’m going to stop myself. The truth is, I have no freaking clue. Few of us do. Who we think he was was a confident, charismatic, gritty, zero-fucks-given, globetrotting badass with a seedy history and a swagger for days (who still stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and all the Four Seasons). At least, that was who he was to me. And in the days following his death I see I am not alone, as my social feeds are inundated with link after link, photo after photo, of in memoriam tributes to this now-immortalized pillar to travel and inclusivism.
But the real Tony Bourdain is someone we don’t know, and now, so very sadly, someone we never will. Still, we mourn. Now three days after his suicide I find myself deeply, profoundly struck with overwhelming sadness. Anthony Bourdain was the first to teach me that the more we know, the more we realize we know nothing. I like to wax hopeful, however, and believe that who he portrayed was largely very much the person he was.
He taught me about street food. And no, I don’t mean dirty water hot dogs (although, those, too). He showed me the raw, unedited beauty of beads of fat dripping off a grill on the side of a back alley in Mexico City. He showed me the pillowy goodness of biting into a steamed bun in the hutongs of Beijing. And he taught me that meat in tubular form is the highest form of artistry.
Through food he taught us that we are all the same - no matter race, creed, sex, orientation. At the end of the day we all must eat to survive. We are all human. With food he was an equal opportunist. He ate at Sizzler in Los Angeles with David Choe, because that’s what Koreans in L.A. do. He also was besties with the head chef of one of the most prestigious seafood restaurants in the world (Eric Ripert; Le Bernardin.) To him, if it tasted good (or even if it tasted bad), but more importantly, if it represented something to someone, it was worth talking about.
He taught me that through travel the world becomes a much more enigmatic place. An addictive (and addicted) personality, he pulled himself out of the clutches of coke and heroin, out of the sweaty, raunchy kitchens and into our libraries and living rooms. And he used his fame for good; he used his pen and his persona to tell the truth. About everything. No matter how little some of us wanted to hear it. He didn’t give a fuck. He had his convictions. And he clung to them with white knuckles and bloody fingertips.
He wasn’t above evolution. We saw him soften his stance on Emeril, and then there was that epic Halloween episode of No Reservations he did with Samantha Brown. He was not above being proven wrong, and he called himself out on it. He tried things. He told the whole story. He was a journalist. To quote Thrillist’s tribute to Tony, he was Sal Paradise with a point.
He taught me how to live. He taught me that no matter how far we fall, we are always able to pull ourselves back up. He taught me to take risks and to live without regret because, as we know now more than ever, this ain't no dress rehearsal.
And for that he was always my hero. So for him to take his own life brought me back to lesson numero uno: the more we know, the more we realize we know nothing.
Still, for all that I don’t know, there is much that I do know for certain - all of which I can attribute to him, as I watched him from the tiny twin bed in my college dorm room (and later stoned on my couch in my first New York City apartment [and later still bingeing old episodes of No Reservations in hotel rooms on Netflix as I took off on my own travels around the world]).
So here are the 10 lessons Tony taught me. I hope wherever you are, you are sipping an indigenous beverage and eating something sinewy. Cheers. Safe Travels.
And thank you for these:
1. Travel...without Fear
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
2. Write...without shame
“You want them to feel how you felt at the time, if you’re telling something that you experienced. Or you want to drive them to a certain opinion or way of looking at things.”
"To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living."
4. Laugh...at yourself
"I'm not afraid to look like an idiot."
5. Work...your ass off
"Luck is not a business model."
6. Discover...Parts Unknown
“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel — as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them — wherever you go.”
7. Love...til it hurts
"It's been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
"Your body is not a temple; it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."
9. Find humanity...in everything
"If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food. It's a plus for everybody."
10. Remember those that love you...and be accountable to them.
“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”