Early last June, two days after the 4th anniversary of my brother’s death, the world was rocked with the news of the death of Anthony Bourdain, renowned chef, writer, and TV travel and food personality. Being an avid viewer of food shows, including food-oriented travel shows as of late, I was affected by this news.
I first learned of this guy via reading on my favorite magazine, Entertainment Weekly the news of a new sitcom, Kitchen Confidential being launched based on the memoirs of this guy, starring a then up-and-coming actor named Bradley Cooper. Even then and up to now, sitcoms set in a professional kitchen flop–the only hit shows featuring chefs or cooks that I know of that worked were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Muppet Show, Three’s Company, and Friends but none of those sitcoms centered around a restaurant kitchen but outside of it.
Then, a few years later, around 2007-2008, my cable subscription started offering the Asian Food Channel or AFC and one of its key shows then was A Cook’s Tour, which originally aired in the US between 2002-2003 at the Food Network*. I was hooked at the way Anthony was such a great story teller integrating the story of the places he visits with the cuisines they offer. If I had the time and resources, I would probably want to travel around the world and enjoy the cuisines of the world like him, though I won’t really rough it out at the rustic place like he does, though I’m aware to experience anything authentic about a place, that’s what you need to do.
*In our shores, we only receiving Food Network as a channel about 2010–before we only get to see Food Network programs at the then-Lifestyle Channel, which has recently been rebranded as Metro Channel.
As it was later revealed, he clashed with the executives at the Food Network and ended his show after two seasons. A few years later in 2005, he launched essentially the same show but it’s now titled No Reservations, then aired on the Travel Channel in the US. In our shores, this program is aired on TLC, a channel affiliated with the Discovery Networks. I got to see this show about almost as simultaneously as his original show on AFC, but I do notice the episodes on this show was fresher and with better production values. And of course, when news came that he is going to do a show on the Philippines, I got very excited, and needless to say, was very pleased with the resulting episode. Repeat after me: “Best… pig… ever.”
The company behind the Food Network, Scripps Networks, had steadily been encroaching and acquiring ownership of the Travel Channel, so at the end of 2012, Anthony decided to end No Reservations and struck a deal with CNN to produce his show, now known as Parts Unknown. I think the key evolution between No Reservations and this show is a heavier emphasis on the history and background of the place, and the cuisine about 10% less at the forefront. Still his incisive, cantankerous wit and eloquence and his unvarnished, honest approach made each episode a delight to watch.
On top of these core travel/food adventure programs, he also did a couple of other shows that I also tuned in. First, there is The Layover where Anthony talks about what to do and where to go when you have a 48-hour layover in a city. Usually it’s about the best restaurants or eateries to go to, but sometimes it could be about trips to other establishments, like the strip club trip he took with Food Network personality Alton Brown in Atlanta, below:
With another TV cook I adore, Nigella Lawson, Anthony also served as executive producer and judge in a reality cooking competition show called The Taste. Think a mix of Masterchef and Top Chef then combine that with the blind judging concept of the singing competition show The Vocie and you get this show. Both Anthony and Nigella were in the US version that aired on ABC and lasted three seasons, and a British version on Channel 4 tat lasted one series. I was rooting for this show to succeed and it’s generally a good show, but sadly it didn’t really catch on and lasted longer.
There is one common hallmark that one viewer could observe watching any of Anthony’s flagship programs: it’s never just about the food. Every episode showcases the history and cultural aspects of the places Anthony visited, and Anthony’s knack for narrative integrated these strands to weave such a rich, compelling tapestry. I do my best in my reviews to employ these elements in my pageant reviews, but admittedly I am nowhere near the way Anthony does it in his shows..
Anthony’s unapologetically outspoken and no-holds-barred approach has endeared him to many people (including myself) while some might find him cantankerous and pricklyfor the same reasons. He made me recall a former officemate of mine who has the same no-holds-barred outspoken personality and was infamous for some clashes with some resolver groups in our office, but gets away with it because he’s often correct. Main targets of Anthony’s ire are big personalities hosting shows on the Food Netwrk, like Paula Deen and Guy Fieri–he feels people like these make people settle for mediocrity instead of seeking the highest quality in food.
He doesn’t hate everything on the Food Network, though… though he has some mean barbs about chef Emeril Lagasse‘s TV shows then, he has since expressed respect at the chef’s skills. He also has begrudging respect for my favorite food show host, Barefoot Contessa’s Ina Garten, noting that she knows how to cook everything correctly, but he sometimes find her world a tad “creepy”.
Anthony has been married twice, but his last relationship was with Italian actress Asia Argento, and when Asia disclosed that she was raped by Harvey Weinstein, Anthony made the headlines for the last time when he was alive when he stood by his girlfriend’s testimony. Asia is currently embroiled in a scandal involving an affair with an underaged 17-year-old boy after Anthony’s death, and for many people that damages her credibility as one of Harvey’s victims and her standing in the #MeToo Movement, but just because one committed a shenanigan doesn’t mean that you dismiss an offensive act committed against her.,
Anthony’s death has triggered conversations about mental health and most especially depression. I am very familiar with this, for many reasons: My late brother who succumbed to it, I have family members who are currently in this state because of current circumstances, and I myself am dealing with this. If you noticed how sometimes my full-fledged reviews are delayed or never materialized (along with this long-overdue writeup that I was planning to post two months ago), it is because I either am paralyzed by this, or my energy is sapped prioritizing other things in life that I couldn’t find the energy to attend to this even with my intention of doing this. With pressures on the personal health front, the family front, the workplace front, and yes, even the political/society front, I have moments when I think when any of these situations take a bad turn I might take a drastic, dreaded action. Right now I’m able to cope but everyday I wonder about how long I can hang on. It’s now a daily, conscious choice for me to decide to carry on and get on with my life.