Foreword: This magazine’s response to the tragic loss of Anthony Bourdain comes a little late by intent. Initially I sat down and immediately began writing about how it affected me, and to put to words the grief and loss that hit me like a truck, but I waited. This is because I wanted to write a piece on behalf of Boxy Magazine, but also a piece that was for me, and about my reaction to his passing. This is because that although this piece I hope speaks to all of the readers of this magazine, it is as much a part of my own grieving process to write it, and release it now as some form of catharsis. I hope that you, dear reader, find it appropriate.
Words | John Wood
It took me until now to be able to sit down and write something that I did not feel was a visceral, reactive and somewhat sycophantic reaction to the passing of Anthony Bourdain. When it happened, I joined the rest of the food and culture community, and indeed the world, in mourning one of us. In the back of my mind I guess I had always hoped or thought that somehow, some way, the stars would align and I would bump into him in my travels, or at a bar in New York.
What strikes me as so awful about his passing is my identification with him, as I’m sure resonates with most if not all of the readers of this magazine. He came from nothing, nursing a bad coke habit through the years as he duked it out in kitchens on the line, sweating and swearing and basically living like Hunter S. Thompson if he had cooked. The hyper-masculine and chaotic nature of a major restaurant’s kitchen molds people into a certain form, and Bourdain was no exception. Wildly creative and well-spoken, he was able to emerge from the crucible of the kitchen of Les Halles in New York City by sharing that creativity with the world, and in no small part, that famous luck that pervades every New York Story. His rise to fame gave every one of us, myself included a sense of “Hey, maybe I can do that too.” He gave hope to his fans and readers that with charisma, wit, creativity and intelligence that perhaps we too could leave a mark on the world.
Bourdain’s is an indelible mark. To say that he changed the world of food and cooking as we know it is a dramatic understatement; he fundamentally changed the way that food is viewed by the populous (think Instagram shots of scrambled eggs and the proliferation of Insta-famous food bloggers). What once was relegated to supermarket checkout lines in the form of recipes in the back of TV Guide has now become haute couture; a cultural touchstone both for those in the industry and those not. People actively seek out spots abroad that may include his favorite “little plastic stool” somewhere in Southeast Asia, just to perhaps touch the same plastic table and eat the same noodles that made him squeeze his eyes shut in joy while we smiled ear-to-ear watching on Netflix. It is a joy that we identify with because it is for us, the people for whom all of this resonates.
His passing is something that jarred me on a level that I wasn’t prepared for. I feel like I’ve known him since I was a kid, and rue the fact that I never got to shake his hand or tell him how much he inspired me. I never got a chance to tell him about my favorite noodles in Saigon, or on which tiny little alley I found the best pork chop, a conversation I’m fairly certain would have elicited a wide smile from him. Quite possibly the same wide smile he elicited from me on so many occasions.