Anthony Bourdain’s death is shocking, to say the least.
As one of the most influential chefs and television personalities in the world, audiences everywhere felt inclined to invite him into their homes. Families gathered to not only be entertained by this man’s fascination with food, but his understanding of how culture influences food.
Bourdain was a unique individual because his love of food surpassed taste and flavor; he reminded us that food is a way to experience people and places. It is not simply comfort; it is a reminder of heritage and exploration of the past.
On the topic of traveling and culture he once said, “If I am an advocate for anything, it is 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.”
It was fascinating being able to watch someone travel to places far away and be introduced to “strange” new foods that he never ridiculed. Bourdain opened his mind and his heart to everything and everyone.
Perhaps his most memorable moments were when he was in Africa. While so much of television is adorned with eurocentric ideas, it was refreshing to see Bourdain give notice African culture in a way that did not exoticize it.
During a 2016 visit to Senegal, National Public Radio’s (NPR) Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton had the pleasure to speak and eat with Anthony.
They shared breakfast together at a popular food market in Dakar called Marche Kermel.
Quist-Arcton recounts that he was thoroughly impressed by the food.
“He loved the Senegalese fruit juices and the lakh we ate,” she said, “But he seemed even more interested in eating and drinking in the history, the culture, the people, everything about Senegal — and especially its harmony and tolerance.”
Senegal is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, arguably. Even though it is a Muslim-majority country, the Senegalese people elected its first Catholic president after gaining independence from France.
“I liked his curiosity, his openness, his passion, his compassion, his interest and his intellect,” says Quist-Arcton. “He seemed to love people — and good food.”
On another episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown, Bourdain visits Mozambique where he had the luxury of exploring the multicultural and vastly inspiring society that contributes to some of the most amazing food in the world.
The episode opens with shots of dancers, monuments and women painting their faces as he narrates, “Brazilian spices, Indian curry, the best of Africa and Asia, Arab traders, the dizzying Afro-Portuguese-Latin America-Pan African-Asian mix.” The narration pauses for a moment to showcase more of the beautiful scenery and people, and then he says, “Along much of the coast of Mozambique, through good times and bad, what they always had was an abundance of incredible seafood.”
Bourdain’s mission was not just to go places, have a good meal then jet home. In each episode that we see of him he clearly seeks to know the culture and shed light on places that are often misunderstood.
Africa is underrepresented and grossly exoticized, and Bourdain helped to tear through stereotypes. However, he did so in a way that allowed the native people that he was visiting tell their own stories through their own voices, through their food.
On a trip to Ethiopia, the influential chef talks about how misunderstood the east African nation is.
“It’s a country filled with great cooks, great music; Ethiopia is absolutely unique, little understood. We’re looking to shed a little light.”
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons.