I was not a friend of Anthony Bourdain – I never even met him. But his death is hitting me harder than any celebrity death I’ve experienced to date.
I read Kitchen Confidential in my last semester of college. Those last few months of school were a strange and confusing time – I was about to head into the real world without any real direction or idea of what I really wanted to do. Until then, I had always dutifully followed the path laid out, but the well-paved path ended abruptly on graduation day. I had a degree in Dietetics, a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies, and a plan to move to New York City. What happened once I got there was still to be determined. The “rule follower” tendencies that had gotten me to that point were not going to take me as far after leaving the safe space of my college campus.
Cut to me reading Kitchen Confidential on the elliptical machine at the campus rec center in an effort to avoid midterms. At the time, it was unclear why I found his stories of the restaurant industry’s “underbelly” so compelling. (Big takeaway: don’t order fish on a Monday.) After some years of reflection on the book and my own experience in food service (though, admittedly a more sterile experience) I realized that despite all of the crazy stories and unfortunately, many workplace abuses, the food industry at its core about truly connecting with your fellow human.
Food is so essential and so personal, no matter how you work with it you are touching others’ lives. It doesn’t always feel that way. I’ve worked many jobs in food – everything from institutional foodservice to VC-backed startups, and have done everything from production to human resources. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting at a desk staring at a screen. But I also get to know people, both colleagues and customers, through this common language of the things we eat. I get to interact with open and accepting people from all walks of life on a daily basis, and that is very special.
Reading Kitchen Confidential and subsequently watching Anthony Bourdain travel around the world made me a more curious human – with regard to both food and the people who make it. I took a path less traveled, and I give a lot of credit to him and his no-bullshit, inquisitive, and adventurous spirit showing a girl from a small Midwestern town what else was out there.
All this to say, he made a huge impact on me and I didn’t even know him. I can’t imagine how his friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances feel. Be kind to each other, everyone. Check in on your pals, even if you aren’t worried about them. Stay connected.