Anthony Bourdain is a hero of mine. An anti-hero who through transparency, honest opinion, and self-effacing truths, points out a plan for the road less traveled. Bourdain’s irreverent, vice-laden history, sudden plucking from the kitchen bowels of NYC, and gradual shift towards international enlightenment, is gut-punching inspirational.
Growing up outside of New York City I was enamored with the old-school lower east side musician-artist-poets who scraped by through odd jobs, wits, and selling everything they owned. Every chance I had I’d scramble downtown (or to Hells Kitchen), to seek them out, to soak up their vibe, and to learn there were many more paths in life than the straight and narrow one.
Bourdain is one of these folks all grown up, and not only did he survive, he’s thriving. I don’t think he’s an anomaly, he made an effort and chose a good turn in the road. There are bunches of these old-school NYC underground peeps, doing their thing, sticking it to the man, and flying under the radar. Their turns have been less fortunate, but no less enthralling or insightful.
Bourdain mentioned in his live performance at the Chicago Theatre this past Saturday that his success was both a mix of luck (for which he is extremely grateful) and determination (he worked hard to publish the book that opened the door to all else), but his plan is mostly accidental. He knows his current situation is magical, and he’s milking it for all its worth; without pretense, and with ample glee.
During the show Bourdain told a great deal of behind the scenes stories that were funny and expectedly harsh of his fellow TV foodies, but there were a few aspects that struck me solid. What set with me the most was his yearn to share his own experiences with the hope to influence the greater good. It’s micro-buddhism in a way, maybe a distant cousin. Here’s a person that walked a path, made a decision to alter the path, and from the alteration found a new appreciation for the people of the world AND a need to share that appreciation so that we too can learn to do so as well. That’s profound. He’s my hero.
Here are a few pearls I gleaned from his show:
Keeping It Real
Always on the mind of the underground folk, the pain in life is finding the balance between passion and success. Nobody from the underground wants to be a sellout. But what does that mean? Should we all look to the Dischord house as the beacon of truth? Bourdain seems to have had this internal twist and awoke with a new objectivity. “Was smoking crack keeping it real? Was selling books on the street for dope keeping it real?” He’s doing the best he can to keep a good thing rolling, and within it he’s found a concerted balance between his personal goals for the show and finding the angles to help pay to reach them. “Yes, we have product integration, you’ve all seen that, that’s how we can keep making the show…but I also have total creative freedom.”
Discussing his role as a father to a 3 year old Bourdain suggests there is no beating the ubiquity of McDonald’s through rationalization. He cynically suggest we wean our children from Ronald’s grasp by injecting fear into the experience. To speak of Ronald is hushed tones just within earshot of our children as an evil character who kidnaps children. To take an old and grime-laden scrubby, dip it in chocolate, wrap it in a McDonalds’ wrapper, and leave it on the counter for our kids to find. “That’ll stop their craving.” Though he’s being incite-ful, he’s not wrong. If parents are going to fight to keep their kids away from fast food they need to find clever ways to counter the fast-food impulses that weed their way into the minds of babes.
Steps For Peace
Bourdain ran through a list of behaviors he wishes more Americans followed when traveling abroad. He carefully noted that before he was hired to do his first show he barely traveled at all. That at the start of his travel career he looked at the catalog-type tourists with disdain, and that now he wishes to rescue them from the bull-horn tour-guide, to set them free into the hearts of cities where tourists fear to tread. Here’s his list:
– Be grateful. Having an American passport is a gift, our ability to travel is extremely fortunate.
– Be polite. We are representatives of our country when we travel, show your best face.
– Dress appropriately. When visiting holy sites, make sure you dress accordingly, no bikinis.
– Show a little respect. Don’t demean the citizens of the country you are visiting, they’re more like you than you think.
– Get the customs right. Learn what’s appropriate and do it.
– Accept meat and liquor from strangers. Be open to meeting people, don’t shut yourself off from the culture. The best experiences will happen through the graciousness of people.
– The Grandma rule: accept the food and no matter what, eat the meal and tell the host that the food was delicious.
And finally, not a wisdom, but a great presentation technique…
Turn On The Lights, Open The Floor
At the end of his monologue, Bourdain turned on the house lights and opened the floor to questions. He spent the last 20 minutes of his stage time fielding and answering questions from all over the theatre. Some were about Zamir, others about favorite foods and places for the best street food. My favorite was when someone asked how often he become sick from eating all the new foods. He honestly answered, “About 75% of the time I’m a little sick, but not always sure if its the food or because of my alcohol intake. If anything I spend a little more time on the [toilet]…but nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Thanks Anthony for keeping it real.