Initially known for his not so favorable depiction of life in a professional kitchen, Bourdain drew praise as a writer, comradery from many “pirate” cooks, and frequent distain from those in the food industry who were trying to build a more respectable image of those who choose to cook for a living. In any case, his first significant book: “Kitchen Confidential” made him famous and gave him an escape from the intensity of running a busy kitchen every day. Today, he still tries to hang on to that “edge” as a writer and TV personality, but has built a model that is somewhat indirectly bringing an important message to the forefront.
His new show on CNN that is an offspring of “No Reservations” originally on the Travel Channel, brings him to various parts of the world that are unfamiliar to many. Most importantly he finds himself in areas of political and military strife and locations of ethnicity that are deeply misunderstood by most Americans. His real message is that the vast majority of people in the world are not a reflection of the politics, hate and anger that makes the daily headlines. Most people, like you and me, are simply trying to raise a family, support our community, learn as much as we can in the short time we have on earth, and enjoy life.
As he moves, in most cases, away from the center stage of countries and cities, Bourdain mingles with average citizens. He tours their neighborhoods, visits their homes, talks with people on the street, and most importantly – breaks bread while learning about their customs and culture. It is food, after all, that is the common denominator in life. What he finds is a population that is not based on hate and despair, but rather one that is built on hope, tradition and love of family. At the same time he discovers wonderful food drawn from the indigenous ingredients of the region and recipes handed down from generation to generation.
Food is the universal language. No matter how different our philosophies are, no matter what political statements are made by the leadership in each country, no matter what socioeconomic advantages or disadvantages people share, breaking bread puts everyone on common ground. We can all respect and enjoy a great meal.
Bourdain’s message, and I do believe that this is the true objective of his show, is to point out what makes us all the same rather than what makes us different. I once again wonder how much further we might get as a society if we simply sat down and broke bread together, discussed our issues with the warmth and full flavor of regional foods in our mouths, and looked each other in the eye not as adversaries but rather as citizens of the world.
Restaurants can take a lesson from Bourdain as he indirectly points to an important role that every chef and restaurateur has – to provide opportunities for people to look each other in the eye, savor great food and drink, and find solutions to problems without anger drawn from misunderstanding.
You may not like Anthony Bourdain, his rough edges and seemingly abrasive approach to his craft, but we should all pay attention to the message he is trying to deliver.