Anthony Bourdain: Requiem

Anthony Bourdain: Requiem


When I was a kid, my hero was Andy Taylor, the character played by the actor Andy Griffith on his eponymous television show from the 1960’s. Growing up a child of divorce, I took my male role models where I could find them, even from television.

In my teenage years, my hero was Minnesota Twins centerfielder Kirby Puckett. Kirby was a fireplug of a player, standing 5’8” and a sporting a body frame best described as “stout.” Being short and chubby myself, it was only natural to latch onto a guy with a similar build. Good thing Kirby was a helluva player, too.

In my twenties, I had no heroes. We will get to that in a moment.

It was in my thirties that I found Anthony Bourdain. I was hooked from the first time I saw him in 2005 on his travel show, No Reservations. That first episode he took us to Paris to explore the catacombs, drink Absinthe, and showed us the behind the scenes of the early morning markets that restaurants order from. I could tell that his show wasn’t ordinary.

Anthony Bourdain became my hero. And now my hero is dead. Tony took his own life this week. No one saw it coming.

Tony was New York cool, someone who might say “fuck you” as a dire warning or as a playful rib, depending on the circumstance.  He had a swagger about him. Tony had a grungy backstory that he told in his writings, starting with his book “Kitchen Confidential.” His writing had character. He was a character.

Anthony Bourdain, Chef, Traveler, Advocate

Tony was a chef, so he knew good food when he sat at a table. It didn’t matter if that table was at a Michelin starred restaurant in France, or a rickety card table on a sidewalk in Thailand. He was equally at home with renowned chefs like Paul Bocuse and Ferran Adriá in their restaurants as he was with a local guide’s grandmother in her kitchen. He knew the value that food plays in our lives and wanted to show us how much we should respect it.

Tony was an explorer, not a tourist. He would bypass the normal tourist destinations and show you a back street or remote area. Tony showed you the people in those areas. He sat down and asked questions, sometimes tough questions about politics, race, class, sex, gender, and life. Tony was listening and learning everywhere he went, and through him, I was learning and yearning to travel myself.

Tony had a voice. He used that voice to speak up for and shine a light on others that were misused, mistreated, maligned, and forgotten. He famously spoke out on Palestinian oppression. He viewed the tourist trade in some countries as another form of colonialism. He railed against systems and preconceived notions, stereotypes and hatred. Tony wanted you to see the world for what it is, both good and bad, and hoping that by showing every side, the parts that bothered him the most could change. Those things should change.

On Depression and Suicide

Earlier this week, I wrote a post on Instagram about suicide. I don’t really know why I wrote it. Fashion designer Kate Spade had just taken her own life. I knew nothing about her other than my wife owned a couple of bags that she produced. I knew her name and that was about it. But something was bothering me this week. It was gnawing on my insides. I wrote about my history with depression and anxiety, my close call with death, and the fears I still have of taking my own life. I guess I hoped that someone may see the post and take a minute to think about themselves or about a loved one who may need help.

Twenty-four hours after I made that post, Tony took his own life in a luxury hotel in France. He was filming for the next season of his current series, Parts Unknown. He was on the shoot with his best friend, Eric Ripert. All the reports since Tony’s death are about how good of a mood he was in and how much fun he was having on this shoot with his friend. Tony showed no outward signs of what he would ultimately do this week. No one saw it coming.

Suicide is the end to a lengthy illness for many people. Make no mistake, depression is an illness. It is no different from diabetes or cancer. Yet it is still stigmatized and mental health care in America is almost an afterthought: hard to get any type of treatment, it is expensive, medication costs are astronomical, and most insurance companies do not like to cover those costs. This is from my own personal history. I’ve been fighting against my own depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. That is thirty years of fighting. I am still here.

In my teenage years, I didn’t know what was happening. I had moods. In social situations, my stomach would go haywire on me. I was quiet. I didn’t talk much. I was sullen. Some of these things I could see myself. Some things other people saw. The advice I received most? “Snap out of it!”

I mentioned earlier that in my twenties I had no heroes. My twenties were a dark time. I don’t remember a lot of that time, which is odd since my wife will tell you that I rarely forget anything. But it was such a dark time that I guess my brain does not want to keep some things alive in my memory. Maybe it is for the best. It was during these years I was diagnosed, misdiagnosed, counseled, and medicated. I also self-medicated. I was in a dark and lonely place.

I tried to take my life when I was twenty-seven. The events that led up to this were not the reason why I tried. Those events were the symptoms of my illness. It was the depression that caused it. I woke up in a hospital with a raw, hoarse throat and a sick feeling. I didn’t know how I got there, but somehow, I reached out for help during this ordeal. I was asked by a police officer if I still felt like harming myself. I said no. I was discharged and sent on my way. Back to that dark and lonely place. That’s how much we value mental health.

On Survival

It has been eighteen years since that night, but it is still in my mind, in a corner, waiting. I could say that I have a greater control of my depression and anxiety today. I was able to find a medication that works for me and I am lucky enough to pay for it. But what control I do have, may be fleeting. I still have moods. I have ruined relationships due to my illness. It has affected me in ways that I cannot explain thoroughly. Yet, through this, I have found love and my life has become better. It’s not perfect. Life is not perfect. I just have to hang on, even when that dark thought sits in a corner in my mind, waiting.

This is selfish, but I wish Tony could have seen my Instagram post on the day before he took his life. I wish he could see how much he was loved and how many people were inspired by him. How his love of food, people, and cultures was shared with multitudes and made the world better. How his family, close friends, and colleagues will now have a hole in their lives where he should be. But no matter how much Tony was loved, he couldn’t see it from the depths of despair he was in. And that is the sad part of this story.

Life goes on. I don’t know if I will have another hero to fill Tony’s void. I do know this: thanks to Tony, I will travel, I will eat, I will meet new people, and I will experience new cultures. It’s what he wanted us to do. It is what I will do.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, depression, anxiety, substance abuse or mental illness there is help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

Women I Admire: Bessie Coleman

Women I Admire: Bessie Coleman

Let’s be honest, even today some little girls have more limits than others. African American girls in particular face closed doors that white girls don’t face. This is true today, but it was even more true in the past.  Which makes Bessie Coleman’s journey more than admirable, it is downright heroic.

Humble Beginnings

Born in Atlanta, Texas in 1892 Bessie Coleman’s parents could never have imagined that life of adventure she would lead and the barriers she would break. In 1892, Texas was only 27 years past Juneteeth, the day in June of 1865 that black Americans living in bondage discovered that they had been set free by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Her grandparents were slaves, her parents were sharecroppers. Lynchings were common in Texas. The world was not a friendly place for young Bessie. Her family was, in many ways, still living in bondage to the slave system that had shaped their lives.

Under slavery it was illegal to teach slaves to read and as a result her mother Susan Coleman was illiterate. The education system wasn’t much better for Bessie. The one room school she attended was often short on basic supplies like paper and pencils. It closed when the children were needed in the cotton fields, and when she did get to go, she had to walk four miles to get there.

Her father George Coleman worked as a day laborer and then a share cropper. His options as an African American/Native American were limited and by the time Bessie Coleman was nine’ George headed to Oklahoma searching for better opportunities. Life got considerably harder for Bessie. Her Mother and two older brothers went to work and Bessie was left as the de facto caretaker of her two younger sisters.

Looking for a Way Out

Bessie Coleman often told her mother she was going to “amount to something”. This promise wasn’t exactly easy to keep. Her local school only went to eigth grade. So as soon as she finished her schooling, she began working as a laundress and saving her pennies so she could go back to school. In 1910 she headed to Langston University in Oklahoma, but had to leave after a year when she ran out of money. Back in Waxachatchie, she again began working as a laundress and saving her earnings. In 1915 she moved to Chicago and began working as a manicurist.

Dreaming Big and Working Hard

In 1915, Chicago was changing dramatically. WWI had drawn so many American men into the war machine, the US was desperate for workers. This sparked one of the most dramatic changes that American has ever seen: The Great Migration. African American workers flocked to the North eager to take advantage of the better paying jobs newly available to them. Amoung the migrantees was Bessie Coleman. She arrived in Chicago and quickly went to work as a manicurist. Although she was reputed to be the fastest and the best manicurist in the city, she had her sights set way higher than that. She had read and heard stories of wild adventure from returning WWI pilots. These stories sparked her imagination and she finally found her purpose… she wanted to fly.

She did not pick an easy dream. As a matter of fact, there were not many female pilots of ANY race in the United States at the time. The few female pilots that did exist were wealthy and white. How she even dared to dream this for herself is a testament to how much the world had changed since her childhood. Encouraged by Robert Abbott, the publisher of “The Defender” the largest African American newspaper of the day, she began applying to flying schools. This went about as well as you might expect. She was met by resounding no’s from all the schools she approached.

Never Take No For an Answer

Not to be detered, she decided she needed to head to France. First step? Learn French! She withdrew all her savings and spent the next two years learning French. Robert Abbott and another African American entreprenuer helped her further with financial sponsorshop that got her to France. In November of 1920 she enrolled in flying school.

It is hard to have big limitless dreams when you are faced with nothing but closed doors your whole life. For many people that means dreams die before they ever even acknowledge that they exist. The challenges of life squash every spark of hope for a different life they might have had. But for people like Bessie Coleman, she would travel far to make her impossible dreams come true.

There Was No Stopping Bessie Coleman

In 1921 Coleman became the first African American woman to be awarded an international pilot license, and in 1922 the first to stage a public flight in the US.

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What did you dream of when you were young? So many little girls are expected to want to be teachers, nurses, princesses, and mothers. This is not even on purpose, it is just where the expectations are set by our culture. Things are changing and now girls dream of being a doctor-princess and wear toolbelts with their tiaras. Everytime I see a girl dreaming big, I smile inside. It just makes me happy to see them play and dream without limits. I think every girl harbors dreams of adventure in her heart. For me that has meant exploring the world and the women like Bessie Coleman who made that possible. Her spirit would never be tamed no matter what obstacles were in her way, and let’s be real… there was a mountain range of obstacles between her and her dreams.

Check out other Women I Admire in My Women’s History Month Series: Julia Child, Edna Lewis

Women I Admire: Bessie Coleman

Julia Child: America’s First Celebrity Cook

An American Master

Ok, let’s be real, there is no need for anyone to bring attention to Julia Child. She is beloved by Americans despite the fact that most people don’t know their Boeuf Bourginone from their Steak Au Poivre. As a matter of fact when I bought my very first copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (only Vol 1 btw) at my local Half Price Books the guy at the checkout said that it is the only cookbook they sells realiably, all the others sit there forever but Mastering the Art of French Cooking still flies off the shelf.

That Certain Something

What is it about Julia Child? Her freeness with her splash of wine? Her unusual voice? Is it pure nostalgia? It is not the food… not because its not great, but because very few people have actually made the food in her books. I’ll tell you why she’s on MY list though. I admire her tremendously, and I HAVE made her food. It is good, you should give it a go.

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Young Julia

Julia Child grew up privledged, the daugter of a wealthy influential family, she was not a person who would learn to cook at her Mother’s knee. She played basketball and studied history. Her future as the country’s most influential chef was not exactly set out clearly before her. She went from copywriting to attempting to enlist in the WACs or WAVE’s during WWII. She was denied because at 6’2″, she was too tall. (Imagine that, NOT being allowed into the military because you are toooo physically imposing?!)

She didn’t let her inability to enlist stop her from serving her country. Instead, she began working for the OSS. Times being what they were she joined the typing pool… but due to her fierce intelligence and her education she was moved very quickly into a position as a reserch assistanct. So the woman who brought America Boeuf Bourginon also developed a shark repellant for the US Navy. You know, like you do?!

Becoming a Cook

While in the OSS, Julia Child met the love of her life, Paul Cushing Child. Unlike Julia, he grew up in a family of food lovers and he introduced her to the world of gastronomy. Ok… so here is where it gets even more interesting to me. Here is this fairly accomplished young woman. She has a keen mind, and a fine education. She gets married and discovers that food is actually something that can “open your soul”. Not just that it is yummy and exciting… it opens your soul. That’s what she told the New Your Times about a meal of oysters and Sole Menuire. Many women of her time set about cooking fine meals for their friends and family. She certainly did that… but look at how she went about learning all she could about this new passion. She enrolled at the Cordon Bleu, she took private classes with Max Bugnard.

A Bumpy Road

It wasn’t exactly easy going for her. Julia Child perservered even when her teachers at the Cordon Bleu were not exactly confident in her. As a matter of fact she initally enrolled in the standard “housewife” class. A lot of American women were taking this course. It taught basic skills like boiling eggs and the like. She wasn’t having it. Bored with this simplistic course she insisted on enrolling in a serious culinary program for professionals. The head of the Cordon Bleu at the time had a choice of programs. One for chefs of haute-cuisine or a shabby, understaffed program intended for ex-GI’s. He chose the haute cuisine program believing it would drive Julia away completly. Boy, was he wrong!


Undeterred in his efforts to stop Julia, when the time came for the final exam she was given a test from the housewives class. A test that involved memorizing and regurgitating the course book. She failed it. Unfazed, she took action. She was very fortunate to have stings to pull, and pull them she did. Forcing the school to give her the correct test, and this time she passed it with flying colors.

Redefining American Cooking

Julia Child’s master work. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” is a comprehensive, easy to follow, easy to understand deep dive into French cooking. She took the mystery out of French cooking and brought it staight into the American kitchen. She repeated this feat by hosting her television programs beginning with her first episode in 1963 and continuing well into the 1990’s.

American women deep in the culture of jello salads and condensed soup casseroles suddenly began to make omlettes, souffles, and sole munier. She introduced French techniques and ingredients to an America that was walking away from its own culinary history. We all learned to love food, splash in some wine and not take our selves too seriously by watching her cook on TV! What better legacy than that?

Books I Recommend

I will earn a small commision on some of the products on this page if you purchase through my link. I have only recommended products I know and love. I have not recieved anything from these companies for free.

Women I Admire: Bessie Coleman

Women I Admire: Edna Lewis, Grande Dame of Southern Cooking

It’s Women’s History Month!

March is a special month. Not because we celebate St. Patrick’s Day and not because we finally begin to see the first signs of Spring, but because it is Women’s History Month. Now more than ever looking back at the women who have paved the way for us is important. We sometimes forget how much our mothers and grandmothers stuggled for rights we take for granted today. We still have much further to go, but we have come a long way so far. I can’t think of a better way to kick-off Women’s History Month than by talking about Edna Lewis.

In March, I will highlight a few women who I admire tremendously. I admire them for their brilliance, tenacity, bravery, and grace. If you don’t know them, I hope you will learn about them and find as much joy in getting to know them as I have. I will share a new woman with you every week: Look for a new post every Sunday until the end of March.  This first week I am sharing a bit about the late great Edna Lewis. I will also feature: Julia Child, Bessie Coleman, Samin Nosrat and MFK Fisher.

Edna Lewis

I just learned about Edna Lewis last year on a podcast. Which, given her stature and the shower of awards she was given, is a shame. Why don’t more people know who she is? All Southern food lovers should be cooking out of her books and praising her as loudly as we do Julia Child. He story has more glamour and perserverance, more challenge and triumph than any other chef I know. She was raised in a town establsihed by her grandfather, a freed slave, traveled to New York from Virginia during the Great Migration and for a time was Marilyn Monroe’s seamstress. Even more amazingly, during the depth of Jim Crow, she became a restauranteur. Not just a chef in a restaurant, but a full partner in a thriving restaurant in New York City. By the end of her life Edna Lewis had numerous award from such culinary institutions as the James Beard Foundation, Les Dames d’Escoffier, The Southern Foodways Alliance and others… heck in 2014 she was on a postage stamp!

A Taste of Country Cooking

When I heard a bit of her story I immediately bought her classic book “The Taste of Country Cooking”. I have had this book for a year and open it up quite often for inspiration or to just a read through a chapter. It is a cookbook, in as much as it has recipes in it, but it is really more than that. It is a memoir of a place and time that is long gone. It is a trip to a place so different from our world today that it feels like I am transported onto a whole other planet. When I read this book I get some of the same joy that I get from traveling. I don’t know of any other document that shows life for newly freed slaves and their children and children’s children like this one does. She open’s with the following simple statement:

‘‘I grew up in Freetown, Virginia, a community of farming people. It wasn’t really a town. The name was adopted because the first residents had all been freed from chattel slavery and they wanted to be known as a town of Free People.’’

This place, is a place I will never experience for myself, but through her words I am able to get a little glimpse of that world. Its also a peek into the roots of gastronomy in America. This isn’t a cookbook full of soul food as we know it today. This is food that comes from the land, that is seasonal and connected to the rythms of nature. The ingredients might surprise you if you understand Southern food to be fried chicken, chicken fried steak, gravy and pork, pork and more pork. This isn’t that. It is farm-to-table before Alice Waters was even born. Alice Waters was actually inspired by Edna Lewis and while Ms. Waters might be credited with being the Mother of the farm-to-table movement, the grandmother is really Edna Lewis. In her book you will find menus divided by season and decriptions of planting and harvesting, of raising and slaughtering of cooking in community and a life lived surrounded by love.

An American Success Story

Her Freetown is idylic. It is filled with grace, and family and a quiet dignity. There had to be difficulties, this was afterall a community of former slaves living in the American south. Her grandparents never had the opportunity to learn to read, but they made darn sure their children would have a teacher. The community around them might not acknowledge their community as a town, but they were in fact a community, a town in every way that matters.

Edna Lewis overcame so much adversity to achieve her success. She had to deal with discrimination, segregation, and indignities I can only imagine but she is always described as regal, and gracious. She worked hard, she made food that honored the people she came from and the place that created her. She never once lost sight of what she knew to be true about home, food, her people and her culture.

Articles Worth A Read

If you want to read more about Edna Lewis there is a wonderful article in the New York Times that I highly recommend. Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking

Books I Recommend

I will earn a small commision on some of the products on this page if you purchase through my link. I have only recommended products I know and love. I have not recieved anything from these companies for free.

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