What Anthony Bourdain Was to Me
I remember walking through the streets of Bangkok last Fall among a never ending sea of locals dressed in black. We had just arrived on the first leg of our honeymoon, jetlagged, and confused.
Shops were closed for days. The streets surrounding important monuments were heavily guarded with limited access. Many bars, despite being open, refused to serve alcohol. It was the culmination of a year of mourning for the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ending with his ceremonial cremation. After all this time, the air was sombre as people lined up to pay their last respects. Many still cried. While I had immense respect for their traditions and felt fortunate to be part of this significant moment in Thailand’s history, it was hard for me to understand their loss. To me, it was a strange thing to mourn the passing of someone you’ve never known in real life.
It’s been weeks since the death of Anthony Bourdain. And for the last time, in the most devastating way, he’s allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of a foreign concept turned relevant and so very real: the loss of a king for whom I had immense admiration and loyalty. The morning following his death, I was in shock as I incredulously read the CNN report in bed, eyes barely open. I read it over three times and lay silent for awhile, until I burst into tears. I was surprised at my reaction to this news - I barely kept it together as I got ready for work and attempted to go about my day with some semblance of normalcy. But this news carried with it an inexplicable sorrow; a void so deep and personal that it still resides within my heart. Soon, countless people in my surroundings admitted to feeling the same unusual attachment and sadness for someone they’ve only known through words on a page or images on a screen. He wasn’t just some celebrity; he was Uncle Tony.
Throughout the years, Bourdain had made an increasingly significant impact on the world. Known as a very private individual, he led a very public campaign to “get woke”; shifting our interests from the gratuitous food porn of his earlier shows, to the raw truths of what lies behind the curtain in Parts Unknown.
Parts Unknown was, in my opinion, one of the most powerful pieces of journalism in the world. Yes, the food was omnipresent and abundant. But it wasn’t about the food - it was about the revelations that Bourdain brought to light in the process of sharing each meal. In the fragile world that we currently live in, one of “us” versus “them”, Bourdain humanized the so-called villains and victims of war and political unrest. And even with the more light-hearted, more easily digestible episodes, he still challenged us to ask ourselves how much we truly know about the trials and tribulations of our own neighbours and friends. No bullshit, no glamour, no embellishments; just honest storytelling with unparalleled openness and compassion. In telling his stories, he inspired me to think deeply about how I wanted to tell mine.
Bourdain influenced the drastic changes I made to my life in the past three years in a very direct way. I quit a stable and promising career in a corporate ad agency with nothing but the hope and desire to become my own version of Anthony Bourdain. When people - some likely wondering if I’d lost my mind - asked me what I wanted to do now, my simple answer was “I want to be Anthony Bourdain”. This answer was often met with this assumption that all I wanted was to spend my life traveling and eating on a generous expense account. I can’t say it’s a complete lie, but my intentions were much bigger than that. With all there is to see in the world and so many stories yet to be told, I wanted to join the conversation.
Living vicariously through Uncle Tony - as he fearlessly embarked on often perilous adventures across the globe - gave me courage to want more out of life than the thankless hustle for people who saw my worth only in dollar signs. I wanted to feel passion for my work and be among other brave souls with a hunger for the self-actualisation of making dreams happen every day and not someday.
Part of making my dreams come true was creating The 3 Spoons; a humble prologue to what I hoped would one day become an epic crusade to inspire people to think differently about food. Eating well is not about indulgence or gluttony; it’s about loving your body enough to want to give it the best and appreciating those who passionately strive to provide it. We wanted to start a movement.
While we built a loyal following and received many words of encouragement from strangers who found us through the proverbial Internet rabbit hole, The 3 Spoons didn’t pay the bills. It was never about money and never will be. We soon found ourselves with opportunities - both together and individually - to put food on the table. Some of these were quite extraordinary and still allowed us to pursue our objectives in a different way. Of course, we took them, and in the process went on an unexpected hiatus.
Reviving The 3 Spoons was always on my mind. I would daydream about people I’d love to interview or exquisite meals I had documented with the intention to share, but there was never any time. When Anthony Bourdain died, it forced me into a period of self-reflection, the way grief often does. It made me think about what he meant to me and remember what his teachings inspired me to accomplish. The most impactful discovery I made in pouring over tributes to Anthony Bourdain in the days and weeks after his death was that his famed article in the The New Yorker - the prelude to Kitchen Confidential - was completely unsolicited. It brought me back to The 3 Spoons and the revolution we threatened to start, no matter how small the dent. No, there will never be another Anthony Bourdain. We will likely never fill his enormous shoes. But like him, we are on a mission to breed more understanding for each other and the world that we live in, one meal at a time.
It will take some time for us to write this next chapter, but there are still seats for you at our table, where there are countless stories to be told, and meals to share. Until then, stay hungry.
Words by Kimberley Kwo