I watch a lot of food shows. It is my #1 hobby. It works as a perfect way to beat stress for me. And no, I don’t cook what I watch, because despite being a vegetarian, I watch animals being slaughtered and cooked without batting an eyelid.
I recently started watching a show, where I watched a camel being slaughtered by many men, I also watched hen’s heads being cut off by bare hands, bled to death in a plastic bottle, cleaned and de-feathered in the Congo river, before being cooked in a stew on a riverboat.
While these two sights were slightly disturbing for me, I could not hit the pause button, or forward the show even by a couple of minutes. The tall man behind the camera and mic had all my attention to think about all the blood being splattered around.
Yes, for all those who have seen the show and know, I am talking about Anthony Bourdain in Parts Unknown. The show first aired in 2013, when I was 23. And although I had been following his work for a few years, I had never watched him on screen. I was oblivious to the CNN show, because I did not get CNN on my cable TV. Netflix’s launch in India was still a few years away.
Although I had read his columns, had an idea about his culinary journey, and was (like all other women) utterly charmed by his magnanimous personality, I could never really fathom how hugely popular and revered he was on a global scale. On June 8, 2018, I found out.
My phone buzzed with an alert — Anthony Bourdain found dead at 61.
Somehow, those six words took my attention completely away from work; I sat in front of my screen and searched. The news were hazy, unclear. He had committed suicide; hanged himself in a hotel room in France where he had gone to shoot another episode of the show in question.
Condolences started pouring in. Messages and tributes on social media were like a hurricane destructing entire countries. The sentiment around the world was the same — “I feel like I lost a friend,” most people, even strangers, resonated.
I felt like I had lost my mentor that day. A chef, writer, storyteller, a man filled with curiosity about the forgotten worlds, people and tastes, a man with an enchanting presence (and I can safely say this) both on screen and off screen, a man who would leave you in awe. He was all this, and more. This is everything I have ever hoped and dreamed to be. And I am nowhere close to achieving this dream.
More than 6 months after his death, I finally laid my hands on the show. And for the first time ever, I binge-watched something. The first few episodes of Parts Unknown enthralled me to such an extent, I forgot there existed a world outside my 13" screen.
I was hooked to every word he spoke, to his every movement, to his presence on the screen. I could feel that he was a no-nonsense man, someone who wouldn’t take shit from people around him. I could also see how much he cared about what he did, about these forgotten countries, their people, their food legacies, and their stories. The passion. There was a glint in his eyes when he sat down for a meal even in the poorest of poor areas with the locals. I could also see he liked to be alone, even when he shot an episode with Eric Ripert.
But what do I know? This is what I had observed and felt as I watched this utterly charming man on my screen. By the time I reached the 5th episode of the first season, where he trudged through the streets of Morocco, I was knee-deep in it.
Now that I look back at his death, I feel a little lost. What do you say or write about a man about whom so much has been said and written? I wish I had had more time with him (via his shows), I wish I had given him more attention whilst he was still alive, I wish I had made an effort to connect with him or at least make my way through these countries and explore what he saw and brought to us on television. I wish…
I remember being in complete awe of an author who I still feel is the best in the world — Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I remember the day in my first job when I told my ex boss-cum-mentor that I would travel to Mexico soon and meet and interview the man. I remember the day in April 2014 when I woke up to the news that he had died. I remember being devastated. I remember losing an important dream that day.
As I finish another season of Parts Unknown, I think I feel the same way now. There’s a flurry of feelings inside me as I watch Tony’s (yeah, it feels like a personal connection, I’m going to call him Tony, just as he introduced himself to all the people he met on his journey) movements, hear his words, and see him fuel his curiosity.
The man may be long gone, but I have episodes to watch and many books to read and so much more to know about his life. In his absence, Tony taught me one important lesson — Be curious. And work towards fueling that curiosity.