Why I Have No Reservations About Parts Unknown

“He was one of the few that got it.”

It was the most succinct way I could express to my friend Teri why I will miss Anthony Bourdain.

Teri and I met 20 years ago mountain biking through northern Thailand. We stayed with local families. We ate strange foods. It was my first education in rice wine.

I’ve since enjoyed homemade meals and beverages across the world. Travel, adventure, curiosity, food and drink– they’ve been the glue to countless personal connections.

I learned this from Anthony Bourdain.

I continue to mourn Bourdain’s passing. I’ve stayed up late watching episodes of his latest series Parts Unknown. I can’t stop reading the emotional tributes; those by Frank Bruni, Mike RoweBrian Stelter and Rosie Spinks are among my favorites.

Anthony Bourdain was much more than his “American Chef” Google title. His true artistry was global connection– people, history, stories and empathy. Food was one of his tools.

I’ve learned many new things about Bourdain since his passing. One is about his reach and impact. It was greater than I knew. Perhaps it was greater than he knew.

“He explored the human condition and helped audiences think differently about food, travel and themselves.” —Brian Stelter, CNN

My husband Bob and I will always remember the May 2006  No Reservations episode with Bourdain exploring Rajasthan, India. It was our introduction to the lakeside city of Udaipur. Wearing the rare suit jacket, Bourdain jetted James Bond-like via speedboat across Lake Pichola to the Lake Palace, the luxurious hotel that appears to float atop the lake. Bourdain enjoyed dinner prepared by the royal Maharana. His host invited him to his son’s lavish birthday party the following day. Of course, Bourdain accepted.

I remember Bourdain’s awkwardness in presenting a birthday gift upon arrival. We’ve all felt that nervousness in wanting to get formalities right. I got the impression that Bourdain didn’t stay long at the reception, but he knew how he wanted to end the evening. He jetted across dark water to the Lake Palace bar for a Bombay Sapphire Martini.

We remember this episode partly because it is so NOT Bourdain—the man who seemed more at home eating on the ground in a rural village, or sitting street side with a cold beer and bowl of noodles.

The episode inspired our own visit to Rajasthan a year later. Because of Bourdain, we added Udaipur to our itinerary. We had one of our most memorable meals ever dining from the rooftop of a much smaller (and less expensive) hotel with a view of the Lake Palace.

Like Bourdain, we accepted generous invitations. In Jaipur, the young owner of a tapestry shop offered dinner at his home as part of our negotiation to buy several pieces.

“Done!” I exclaimed.

He called his wife and asked her to start frying fish. Bob and I jumped on the back of the man’s motorbike, rolled tapestries in tow.

“He exhorted the rest of us to follow his lead and open our eyes and our guts to the wondrous smorgasbord of life.” Frank Bruni, New York Times

More recently, Anthony Bourdain introduced us to Ethiopia. His October 2015 Parts Unknown episode aired four months before our visit.

Bourdain knew the power of stories over statistics. Introducing his viewers to the sprawling capital city of Addis Ababa, he showed what a rising middle class in a modernizing country of 100 million people looks like.

Bourdain traveled with fellow chef Marcus Samuelsson. Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson was adopted as a baby and raised in Sweden, before later finding home and notoriety in New York. Bourdain was with Samuelsson as he visited his birth father; he captured the surprise of the family’s women as Samuelsson joined them in the kitchen.

The episode was tense, and it was funny– like any visit with family.

Of course, there was Ethiopian food—from its famed coffee and injera, to mitmita spice and raw beef. But I found the episode to be more about identity—of a country, of a person– than about food.

Our visit to Ethiopia was as part of an Econ-Tourism Trip with investment firm Renew Capital. On our first day, we met Xavier Curtis and Eliza Richman, founders of Go Further. As they introduced us to Ethiopia’s past, present and future through a food tour, we mentioned being inspired by Bourdain’s Parts Unknown Ethiopia episode.

“We were actually advisors to Bourdain and the Parts Unknown production team!” they exclaimed.

That one episode changed the growth trajectory of Xavier and Eliza’s business. More broadly, they believe it contributed to the changing narrative about Ethiopia—a country Bourdain himself described as “absolutely unique and little understood.”

“Bourdain was his own man – a man on a mission to produce a show that was authentic to him. I admired that.” Mike Rowe, Dirty Jobs

I have many reasons for admiring Anthony Bourdain. If I had to narrow it to one, I’d say I most appreciated his curiosity. Bourdain wanted to understand himself; he wanted to understand others. His personal story was complicated. In uncovering the secrets of the restaurant world in his breakout book Kitchen Confidential, he shared his own dark secrets around addiction and substance abuse.

Bourdain’s demons were perhaps greater than most. Like all of us, he was just trying to figure out life. He invited us to join his journey. Few have the guts and humility to openly share deep personal struggles. But if Bourdain’s ultimate goal was to teach us how to better connect as humans, sharing his demons was part of his job.

That said, Bourdain seemed to have a valuable treasure that few adult men do—a true friend.

I always admired his friendship with fellow chef Eric Ripert. They seemed the most unlikely pair—a French-born chef who opened one of New York’s most acclaimed high-end restaurants, and the outspoken New Jersey-born former line cook. Ripert often joined Bourdain as a guest on his episodes. One minute they’d talk food; the next they’d be goofing like teenagers.

They seemed to get each other. They respected each other. Knowing that Eric was the one to find Bourdain’s body was heartbreaking.

I am grateful to Anthony Bourdain for knowing his unique gifts, and using them in his quest to make all of us better global citizens. He led us through a world of unknowns and contradictions, pushing them aside so we could focus instead on seeing human connections through food and stories.

He changed peoples’ narratives.

He changed my narrative.

Anthony Bourdain is one of the reasons I have no reservations about parts unknown.

“Bourdain didn’t just create good TV—he created a roadmap to becoming someone who moves through a world of connections and contradictions with grace, swag, and curiosity. At a time when the word “globalist” can feel tinged with elitism, Bourdain’s model brings another meaning to it entirely. He gave us a reason to believe that a more generous, open, and delicious world is not only possible, it’s waiting for us to go out and find it.”  —Rosie Spinks

Discover more from Jodi Morris

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!