HomeAsian AmericansAnthony Bourdain, RIP - He Promoted Asian Cuisines to Western Audiences

Anthony Bourdain, RIP – He Promoted Asian Cuisines to Western Audiences

White House photographer took this shot with Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama in Hanoi.

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To call Anthony Bourdain a food critic is to miss the whole point of his television series traveling around the world to taste and experience the world. Food was both a gateway and the result of a people’s culture.

TV host Bourdain apparently committed suicide Thursday in France. He was 61. 

President Obama tweeted out the same picture above with his own condolences:

When a U.S. President tweets about someone, you know that person has made an impression.

Whether he would have admitted or not, Bourdain’s influence on America’s palate preferences were tremendous. He especially elevated Asian cuisines to a level at least equal to that of the better known cuisines of France, Italy and Spain.

“I’m not a critic.” he said. “I was 30 years in the restaurant business. I don’t want to think about my food. I don’t want to evaluate it and write tasting notes and score them on a basis of one to ten… I want to experience food emotionally, like a child. I want to be lost in the moment. I want to take a bite of food and it takes me to another time or in another place, whether it’s my childhood or somebody else’s childhood. Anybody’s grandma’s food is preferable in my mind than a fine dining restaurant in almost every case.”

Comedian Jenny Yang appreciated the transcultural exchanges offered by Bourdain’s programs.

Through his shows on the Food Channel and on CNN, Bourdain introduced an appreciation of Asian food and culture to geographically challenged Americans. He raised questions in Euro-centric America’s mind that perhaps there is a world beyond Europe with people who just as creative, innovative, daring, brave or adventurous as someone from the countries of Europe.

He loved all cuisines. Food, after all, is the product of historical and environmental circumstances. To know a peoples’ food is to learn something about their culture. Bourdain never looked down on the food offered to him, whether it be from a street vendor in Vietnam or a hold-in-the-wall ramen noodle shop in Tokyo. He lived — and ate — in the moment.

“There is nothing more political than food… The things that we eat are the direct reflection of our histories,” he said. “The ingredients, whether they are dried, they are pickled or preserved, these are reflections of long, often painful histories. That’s how we got to these dishes.”

“I often say wealthy cultures that are lucky and fortunate and prosperous generally don’t cook very well because they never had to,” he continued. “It’s the countries that struggle that make the most of what they have who, over time, learned to make wonderful things.”

He often said that if had a last meal, he would want it to be high grade sushi. If he had to move to a city and stay they forever, he said it would be Tokyo.

For me, I’ll always remember him for his visits to the Philippines or when he went to Filipino/American restaurants in the U.S. 


Anthony Bourdain in the Phlippines.

In one visit, he said in one of his famous monologues that asks questions for the audience to ponder; questions to which he will find an answer during the episode:

This episode is an attempt to address the question of why so many Filipinos are so damn caring. Why they care so much — for each other — for strangers. Because my experience is far from unusual. Hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of children have been raised by Filipino nannies. Usually mothers of their own children who they were forced to leave behind in the Philippines.

Doctors, nurses, housekeepers, babysitters, in so many cases, people who you’d call “caregivers” but who, in every case I’ve ever heard of, actually care. Where does this kindness, this instinct for … charity come from?

On national television, he made me proud.

Along with fellow TV traveler/host Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods), Bourdain was an advocate for Filipino food. He would tell U.S. food critics that the cuisine from the Philippines would become the “next big thing.”

He told CNN that he thinks Filipino food will be the next big thing in America, naming the dish pork sisig as the gateway drug. Sisig, the sizzling, crispy pork dish, he said, is “perfectly positioned to win the hearts and minds of the world as a whole.”

He believes that American palates weren’t ready for the sour notes of traditional Filipino dishes, but they’ve evolved in the last few years as evidenced by the popularity of D.C.’s Bad Saint and others and credit should be given to the numerous food truck entrepreneurs who have introducedd sisig, lumpia and adobo to adventurous foodies.

Bourdain’s apparent suicide shocked the world and drew quick reactions from fellow celebrity chefs. 

David Chang, founder of the Momofuku empire, tweeted a black box with the lyrics from songwriter Will Oldham. 

TV host and Chef Ming (Tsai) tweeted … “just so sad …”

Xi’an Famous Foods, a popular New York City restaurant chain that specializes in northwestern Chinese cuisine, announced that it’s donating its net sales to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline today in honor of Anthony Bourdain.

Jason Wang, the company’s CEO, credits Bourdain with much of their success. Their business has been booming since Bourdain’s visit in 2007. Wang wrote a moving tribute to Bourdain in a series of tweets. Read it here.

In his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Bourdain wrote:

“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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