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How to Live, According to Anthony Bourdain

Munchies Staff

How to eat, how to be young, and when to shut the fuck up.

Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage via Getty Images.

We at MUNCHIES are devastated by the death of Anthony Bourdain, one of our friends and heroes. Bourdain was a real one. Over the course of his wildly prolific career, he taught us so much—about eating, about traveling, and about experiencing the world with an open mind and heart. Below are some of our favorite bits of Bourdain wisdom, collected from his writing, interviews, and television appearances over the years. —The Editors of MUNCHIES

“We are, after all, citizens of the world—a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafés and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.” (Kitchen Confidential)

“The school counsellors always told my parents, ‘Anthony needs a controlled environment.’ That's what the kitchen is. For an undisciplined, dysfunctional guy like me, it's a world of absolutes. I like the regimentation. You either fuck up or you don't. My mission in life is conquering fear. Back there I'm strong; out here, as a civilian, I'm the biggest fucking pussycat in the world. I can go to someone else's restaurant as a customer and I'll put up with the worst abominations and still tip the waiter 20 cents at the end of the meal.” (as told to The Guardian, 2001)

Photo by James Keivom/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

“I wanted adventures. I wanted to go up the Nung River to the heart of darkness in Cambodia. I wanted to ride out into a desert on camelback, sand and dunes in every direction, eat whole roasted lamb with my fingers. I wanted to kick snow off my boots in a Mafiya nightclub in Russia. I wanted to play with automatic weapons in Phnom Penh, recapture the past in a small oyster village in France, step into a seedy neon-lit pulqueria in rural Mexico. I wanted to run roadblocks in the middle of the night, blowing past angry militia with a handful of hurled Marlboro packs, experience fear, excitement, wonder. I wanted kicks—the kind of melodramatic thrills and chills I’d yearned for since childhood, the kind of adventure I’d found as a little boy in the pages of my Tintin comic books. I wanted to see the world—and I wanted the world to be just like the movies.” (A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines)

“I knew already that the best meal in the world, the perfect meal, is very rarely the most sophisticated or expensive one. I knew how important factors other than technique or rare ingredients can be in the real business of making magic happen at the dinner table. Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life. I mean, let’s face it: When you’re eating simple barbecue under a palm tree, and you feel sand between your toes, samba music is playing softly in the background, waves are lapping at the shore a few yards off, a gentle breeze is cooling the sweat on the back of your neck at the hairline, and looking across the table, past the column of empty Red Stripes at the dreamy expression on your companion’s face, you realize that in half an hour you’re probably going to be having sex on clean white hotel sheets, that grilled chicken leg suddenly tastes a hell of a lot better.” (A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines)

“The people who cook for you, clean up after you, open doors, drive you home—where do they go when the work day’s over? What do they eat?” (No Reservations, New York)

“It’s a beautiful thing, when the reality lives up to your hopes and expectations; when everything—everything—is as good as anything could be.” (No Reservations, Spain)

(Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life―and travel―leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks―on your body or on your heart―are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” (The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones)

”One constant, then and now, is my still ironclad ground rule regarding music both during and after work: In any kitchen where I am in control, there is a strict NO Billy Joel, NO Grateful Dead policy. If you are seen visibly enjoying either act, whether during or even after your working hours, you can clean out your locker now. You’re fired.” (The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones)

“That’s the kind of satisfaction no bestseller can ever beat—no television show, no crowd, no nothing. That single moment after a long and very busy night, sitting down at the bar with your colleagues, wiping the sweat off your neck, taking a deep breath, with unspoken congratulations all around—and then that first sip of cold, cold beer.” (Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook)

Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images

“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel—as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them—wherever you go. Use every possible resource you have to work in the very best kitchens that will have you—however little (if anything) they pay—and relentlessly harangue every possible connection, every great chef whose kitchen offers a glimmer of hope of acceptance… Money borrowed at this point in your life so that you can afford to travel and gain work experience in really good kitchens will arguably be better invested than any student loan.” (Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook)

“I often talk about the 'Grandma rule' for travelers. You may not like Grandma’s Thanksgiving turkey. It may be overcooked and dry—and her stuffing salty and studded with rubbery pellets of giblet you find unpalatable in the extreme. You may not even like turkey at all. But it’s Grandma’s turkey. And you are in Grandma’s house. So shut the fuck up and eat it. And afterward, say, 'Thank you, Grandma, why, yes, yes of course I’d love seconds.' (Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook)

“Everyone should be able to make an omelet. Egg cookery is as good a beginning as any, as it’s the first meal of the day, and because the process of learning to make an omelet is, I believe, not just a technique but a builder of character… I have long believed that it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able—if called upon to do so—to make them a proper omelet in the morning. Surely that kind of civility and selflessness would be both food manners and good for the wold. Perhaps omelet skills should be learned at the same time you learn to fuck.” (Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook)

“What does freedom mean? I don’t know that either, I guess. For sure, it does mean the freedom to enjoy an afternoon no one thought possible only a little while ago. The freedom at least to joke, to laugh, to be for a while, relatively carefree.” (Parts Unknown, Libya)

“Yeah, you know, at this point, animals see me and they’re like, ‘Oh no—not that guy.’” (On having eaten every food under the sun, (Parts Unknown, Quebec)

“Where is home? Most of us are born with the answer—others have to sift through the pieces.” (Parts Unknown, Ethiopia)

“People are not statistics—that is all we attempted to show. A small, pathetically small, step towards understanding.” (Recorded acceptance speech for the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Voices of Courage and Conscience award for the Parts Unknown Palestine episode)

"Already cynical by nature, I spent 30 years in a business that, if nothing else, taught me to be cynical about the world—I went from there to television, which if you had anything left you would think would smother it, but the fact is I remained committed to certain notions, that there are good guys in the world worth speaking up for, worth supporting if you can. That there are reasons to hope that there's merit to truth and beauty—you know, true love. I still believe all of those things. It may be a failing, but I believe them." (As told to MUNCHIES, September 2016)

"Look, I’ve eaten a lot of really nasty things on my show, but nothing as soul-destroying as my airport Johnny Rockets experience. There were two managers, a cashier, three cooks, there’s no one else in the airport, I’m alone there, I’m hungry. I order a burger—they throw a cold burger half-way on a bun, reach in to the fry basket for some pre-cooked fries, they don’t even dunk it in the grease, throw a limp pickle on, they slide it over. They’re all standing there in a row. Nothing else going on, no other customers. They sort of slid it across at me, all looking at me, and we all sort of stood there silently for a second, kind of sharing this moment of perfect misery. None of us were where we wanted to be.” (On the saddest meal he’s ever had, as told to Conan O’Brien, November 2016)

“We are clearly at a long overdue moment in history where everyone, good hearted or not, will HAVE to look at themselves, the part they played in the past, the things they’ve seen, ignored, accepted as normal, or simply missed—and consider what side of history they want to be on in the future.” (“On Reacting to Bad News,” Medium, December 2017)


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