Venturing into “Parts Unknown”: What we can learn from Anthony Bourdain

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Chef. Journalist. Father. Television personality. Lifelong traveler.

These are just a few words to describe what Anthony Bourdain was to the world. While Bourdain’s passing last week has left many of his loyal followers in a state of shock and confusion, now is a time to reflect on the mark Bourdain has left on the world. His television shows and bestsellers explored unique cultures from a culinary perspective, but the legacy he leaves behind extends beyond just exotic flavors and recipes.

In his adventures to tiny villages, bustling metropolises and everywhere in between, Bourdain demonstrated that there is no corner of the earth unworthy of exploring. He revealed to us a vivid picture of the human condition — one that included faces of many colors and backgrounds. In filming “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain was able to take viewers to worlds they had never heard of before and show us that despite our many differences, we all love to sit down to a good meal.

Throughout his career, Bourdain was able to establish himself as a man of character — not only did the content of his shows highlight his willingness to try new things and exhibit compassion toward people from all walks of life, but he also demonstrated that he was willing to stick to his convictions. From leaving the Travel Channel after becoming a corporate mouthpiece to his consistent critique of the commercialization of the culinary arts in the United States, Bourdain never strayed from his beliefs about the significance of food and authenticity in culture.

Not only did Bourdain repeatedly demonstrate his genuine appreciation of authenticity, but in each of his shows, he also made one feel like he was on camera because he sincerely thought this work of uncovering and sharing little-known cultures was important, not that it would earn him fame. In a Vogue interview, Bourdain said, “I assumed from the get-go that every minute I was on television was a freakish anomaly that would be over quickly. It came as a sobering and confusing moment when I realized I was still on the air.” For him, it wasn’t about the glory but rather about pursuing a passion that was meaningful to him. Bourdain has taught the world that it is possible to make a living out of something you actually enjoy, even if that thing is eating delicious food.

Above all else, Bourdain taught us that the only real borders in the world are the ones we invent in our heads as excuses to not try new things. By delving into street markets in Vietnam and dive bars in the Bronx, Bourdain highlighted a new perspective on the world in each episode he created, showing how every person of every culture has a unique story that deserves to be heard. Instead of shying away from customs, such as eating ant eggs, that may feel foreign to us, he suggested that we try to understand and appreciate other ways of living and eating. Instead of closing ourselves off from the world, he encouraged us to use our bodies to explore it through food. Instead of building walls, he taught us that we should build bridges.

So thank you, Anthony Bourdain, for never failing to recognize and appreciate diversity and for always encouraging others to do the same. You have shown us that it’s possible to break out of the self-contained cultural patterns we get wrapped up in and learn about the experiences others. Your stories have resonated deeply with those of us who aspire to travel and learn in life, and you have proved that there are no boundaries that cannot be pushed.

Contact Hannah Nguyen at [email protected].