Remembering Anthony Bourdain

Was it a dream or did it actually happen? Nowadays, it is amazing to realize how news stories, whether happy or sad, are originated and evaporated faster than the blink of an eye. On June 8, we heard that Anthony Bourdain, the famous food critic, flamboyant chef, a man of a unique sense of delivery and the creator of the CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” had committed suicide in his hotel room in Paris. 

It was just before the tragic news on Anthony Bourdain that U.S. federal health officials reported that from the year 1999 to the present, the suicide rate in the U.S. increased 30 percent across the nation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) introduced several criteria to determine profiles of the individuals who might be contemplating a suicide attempt. Some of the criteria for such people, according to CDC, would be those who are lonely, poor, possibly drug addicted and those who have no access to mental health services.

But none of those characteristics, in my opinion, come even close to personifying Anthony Bourdain. He seemed fully in charge and on top of the world, a world whose parts he passionately investigated, enjoying every minute of it. 

How we all got fooled.

Anthony Bourdain was a fine and polished food connoisseur, yet there wasn’t even a hint of elegance in his presentation. He was a down-to-earth kind of guy who spoke from his gut. His arms (possibly his entire body) were covered with tattoos, he wore ragged jeans and plaid shirts, and had a voice seasoned with spirits and the longtime use of smoke. He used his popular show, CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” as a vehicle to explore the world and humanity at large. 

For Anthony Bourdain, it seemed the discussion of food, with all its seductive appeal and mouthwatering attractiveness, was only an icebreaker. It was a device to stimulate a heart-to-heart conversation about what everyday life means to everyday people, real people who happen to be owners of glamorous restaurants, or not-so-glamorous sidewalk vendors. 

The conversation might start with a particular recipe, a specific herb or the ingredients that would shape a unique taste. But then, once the spicy noodles or deep-fried oysters were cherished, the conversation took on a life of its own. It became about lifestyles, philosophy, culture, economy, political challenges, art and music and whatever makes people endure in a challenging and unpredictable world.

Coincidentally, his recent visit that was aired only several weeks ago on CNN made him a household name in my own homeland, Armenia. As was natural to Anthony Bourdain, he introduced Armenia and its cuisine very much unlike a typical travel guide. He went right to the tragic history of Armenia, its economic collapse and multiple challenges, and then introduced young artists, engineers and programmers who will spark a new beginning for Armenia. This alongside the serving of a very popular dish: the stuffed pumpkin. This is an oven-baked whole pumpkin stuffed with rice, dried apricots, apples and honey. Delicious food. Inspiring talk. A typical recipe for Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.”

We will never know what exactly was going on in his mind when he decided to end his life. But we knew that he was all about courage and taking risks. As the quote here by Bourdain illustrates: “The journey is part of the experience — an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A Train to Mecca.” Which makes me ask the question, how could someone take such risks and travel so exhaustively to investigate the “Parts Unknown” all around the world, but then stop short of investigating his own parts unknown? It could be the experts are right in stating that there is still a stigma attached to people who are struggling with anxiety or depression, and that is the prime reason they avoid seeking help. 

I am sure many of us who are Bourdain fans will cherish his memory by viewing the reruns of “Parts Unknown.” And we will definitely miss him and remain troubled by the fact that a tough and seemingly invincible guy like Anthony Bourdain could be a victim of suicide and become another statistic.

I personally did not know the guy, nor ever spoke a word with him. Yet for me, Anthony Bourdain was a TV personality who after all those years of watching him became like a close friend. And regardless of how the news about his passing has now vanished, I will always cherish this great man with whom I would have loved to have shared a meal or cracked a joke. He had a hearty laugh.

Varoujan Froundjian is a graphic designer, Photoshop artist, writer, cartoonist, information technology and wine expert who also drives a limousine for local livery. He can be reached at varoujanfroundjian@gmail.com.