An Unlikely Humanitarian, an Homage

I don’t typically get too saddened by the death of a celebrity, after all, they are only human, and death is the ultimate end to all of our stories. I don’t know them personally, but I empathize with any tragedy or struggle; I’m not a celebrity nut, I hate the tabloids and in general make a point not to care about the day-to-day lives of regular people who somehow blipped on the world radar. But when I first heard about the passing of celebrity chef and travel journalist Anthony Bourdain, it struck a chord, and I wept.

I began watching his show religiously during my pregnancy with my daughter in 2002. I wasn’t much of a foodie at the time, it was more his approach to the world that intrigued me. His travels revealed that food is life, and has such an amazing power to bring people together. I loved how under the pretense of travel and food journalism, he revealed to the world the simplicity, openness and generosity of so many cultures shrouded by stereotypes and misunderstanding. The true excitement of the indigenous he visited to finally have the spotlight and a medium that could show the world the pride they had in their customs and their culinary traditions and the opportunity for the world see them under a new light.  His blunt admissions of his own limited expectations of a place and his humility to reveal his delighted surprise to find a true understanding and respect for a place and its people is something I hold in reverence. And so he became a missionary of a different kind, rather than traveling with the intent to change a people, he sought to understand and demystify them and be an ambassador of love and acceptance.

In 2002, along with my first child, a great obsession with learning to cook was born. I watched the food network religiously every Saturday morning and conjured up recipes and lovingly detailed out my shopping lists for a trip to the market.  I found serenity in the process, and while, I’m no chef and still lack any real skills with a knife, over the past two decades I have grown into a decently, talented homecook. I cherish every meal I prepare, even though my audience isn’t always appreciative. I take pride in cooking for my family nearly every damn day. Bourdain taught me food is not to be taken for granted and I refuse to let the frozen, processed, watered down substitutes catered for the fast-paced, who-has-time to cook, work obsessed to rob my family of traditions and the opportunity to relish in the blessing of sustenance at the hand of someone who truly cares. I have bought only three cookbooks in my life; Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs, 1000 Indian Recipes by Neela Batra & Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook.  While these were my holy trinity of cooking scripture during the early years, I rarely crack them open anymore as the basics are imprinted on me forever. I love to conjure up new recipes, invent and experiment. I play this fun little game where I let my pantries whittle down to almost nothing and then come up with a meal made from what most would abandon for carry out or a desperate trip to Costco. True chefs are incredibly resourceful and I hone this skill whenever possible; abundance always risks being replaced by paucity and so I will be prepared for that day.

While traveling the world was always my ultimate aspiration, my opportunity to do so came much later in life. Sparked by a season abroad in college and a subsequent backpacking trip across Europe, children, career-building and life in general kept me extremely tethered. It wasn’t until I met my 2nd husband that this dream became reality and it would be several more years after that until I would decide to write about it, something I had forgotten I loved to do. But the writing wasn’t inspired so much by the travel, but rather this urgent desire to help dismantle the pervasive generalizations and misconceptions surrounding the middle east. On an intellectual level I understood the absurdity of close mindedness and in general abhor uneducated assumptions about the world but the sting of them didn’t hit me until I married an immigrant from Palestine and I have in the past seven years of knowing and loving Khaled, become painfully aware and personally pissed off by the ignorance and hate reserved for the Arab and Muslim community.  Spurred on by a family trek across Jordan, Jerusalem and the West Bank, I have made it my personal mission to change even one person’s perceptions. If I inspire one individual to travel to another part of the world and see for themselves the beauty and openness of its’ people, my heart will be fulfilled. Anthony Bourdain traveled with courage into the crevices of countries devoid of tourists and in many cases only visited by the bravest journalists, aid givers and truth seekers. He traveled with a different lens focused less on the trendy “hot-spots” and must see attractions, and more on the true nature of the people inhabiting that space. His caustic, unapologetic wit challenged and juxtaposed permeating pretenses with gritty, honest realities. He was always a gracious but brave guest whose down to earth confidence was rewarded with sincere revelations about a place. We watch and re-watch episodes of his shows before every trip we take. Because of Bourdain I experience my travels differently and fix my sights on gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of this amazing planet, and to always remember, that amidst what seems to be so much hate, there is truly still, more love, and that gives me hope. Could you have imagined yourself, during those years of drug addiction and the long, flame filled, grinding hours in the kitchens of Les Halles, that your words, sharp and edgy like knife blades, would shred through so much and serve up so many alternative viewpoints?

I would never presume to place myself in the echelons of Anthony Bourdain, but when I daydream about a reality in which I am a revered travel journalist, I fantasize that I am compared to the likes of him. No one sets out to create out of a desire for fame or recognition; creativity feeds the soul. Whether that creativity is in the form of words, images or food, you can’t help but want to share it with people and hope that one person will appreciate your efforts to make a small impression and in turn inspire them to do the same. And so every time I sit to write something or prepare to cook a meal, I will invoke your spirit and hope you will bless me with just a peppering of your talent, grace, wit, sarcasm and ability to plate up beauty & inspiration, and may the universe continue to bless me with people to share it with. In Life you succeeded, cheers to you Anthony Bourdain.

“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.” ~Anthony Bourdain

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