By Jean Blish Siers *
While I don’t watch much television and have never seen his various shows, I was deeply saddened to read of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s suicide last week at age 61. He was a towering food icon who touched many of us, whether we were TV fans or not.
Reading about Bourdain a couple years led me to Xi’an Famous Foods in New York City. Bourdain’s attention to this small, local noodle shop more than ten years ago was indicative of his adventurous spirit, trying new places and new foods, and allowing his enthusiasm to bring us all along. He helped the owner live the American dream – Jason Wong now has noodle shops across the metro area — and helped thousands of us experience the most incredible hand-pulled cumin lamb noodles we will ever eat! My husband and I stop there whenever we can, just to watch them make those noodles right in front of us and to feel the burn of the sauce.
Years ago, a friend passed along a couple of Bourdain’s books, entertaining stories of life in the restaurant world. How else would we mere mortals have known never to order fish on a Monday? Or to steer clear of Hollandaise sauce, apparently a petri dish for potential bacteria (which, okay, I still eat because I love it so much!)?
Missing from the tributes that I’ve read the last few days was Bourdain’s passion for ending food waste. In 2017, Bourdain worked with other chefs on the documentary “Wasted: The Story of Food Waste.” In an interview in the New York Times about that film, “he made it clear that he intended to become a general in the fight against food waste. And his chief tactics, he said, will be shame and public humiliation. “Do not underestimate the value of shame,’ he said.”
He continued: ‘“Go to any major chain supermarket and think about that tower of perfectly stacked, impeccable oranges or tomatoes, and understand that the supermarket by design has already figured and costed-out the fact — the immutable fact — that they will throw 30 percent in the garbage just so it will look cool,” he said. “This is horrifying.”’
I remember at the time being heartened that Bourdain and other chefs were lending their power to the fight against food waste. They, perhaps more than anyone else, know the value of using everything, of letting nothing go to waste. So we have lost a general in the fight against food waste.
Former President Barak Obama, who had eaten a $6 meal in a restaurant in Vietnam on Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown,” tweeted this after hearing of Bourdain’s death. “He taught us about food – but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”
We will indeed. But we are blessed by the legacy he leaves behind, of daring food adventures, of food as community, and of saving what we have so no one will go without.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s gleaning coordinator in the Charlotte, NC areaShare