The Cult of Anthony Bourdain Persists Years After His Passing

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Peabody Awards, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Kevin Price, Editor at Large, The Daily Blaze

It has been five years since the passing of celebrity chef, bestselling author, food critic, and more, Anthony Bourdain, tragically took his life at 61 years old.  Yet, the “cult-like” love for Bourdain continues on with his numerous TV shows on many streaming services and they are visited by viewers over and over again. This can easily be attributed to a confluence of factors that resonated deeply with diverse audiences. I, for one, am again watching one of his earliest TV series efforts, “A Cook’s Tour.” I don’t care how many times I watch it, I want to visit it and his other shows again and again.

Here are some key reasons why he resonates for so many people:

Authenticity and Honesty: Bourdain wasn’t afraid to be himself, flaws and all. He spoke openly about his struggles with addiction, depression, and the darker side of the restaurant industry. This was important to people who felt tired of the often-sanitized world of celebrity chefs. He felt genuine, relatable, and someone who “got it.” He celebrated his awkwardness in situations that others would shy away from. He relished the practice of self-deprecating humor and exercised it with joy and not in an obligatory way that so many celebrities tend deploy it today.

Adventurous Spirit: Bourdain wasn’t just interested in Michelin-starred restaurants. He ventured into the unknown, whether it was street food stalls in Vietnam or war-torn areas like Libya. He embraced cultural differences and challenged viewers to step outside their comfort zones. This inspired a sense of wanderlust and a desire to experience the world in all its diversity. His style in covering places made the viewer feel like they were there with him.  His sense of adventure was buttressed with humility as he eagerly revealed his discomfort with awkward situations and pointed out his own limitations.

Storytelling Genius: Bourdain was a gifted writer and storyteller. He woven tales of food, travel, and human connection into captivating narratives. His books like “Kitchen Confidential and shows like “Parts Unknown” offered not just culinary journeys, but insights into different cultures, histories, and political landscapes. He made viewers feel like they were traveling alongside him, sharing his experiences. You not only see his experiences while he is living them, he tells you his deepest thoughts and even vulnerabilities while living them (e.g., how ridiculous he felt whatever hat he had on, after swearing repeatedly he would not wear hats).

Champion of the “Underdog”: Bourdain gave voice to marginalized communities and cultures often overlooked in mainstream media. He highlighted the stories of working-class cooks, immigrants, and people living in difficult circumstances. This resonated with those who felt unseen and unheard, and it fostered a sense of connection and empathy.  However, he didn’t do these episodes from a position of superiority.  So often celebrities showcase the plight of such groups and look like they are giving them a coin in a can on the streets. Bourdain loved to tell you that these people — whomever they were — are important, interesting, and worthy of celebration in their own right.

Food as a Bridge: Bourdain saw food as a way to connect with people across cultures and divides. He believed that sharing a meal, even something as simple as a bowl of noodles in a local market, could create understanding and respect. This message resonated in a world increasingly polarized and fractured. The genuine diversity of the people he shared meals with were every bit as important — or more so — than the meals themselves.  He always postured those guests as his equals, never taking a position of superiority.

Accessibility: Bourdain wasn’t elitist. He spoke to both food snobs and those who knew nothing about gastronomy.  Yet his show appealed to everyone — people who want to travel but haven’t, people who want fine food but find it difficult to obtain, people who want the better things in life but found those quite elusive. He celebrated the simple pleasures of a good meal, regardless of price or provenance. This made him approachable and relatable to a wide range of viewers.  While some view his shows and want to aspire to great heights, others end an episode with a sense of contentment and thank Bourdain for doing the work for them.

A Complex and Enduring Legacy: Bourdain’s tragic death in 2018 added a layer of mystique and poignancy to his legacy. He remains a symbol of curiosity, empathy, and the transformative power of travel and human connection.

It’s important to note that not everyone loved Bourdain. Some found his cynicism and negativity off-putting. But for many, his blend of honesty, adventurous spirit, and storytelling prowess created a powerful and enduring connection that transcended mere celebrity status. He offered a unique perspective on the world, food, and what it means to be human, and that’s why his fans remain so devoted.

 

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Kevin Price is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author, speaker, nationally syndicated columnist, TV personality, and nationally syndicated talk radio personality.

He is the host of “The Price of Business” show, and can be heard in markets coast to coast, as distributed by USA Business Radio.

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