Today I am struggling to find the voice of these emotions that I am filled with one day after the demise of my kitchen idol.
Ever since I was a tiny chunky baby, I have been all-the-way into eating. There is actual footage of me as a dumpling sized human, sitting on my Mom’s kitchen counter begging her for “one more taste” of the chocolate frosting she had made for my first birthday cake. There is no such thing as picky in the world where I dwell. All food has always been welcome, I do not have any food enemies, and I am forever searching for something delicious.
As an eater, it took a long time for me to appreciate what I was enjoying. That we live in a world where culture is entirely centered around sharing meals with one another; a world of endless variations of that existence. I did not realize this in my childhood, surrounded by generations of excellent cooks. I did not get this from college, in a melting pot of humans from all corners of the earth. It all went down on a terribly long daily commute to work.
I was working a job that I fucking despised. Living in Philadelphia, commuting an hour each way to the suburbs, getting progressively worn out from the ad nauseum radio tunes. My fiance is an avid podcast and audio book fan, and he suggested that I try to listen to something more interesting to make the commute easier.
“What do I want to learn about?”
“Well, I am too busy to read books now, so let’s listen to one! Something mindless, something easy, food.”
**searches ‘food autobiography’ on audible, Kitchen Confidential appears, I purchase, I forget about it for a few months.
Then one particular day, I left work angrier than usual. I was trapped in a depressive cycle where I would literally get into my car and cry at the end of every shift because I was completely miserable; not this day though. This day I was going to listen to that audio book. An hour passed and I was home, sitting in my car completely hooked. The world was asleep, as it usually was when I got home from work, but Bourdain’s story was there. I woke up B and said, “seriously, listen to this shit IT IS INCREDIBLE.” He listened to the book until the point where we caught up together. From there on out, we would make excuses to get in the car, drive to the store, whatever to finish that book.
When I say that this changed my outlook on the world, I am setting myself up to sound super cheesy. BUT REALLY, it changed my outlook on the world. I was suddenly captivated by this underground of food culture; obsessed with hearing stories of this dishwasher-turned-celeb-chef and his pirate ass motley crew of friends, enemies and passionate people all the same. In that moment I knew I was forever hooked into this fascination; everyone that I know needed to listen to this story. Was it the food? Was it the illegal shady shit? How about the prestige? No no no. It was that Anthony Bourdain was totally human, totally flawed, and 100% doing the damn thing.
As I continued to draw parallels with my life and his. I realized that over everything else, I am most interested in shared experiences. With food as a common language for people to connect and share, I have made my fondest memories in life. It is easy for me to forget things; in fact I am so forgetful that I worry about losing my memory someday. Eating, however, transports me to exact, picture-perfect images of moments that I have lived. Every time I eat a cherry tomato, I am instantly in my mom’s garden (where she grows thousands per summer), eating them off of the vine and trying to think of all the ways to use them before they rot. A bowl of pho, no matter where it is obtained, takes me to a lazy hungover morning ritual with my fiance. Anything with too much almond extract brings me back into my grandmother’s kitchen where we used to work for several days to prep christmas cookies for the winter months.
These memories tied to food are not always great ones. If I smell Parrot Bay of any variety, I still get the mouth sweats thinking of the hangover after my 18th birthday. **highlights of that night: include sleeping on a bathroom floor and showering with three other girls** I wish I was able to block these shitty ones, but the food memory thing is way too strong…
Bourdain even inspired me to take a shot at being a restaurant chef. I use the term chef loosely because I worked on a catering team, and no one was ever asking for my input on creating the specials or perfecting the sauces. I was the bottom bitch veggie chopper. You want to cater a party for 300 people and you need a vegetable and cheese board for that? I am your girl; soaking wet from all of the produce I washed, stinking of funky local cheeses. Sometimes I would help with the mise en place, and do “fun” things like finely dicing 300 onions for the dinner service. **insert tears streaming down face for hours here**. I made 9 bucks per hour, I ate a ton of good shit, I learned and listened to all of the amazing chefs that I worked with, and I came home every day exhausted with sore feet. When I got into grad school, I had to quit this fun little gig in order to get a job to pay for my program. Back to nannying I went, but I have missed that brilliant group of weirdos ever since.
In this all, I realized that I am actually a pretty decent cook. I have okay knife skills, I definitely have a nack for flavor, I know how to make things that taste magnificent. But I also realized that this was not my career. I want to enjoy food as a hobby, and always/forever/constantly use it as a way to connect to and love everything in this life.
SO back to the honorary dude: what is the take away, why are you so upset? Well, my early 20’s were a strange time for me. I learned the concept of the dollar, how to take care of myself, how to love, how to be a better human. How to stop and smell the roses (or the halal street cart food(or the homeless people urine)), and how to really take a minute to take it all in.
When you go to a new city, fuck a tourist guide. Get right in the place that feels like it has some heart, go where the locals go, ask the people what is good and what is shit. Talk to strangers, bare all of yourself with anyone you meet. Talk about sex, talk about politics, talk about the flaws in culture. Tell anyone about your short comings, or about how you overcame something, or how you are working to do so. Sometimes take the path of most resistance to do what feels right; it will be worth it when you love what you are doing. Take life by the balls, eat all of the food, and always get the seafood tower when the opportunity presents.
\ I want to be tony.