Tonight, I get to see Anthony Bourdain. This is very exciting but also important for me.
It seems like everyone I know who’s into food or just generally keeps up with culture likes him. Sometimes it makes me want to play the “pshh, I was into it before it was cool” card.
I started watching No Reservations toward the end of high school and beginning of college. That’s around 10 years ago. At the time, I wasn’t that into food. A food blog would have been laughable, if not insane.
The show drew me in because I’ve always been fascinated with geography and other cultures. When I was a boy, I had a child’s play atlas. The inside cover depicted the flags of all the countries in the world, and I would memorize them—same with world capitals. Social studies was always a Mickey Mouse class for me, acing it without even studying that hard.
So I watched it because Tony went to places I had only read about. I saw the world, albeit on a television in my parents’ house. Plus, it wasn’t boring or overly saccharine like a lot of travel/food shows. The snark and sarcasm were nice bonuses, too. Toward the end of college, I read Kitchen Confidential while I was in the midst of a Crohn’s disease flair up. It was amazing (the book not the flair up), and I read it at a record pace.
At that point, food was still not the obsession it has become. I did eat a lot more than I used to (sushi even!), but I was still a relatively picky eater. Then, a couple things happened. First, I started taking a medicine that completely obliterated any symptoms of my Crohn’s. I mean, it really kicked, and has continued to kick, its ass. I could eat anything I wanted without potentially angering my stomach. Secondly, a newspaper in Kansas was foolish enough to hire me to write. I moved out and was truly on my own for the first time.
It quickly became obvious that a diet of Chunky Soup, frozen pizzas and scrambled eggs would not be tenable. No offense to my friends who are currently living that lifestyle. That’s when I really started cooking. I started experimenting with simple things like roasted chicken and braised pork roast.
All the while, Tony’s shows provided consistent inspiration. Netflix was still relatively novel at the time, and for a brief, glorious moment, all the episodes of No Reservations were available to stream. Whenever there was nothing to watch or, more honestly, when I couldn’t make a decision, I would put it on. It was a constant presence in my apartment.
The meals on the show became more interesting to me. Things that I never would have touched or even thought about suddenly looked not just good, but delicious. It made me wonder if I had been wrong. Was I missing something?
Like most things, my transition from Chunky-soup-eating bachelor to annoying foodie was gradual. My reacquaintance with vegetables was one of the greatest benefits of this new development. At first, I wasn’t quite sure if I liked these new additions or not. I kept trying, though, and learned to appreciate a broader range of flavors—those not revolving around salt, sugar or fat.
I also became more and more comfortable with food from other cultures, venturing beyond Americanized, shiny orange chicken, pad Thai noodles and fajitas at TGI McWe-Cook-With-A-Microwave’s. To be fair, I still eat those things—just not nearly as often.
I think this evolution confused my family, though. There was a time as a child when I wouldn’t even eat pie. Pie for chrissake! It’s hard to square that picky kid with my contemporary love for lengua tacos. I know my mom thinks it’s weird that I eat them, but they’re goddamn delicious.
This helped my cooking at home exponentially, too. I currently have a spice and herb cabinet that would make a 14th-century merchant cream his pants. I can make a coq au vin, pesto, tagine, ceviche or ramen that you’d do terrible, terrible things for.
Furthermore, seeing Tony’s travels made me actually get up off my ass and get a passport. Thus far, I’ve only been to the Bahamas, Canada, Iceland and Ireland, but I will make it to many other places in my lifetime. Of this, I am sure.
All of this—substantially improved diet, cooking skills and traveling—is because I stumbled across an entertaining travel show that sated my burgeoning curiosity.
I don’t know if I’ll get to meet Tony tonight; I probably won’t. But I’m incredibly thankful for his continued presence.