Thoughts on Anthony Bourdain

Sometimes it feels like our existence is just a fantasy. I shouldn’t say “just.” That implies that fantasy is somehow inferior. It’s like how theologian Paul Tillich says “God is a symbol for God” and when asked whether God is “just” a symbol, he replies, “God is not less than a symbol.” The symbol and the fantastic, in other words, are higher, not lesser than reality. And, there’s a sense in which I feel that all our lives are fantasy, in that we have some goal, some aspiration, some vision of our ideal selves or ideal lives and we spend our lives trying to enact it. Perhaps this is something like Rene Girard’s (and many other’s) concept of the mimetic. We, as humans, are imitators. We look at others and we copy what we like (and, perhaps, some things we don’t like).

And, so, like many children, I envisioned what my life would be like as an adult. There were times when I’d “interview” myself, as if I was famous or something. And, now, well into adulthood, I still feel like many aspects of my life are fantasy or imitation. When I travel, am I really travelling to be in a certain place and explore that culture, or am I imitating others who did so? Even when I travel off the beaten path, perhaps it’s really not so much about being authentic or individual, but about mimicking the idea of being authentic and individual. When I write, am I writing to write, or am I writing to be seen as “a writer”?  Perhaps all of this in unavoidable. Maybe it’s all we have.

If so, it matters, then, who and what we imitate. Who are our inspirations? Our heroes?

One of them, for me, was chef, author, and television host Anthony Bourdain.

Through his television shows and books he changed the way I thought about food, travel, and the world in general. I appreciated his frankness, his bold speech, and his self-deprecating sense of humour. He loved food and travel, but he also was passionate about alternative music and film, which is a passion I shared with him. From the cinematography and editing, to the style of interviewing and insightful content, I can truly say that Anthony Bourdain’s show was by far the best thing on television.

So I still imagine. I still imitate. I have imagined, just like I did as a child, about being interviewed. What if Anthony Bourdain came to Steinbach? What would he eat? Where would he go? Who would he interview? Of course, in my version of the story, he interviews me and we chat about music and film and food and get along splendidly.

I think part of that illusion is reflected in this satire I wrote on the Daily Bonnet about Bourdain in 2016, where he does, indeed, come to Steinbach.

And then there’s the imagining of living a life like Bourdain’s. He often said, and we all believed him, that he had the best job in the world. He literally got to travel around the globe eating and talking to people. And was paid for it. The style of his show also allowed for greater creative expression than a lot of shows. Part of the reason it was so refreshing is that Bourdain was allowed to say, more or less, what he wanted, even to the point of criticizing the very show he was creating. This life (travelling and eating) and this boldness is something a lot of people (including many writers) could only dream of.

I can’t speak about Anthony Bourdain’s death. I don’t know enough, nor is it my place to do so. I can only speak a little bit about his life, or what he let us see of it. And now all I can say is thank you, Anthony, for that glimpse. You will be missed.

(photo credit: Fort Greene Focus/CC)


  1. Jon

    Well writtenAndrew.
    About being authentic or being a mimic: I have often wondered about that behaviour. Do we do something to satisfy a personal desire or do we do it ‘for show’. When I wonder about the motivation behind things I do, like buying a nice car for example, I ask myself, ‘if I was the only person left on this planet would I want that car?’ If there was no one to see that I have ‘X’ or did ‘Y’ would I still be interested in it?

  2. andrewjbergman (Post author)

    Yeah, I’m really not sure. I mean sometimes it’s not even conscious. The desire to imitate, to do and have what we see others doing and having, might be so deeply rooted that we don’t even notice we’re doing it. And, as I said, I’m not even sure we have any choice or any other option. That’s the way we are. I suppose a positive spin on it would be to say we’re “inspired” by others. 🙂

  3. Ray Rempel

    Andrew, this is an exceptional piece of writing. Thank you for expressing so well my own feelings. And thanks for not commenting on his tragic death & and what may or may not have been


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