Anthony Bourdain: The Saint Who Sexualised Food

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Anthony Bourdain: The Saint Who Sexualised Food

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

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“hat the fuck is all this shit”, is what I imagine Anthony Bourdain saying, as he reads the many obits that are pouring in today. With his sudden death becoming an online trend that will be ridden for all its worth like some  hooker from Phnom Penh, the question remains. Who exactly was Anthony Bourdain and why were the world and I charmed by this motherfucker?

Many things come to mind. Was he a breakfast cook, making below-par poached eggs for the breakfast crowd, as he contemplated dragging his face across a hot waffle iron? Was he a reformed addict who ditched the needle for the camera, choosing the lukewarm adulation of millions over the warm wonderful embrace of smack? Or was he just a man with an unparalleled joie de vivre, which most of us will never experience in this life?

Much before I knew I wanted to be a professional cook, the image of the chef – with his toque and scarf –  seemed stuffy and rigid to a child who wanted to be shirtless whenever possible. The world of professional cooking seemed too authoritarian for me, too sterile, devoid of the raw joy that a primal connection with food brings. Until, of course, I saw Anthony Bourdain on TV.  

This monumental motherfucker took mise en place out of the kitchen and turned it into an essential, marketable life skill. Mise en place, as any cook worth his flaky sea salt will tell you, is life. It literally means the preparation of dishes before the beginning of service with the ingredients placed in a way that makes it easy to reach even when you’re swamped with orders and shit gets uglier than drunk uncles in yoga pants and a vest on a Goa beach. Fuck pranayam, hygge, mindfulness, and all that new-age mumbo jumbo, and try some mise en place for a change.

 

Anthony Bourdain was Mick Jagger with the munchies. He rescued gastronomic programming from its weekday afternoon Tarla Dalal-esque destiny and turned it into prime-time entertainment.

Bourdain practised mise en place in life. He took the most interesting elements and set them up in preparation for one mind-blowing meal. If there was a Russian mafia-run restaurant that served the best borscht in the Balkan while selling bombs on the side, you could bet he’d be there – his lanky frame perched precariously on a rickety chair with the table just a little too low for him. He’d hunker over it with a slightly hunched back, delivering astute, slang-ridden cultural commentary between bites, liberally peppered with the word “in-ner-resting”. This, a result of an extreme “when in Rome…” attitude.

Anthony Bourdain was Mick Jagger with the munchies; he was the Bono of the buffet. He rescued gastronomic programming from its weekday afternoon Tarla Dalal-esque destiny and turned it into prime-time entertainment. He wasn’t a pretentious fuck of a restaurant critic with a degree in liberal arts or some such. He wasn’t someone who’d dine at places where your food is poached in precum and served by a hipster waiter who looks like Jesus delivering his take on why the foie gras terrine at this joint is better than the next. No. He’d take you down to working-class neighbourhoods, where the food was cooked by someone’s grandmother, served on makeshift tables in melamine crockery that’s still slick with a little bit of grease from the last serving. Here he’d integrate into his surroundings, like a culinary chameleon. He’d then go gonzo, delivering an honest, indomitable take on the food while scarfing down the most obscure items on the menu. He took the concept of the the critic and turned it on its head, veering more toward heretic. He was an eternal journeyman who ate what was put before him on the wayside just like everyone else.

Most of our modern gastro programming can be traced directly to Bourdain’s ground-breaking work on A Cook’s Tour or No Reservations. Do you think Rocky and Mayur or your new crop of Indian fuckboy chefs who travel to the far reaches of Ladakh to eat like the locals are OGs in this game? If you are associated with food in any capacity today, some part of Anthony Bourdain has influenced you. Not just with food programming but with food itself.

Bourdain was a proponent of the gratuitous sexualisation of food long before Instagram came along and added a hashtag before food porn to increase discoverability. He extolled the virtues of food with a rhythmic metre that ebbed, surged, and rose in crescendo before collapsing into a post-climactic crumpled heap, just like good sex.

In fact, his views on food and sex helped shape mine. To quote Anthony verbatim, “I have long believed that it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able – if called upon to do so – to make them a proper omelet in the morning. Surely that kind of civility and selflessness would be both good manners and good for the world. Perhaps omelet skills should be learned at the same time you learn to fuck. Perhaps there should be an unspoken agreement that in the event of loss of virginity, the more experienced of the partners should, afterward, make the other an omelet – passing along the skill at an important and presumably memorable moment.” Since these wise words were spoken, the item directly after condoms on my mental hook- up checklist is egg.

Knowing Anthony, he’d put down all these paeans as the work of overenthusiastic, prose-addled pussies who’d need a pile of prozac to entertain so much as the thought of penetration. His response in typical Bourdain style would be to celebrate life in a more visceral manner, by eating, drinking, and fucking with gusto like there’s no tomorrow, because tomorrow is when today ties a neat little knot on its noose meant for day after.

I’m done poring over the internet to read how he touched lives and seeing Instagram posts with his pictures with captions of RIP Chef (FYI he hated being called chef), and glossy quotes that you googled on the fly. No motherfucker, you honour his memory by walking into the shadiest of street-side food joints, ones which are sure to fuck up your digestive system, digging your fingers into the grimy plates with skid marks left by food past, and eating, and living out of your comfort zone. Burst out of the sterile bubble you’ve ensconced your ass in, because a life without a little gastric distress is a life not worth living.

 

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