Anthony Bourdain: Humanity to the Table
An eccentric chef discovered local flavor and served up an amazing portrait of the world on a TV show.
All human beings, from the most opulent to the poorest, need to eat to stay alive. After 10 years of books and travel around the world, chef and TV host, Anthony Bourdain, has captured an archive of the relationship between food and some of the most elemental aspects of life around the world.
Within the broader range of television, Bourdain’s No Reservations found its niche as a pioneering and iconoclastic show. With some seasons already available on Netflix, viewers can visit Haiti or Kurdistan while unintentionally documenting the damage of natural disasters and wars. They’ll share the tables of refugees, and those otherwise affected, or spend a day in the kitchen of the best restaurant in the world watching some of the most sophisticated and avant-garde dishes being prepared.
Unlike other reality-show cooking and recipe programs, Bourdain knows the gastronomy of the places he visits through his contacts with local people. It seems that Bourdain, as a culinary Cousteau, can reveal that fine link between a family’s preparation of meal and a broader political climate.
For all that, Bourdain is not a sympathetic to everyone he meets. Shows take turns that reveal racist or misogynist prejudice. And some could even potentially endanger the health of viewers attempting to follow in his footsteps. Fortunately, Bourdain seems fully aware of the effect on his own character, and he doesn’t hesitate to dissect his own prejudices as if he were preparing some big game dish for a major banquet.
Food says much more of the people who prepare it than do their words. When visiting any restaurant, we don’t think of all the anonymous hands that prepare and select the ingredients, of the producers, the farmers, the workers and the drivers. All of them make possible the miracles of flavor and thanks to the diligent hands of cooks all over the world.
And many of the ingredients in our life are coded in their ways. In an age that advocates and encourages an excessive consumption of fast food, the rituals of the mealtimes of office workers, during which vegetarians politicize consumption, and where the pressure to control the body across social networks is seemingly ubiquitous, a program like Bourdain’s allows us to explore the particularities of cultures and other ways of viewing the world through something as simple as a bowl of soup. Food encapsulates memory, belonging, affections and nostalgia. Bourdain isn’t hungry for food alone, but for the stories that occur before and after finally sitting down at the table.
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