While I was sitting at La Patisserie bakery a couple years ago, I read about Anthony Bourdain’s North American Tour Close to the Bone coming through Austin in July. It was May, so I bought my ticket to attend his stand up tour.
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Watching his shows I’m always inspired, and I’d always wonder if, as an American, he might contemplate the influences of international food and how they differed in America—fast forward to the live Q&A session during the show, and those same thoughts raced through my mind as he started answering questions from the audience, but I couldn’t see a microphone-clad usher on the balcony for mine. I was partly hoping to ask him, half chickening out, and all the while wishing I could afford to sit closer for a better shot at doing so.
In any case, at the show I learned 4 things that later made me reflect on that day at the bakery. It was then that I was enjoying a ham and cheese croissant and café au lait quite reminiscent of Paris. After the show and now looking back, I realize that the food and drink was satisfying for many reasons, but not the most important ones.
That day I became more conscious of looking beyond my self-centered reasons for liking my food and coffee to focus on the more important story. Sure the coffee warm, the dough was flaky, and it reminded me of France, and of course I was hungry, so it brought me comfort.
But there was more to my meal that I missed that day: the authentic story from the food’s cultural perspective.
How often do we judge good food based on our own beliefs of how it should taste, or what it should look like?
Or how its quality should make us feel or look while eating it?
During his show in Austin, Anthony Bourdain reminded me how.
Like him, I am now more conscious about appreciating food for its most important qualities: not enjoying just for how it tastes to me, but appreciating it for its origins, creation, and the artisan that made it, or the company it brings with it.
When we attempt to look beyond ourselves that’s when we’ll know food’s greatest power and story, and that’s when it can truly open us up to new experiences.
How often do you enjoy food because of the story it tells you?
The ability to be perceptive brings on a sort of sophisticated wisdom, which is something that I believe Bourdain has contributed in opening the eyes of millions of people to a certain degree of empathy through his food journies around the world.
His experiences, as experienced during this television shows and also revealed during the stand up tour, are filled with a bit of cynical humor because well, who wouldn’t be a little sarcastic after seeing the world through his lenses. That would’ve been a good question to ask during the live Q&A. It must change someone in ways that we can only dare to understand or reach ourselves.
Here are four ways that Bourdain reminds the self-proclaimed ‘Foodie’ to cherish food the right way.
Care less about personal food choices
We must try to be aware of how our personal food choices can make us feel entitled, and how we view others who have differing views might make us treat them badly. Bourdain tried to make us understand that our currently popular choices to be vegan, gluten-free, and organic can play to the tune of our ego when we treat other people badly (e.g., each other, our servers, restaurant owners, etc.) because of our choices.
Reconsider ingredients you don’t like
People can radically abhor certain foods, and we must try to remember that someone’s use of ingredients that we don’t care for doesn’t give us an excuse to impose our customs or illicit any sort of hatred. Bourdain brought up the example of MSG being blamed for what’s called ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,’ saying it is caused by our own societal discrimination or racism. His comments drew a roar of applause, short of a standing ovation, from the audience.
Ask yourself what food and drink you take for granted
We must try to appreciate that in many parts of the world food is magnified when it is scarcest, and that’s when people should and do share it the most. While it’s our choice to be vegan, organic or the like, Bourdain shared that in most of the world meat is scarce and sacred in ways that small bits are used to flavor tons of other daily ingredients. He asked us not to diminish the opportunity to dine with others or allow relationships to develop with people because of that—because the poorest people of the world will gladly kill their month’s allowance of chicken to show absolute honor and generosity towards their guests.
Understand food in order to start new journeys
If we are willing to listen, to be shown and to participate in the lessons, we can learn so much from food. Personally, the show inspired me to keep sharing the MezzeCulture message: that is to encourage people to look beyond the guidebooks and the television and to start getting to know the world’s cultures and people through the stories of authentic food, drink and entertainment available in their own backyards. Our neighbors and their businesses can teach us about their culture in much the same way as the locals we meet while traveling.
If you’ve attended the show then I hope these four points will touch you as they did me. The tour continued through the end of July, with stops in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago.
Overall, the show was great and will hopefully make you ask yourself those tough questions. I really enjoyed learning about Bourdain’s family, his refrigerator (ha!), his takes on food at home, references to New Jersey clams and mussels, and his personal learnings, as well as experiences with colleagues along his long and successful career.
I believe that food can bridges barriers, it’s experiences can create empathy, and that empathy allows us to value people because of its power to touch the heart and change minds. Daily, I’m learning how that affects the choices and experiences I pursue while exploring the world’s cultures through local food, drink and entertainment in my own backyard. That’s why I tune in to CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Part’s Unknown on Sunday’s, and why I could hardly wait those 9 weeks for the tour to hit Austin.
@BourdainTour we’ll look forward to seeing the show in Austin on Thursday! Look for us cheering for international food from the balcony.
P.s., Tony if you ever read this, my question that I didn’t get to ask at the Austin tour stop was…
After all your travels around the world, what do you feel is the reason food, drink and entertainment in a country of origin requires comparable experiences in the U.S. to be critically-acclaimed in order to be considered good enough?