Heroes are the ones you look up to, the ones you hope to emulate when you grow up, the ones that shape and nurture your dreams from afar. They often say you should never meet your heroes, you’ll be ultimately disappointed when they aren’t the perfect shining example on the pedestal in your mind. That is why I deliberated long and hard when presented with the opportunity to meet one of my heroes. Ultimately, I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and a few months later, I found myself in the executive lounge of the airport waiting for my plane to board. Surrounded by cheap (but free) alcohol, watery soups, and desiccated fruit left out far too long on the buffet counter, I contemplated what I would say, what I would ask, and what he would be like.
What do you say when you meet your hero? Often you’re too star struck to say much. All your carefully prepared lines often disappear in a nervous aura, replace by fan babble. I only managed a paltry, “You’re what I want to be when I grow up”, to which I got a wry smile, a soft chuckle, and a, “Thanks, me too”. Good to know he has as sense of humour as well. Of course he would, I was meeting the easy going Anthony Bourdain.
I hold Mr. Bourdain in high esteem. His humble nature can be summed up in 2 stories he shares: his full expectation that his fame will one day run out and he’ll be back to slinging hash at the buffet station, and secondly, something he calls, “The Grandma Rule”. When you’re at Grandma’s (or anyone’s house in the world for that matter); even if the turkey dinner is dry, tasteless, stringy, and the cranberry sauce tastes like stale trail mix, you smile, tell her it was a great meal, and have seconds.
Doing his job for a living means you have to be a cultural ambassador. You have to open your mind and your ears to at least try and understand people that are often quite different from yourself. Using food as a common starting point, he bridges gaps that are often difficult to cross. Bourdain, who unabashedly espouses a left of center stance on American politics, counts the far right wing Ted Nugent as one of his friends. Why? Because they can share a beer and some smoked pork together, and that to him, is the start of a dialogue, which is something that is missing in far too many scenarios in the current world.
Listening to Tony speak about his experiences with other cultures, the (often hilarious) trials his crew are faced with when filming in adverse conditions, and the connections he’s made often reinforces why food is so important in my own life. When I travel with friends, cooking and eating is often one of the key moments in the trip when everyone bonds. When I often eat with friends or family; it is a time where we catch up, share, and open up to each other. I suspect it is the same in many people’s lives; returning home for Thanksgiving family dinner being a prime example.
After Tony had told his stories and answered some questions from the crowd, a number of us huddled on the back of the stage with catered food and beer to mingle and chat. There I was with a man that I’ve never met but idolized for the last 7 years, with a bunch of other people I’ve never met, together having a beer and chatting jovially, all because we collectively shared a love for food. Simple things bring people together in compelling ways. Everyone has to eat, everyone appreciates a good meal, and even if you view eating as something you have to do to survive, you still create a connection with others by inviting them to join you.
In essence, this is why I choose try and not eat alone, this is why I choose to try and bring some joy, conversation, and understanding through my time in the kitchen, to friends, family, and sometimes to complete strangers. This is why I love food, and this is why I choose to share it.