Thursday , 17 October 2019
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Culinary world has lost a luminary

Zubin Dsouza

I always heard the term collective sympathy but chose to ignore it. I have Asperger’s syndrome and consequently emotions are very alien to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I feel sad in times of cataclysmic events or human catastrophe. I feel outrage when people get bullied or exterminated in acts of genocide.

It is just that, in most cases the sympathetic feelings are very fleeting.

Not that I would manage to feel sadder or sorrier.

And there are certain times that for me when time can literally stop as I process the sheer incomprehensibility of the events as they unfold around me.

For certain events that take place across the globe, I always remember the exact situation that I was in when I first heard the news.

I was in a beach shack in Goa waiting for a friend to arrive when I first heard about the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers building in New York.

I was making bouillabaisse in Hong Kong when the news of the Mumbai terrorist attacks reached my ears. I spent three days in the kitchen whilst cooking and live streaming the news onto my laptop.

On June 8, I was shucking a crate of fresh Scottish scallops when I heard that one of the greatest culinary luminaries had taken his own life.

Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in Kayersberg, France. He was there to film for one of his brilliant TV shows.

First I was overcome by a wave of incredulity; the utter disbelief that a person who seemingly had it all would choose to go out without a swan song.

Then came the flashes of anger; how could someone who meant so much to the world, so much to me personally chooses to go away without so much as a goodbye.

Finally came the comprehension; I understood the situation and the man. I realised that the sheer pressure of having to innovate each day; to be able to withstand the scrutiny of millions of viewers may actually be difficult.

I am one of the thousands of chefs whose lives and works were directly impacted by the genius of Anthony Bourdain.

In the year 2000, online shopping was just planting its feet on very shaky grounds when I used that opportunity to order in books that I previously had no access to.

I called in for a couple of cookbooks, some controversial theosophical books and blowing caution and difficult-to-procure foreign exchange to the wind, I ordered in a book called ‘Kitchen Confidential’.

It was the work of Anthony Bourdain.

Not his first work; more like his eight and till this book broke through, he was a relatively unknown author.

He was a relatively unknown chef as well.

This one book would propel him out of the depths of anonymity to the stratospheric heights reserved for rock stars.

In fact he kind of preferred the rock star status as compared to that of a chef.

In fact he made it quite clear that he had strayed into the profession accidentally and only decided to stay on because he was under the impression that a chef was more attractive to members of the opposite sex.

This is besides the fact that he attended the most prestigious culinary school in the world and worked and opened some of the finest restaurants.

He pulled no punches, made no excuses and never claimed that he was a chef that was any good.

He was raw, unapologetic and he was adventurous to the core. If it was local; no matter how strange it looked, he would eat it. And more than that, he enjoyed each and every meal that he ate.

He goaded people into trying new things and got folks to move out of their culinary comfort zones.

The one thing that he did do was to make food adventurism cool!

He would think nothing of plopping himself down in the dingiest, ramshackle shack that he could find if there was a promise of a great dining experience.

He was a man of the people.

Although he could and he did hobnob with celebrities, his heart lay in the honest, everyday cooking that was accessible to common people.

This was a man who dined with Barack Obama who was then the president of the United States of America. The president was on an official trip to Vietnam and Anthony just happened to be in the neighbourhood shooting for one of his endless shows. He had access and an open invitation to the best food establishments that the country has to offer.

He did not take the president to some fancy and hip black-tie and tuxedo joint. Instead he took him to a restaurant with plastic stools and chilled beer.

The president rolled up his sleeves and dipped his fingers into the finest meal that the city has to offer.

No one but Bourdain could make street-side dining look cool.

No one but Bourdain could get people to eat entrails and nethers.

No one but him promoted what he called nose-to-tail eating which meant that nothing got wasted or thrown out.

No one would be missed as much as he will be.

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