What would Bourdain do? How to honor the intrepid traveler's legacy

Kathleen Rellihan, for CNNPublished 25th October 2018
Up next
(CNN) — Since Anthony Bourdain's death, travelers around the globe have been mourning the loss of one of the world's most gifted storytellers and cultural ambassadors.
After rewatching Bourdain's shows, rereading his books and essays, and tuning in for his last "Parts Unknown" episodes, how else can you linger in Bourdain's spirit? How can you make sure his unique take on travel -- and on the world -- doesn't fade away?
From making his way from restaurant kitchens as a dishwasher to becoming one of the most influential Emmy-award-winning cultural correspondents of our time, Anthony Bourdain forever changed how we view travel. Bourdain shed a cinematic light on the human experience around the world and showed us all how simply sharing a meal with a stranger can be a great equalizer and a way into the conversation.
In honoring his legacy, ask yourself: What would Bourdain do?

Don't follow in his footsteps; go where he didn't

Bourdain-inspired tours -- in New Jersey, where he was from, and in Vietnam, a country he loved -- might seem compelling at first glance. But would he really approve? Or would he encourage you to find your own way?
Atlantic City, NJ - Anthony Bourdain filming Parts Unknown in Atlantic City, New Jersey on January 22, 2015.
Anthony Bourdain filmed Parts Unknown New Jersey in January 2015.
Zero Point Zero
Instead of following in Bourdain's exact footsteps, find your own path. A new table to sit at in a town or country you haven't yet explored.
The celebrated chef once admitted to an irrational fear of chocolate and peace in Switzerland, so he avoided this neutral yodeling-loving territory. But that doesn't mean you need to follow suit. Why not go and find the chaotic, sugar-free underbelly of the Swiss Alps? Bourdain went to 12 countries in Africa while filming "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown." Explore one of the 42 other countries in Africa he didn't get a chance to see.
Anthony Bourdain visited the Serengehti Plain in Tanzania in 2014.
Anthony Bourdain visited the Serengehti Plain in Tanzania in 2014.
David S. Holloway/CNN

Ask questions at the table -- and listen

Put down your phone, pull up a chair and find out what life and dinner are like in another part of the world.
While accepting the Peabody award in 2013, Bourdain shared his seemingly simple approach to immersing himself in a place and allowing the locals to tell their own stories:
"We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions," the Emmy-award winning travel host had said of his goal in exploring the world while the camera rolls. "We tend to get some really astonishing answers."
Before you head out, do your research so you can ask thoughtful questions when you arrive. What are the heated political debates? What issues are locals most concerned with? What's in their special sauce?
But even as the brash, outspoken personality was known for his off-the-cuff one-liners,what the cultural icon did best was listen. When Bourdain arrived in Iran, a country he said "Americans probably have the most contentious relationship with on Earth," he didn't seek to solve anything or to wrap it all up nicely in a one-hour episode.
Anthony Bourdain's visit to Iran had him listening to the people of the country in an effort to understand them.
Anthony Bourdain's visit to Iran had him listening to the people of the country in an effort to understand them.
Zero Point Zero
Instead, he showed viewers what he saw, tasted and heard. Asking Iranians what their hopes were for their country, Bourdain let the people of Iran lead the dialogue. Don't just ask questions; listen to the answers.

Show the truth even if it doesn't go down easy

In today's social media-obsessed times, travel is overcurated and often staged. Watching Bourdain, you get the sense that he wouldn't want us to depict our own travel experiences in an inauthentic light.
"It's the imperfections in life that are the most interesting," Bourdain says in the "Parts Unknown" Seattle episode, continuing to rant, "Why do people Instagram pictures of food? To share their wonderful eating experience? No. It's to make people feel bad about what they're eating," the tell-it-like-it-is host says. "It's like, look, I'm eating these incredible crabs and you're sitting at home in your dirty underwear eating Doritos."
Bourdain's legacy was focused on a no-holds-barred honesty in his cultural investigations.
It was his truth-slinging chops that propelled him from his anonymity in restaurant kitchens to a life as a New York Times best-selling author and a rock star of the culinary world. His 1999 New Yorker essay "Don't Eat Before Reading This," evolved into his raw and shocking memoir "Kitchen Confidential," which exposed kitchens' often dark underbellies.
Remember the "Parts Unknown" Sicily episode when Bourdain discovered that a trip to catch cuttlefish and octopus was staged by the chef and fisherman? When he found out the "fresh catch" was actually store-bought frozen seafood thrown into the water for the sake of the scene, Bourdain was livid.
Bourdain did not care much for the inauthentic, and the fake fishing set up in Sicily riled him up.
Bourdain did not care much for the inauthentic, and the fake fishing set up in Sicily riled him up.
Watching the travel host spiral into a depressed Negroni-fueled stupor wasn't pleasant, but it was real and ultimately built even more of a trust with fans.
In the spirit of Bourdain's "we don't do retakes" philosophy, use your own storytelling platforms to show accurate representations of places you visit. Share what it's really like to be in an unfamiliar place -- even the uncomfortable and not-so-photogenic moments versus simply a superficial and filtered capture of it.

Seek out hole-in-the-walls over Michelin stars

Bourdain was a world-renowned chef, but he prided himself on not falling into the elitist food culture by which he often was surrounded. Instead, the unpretentious culinary icon would pull up a low plastic stool and eat on the street and slurp his noodles alongside the rest of humanity (and, OK, sometimes the President of the United States).
Anthony Bourdain and President Obama ate noodles together in Vietnam.
Anthony Bourdain and President Obama ate noodles together in Vietnam.
Zero Point Zero for CNN
Bourdain credited his French-American father with measuring the value of a dish by the pleasure it brings you. Sometimes, it's where you are and who you're with that matters most.

Devour literature and films of a place before you go

Bourdain spent nearly 250 days of the year on the road, yet he still found time to learn about the culture of a place before he arrived by devouring books and film set in the places he was going. Bourdain was seduced by Hanoi's charms long before he ever landed on Vietnamese soil after reading Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" and watching "Apocalypse Now."
Bourdain roamed the wide-open spaces of America's great outdoors with his literary hero Jim Harrison decades before he ever met the "Legends of the Fall" author in the "Parts Unknown" Montana episode.
Bourdain dove into Hong Kong culture by watching Wong Kar-wai movies and classics such as "In the Mood for Love" by cinematographer Christopher Doyle, a film hero of his he gets to collaborate with in "Parts Unknown" Hong Kong episode. Diving into art -- whether it's culinary, literary or cinematic -- is just one way to immerse ourselves in other worlds and honor Bourdain's legacy. (You now can even take a college film studies class based on Bourdain.)

Challenge your notions of parts and places unknown

Democratic Republic of Congo. Haiti. West Virginia. Bourdain's exploration of the world led him to some of the world's most dangerous or complicated or misunderstood places. Whether war-torn, ravaged by natural disasters or sometimes shunned, these places aren't on many travelers' lists. Bourdain sought to shift perceptions and show another side of places often plagued by stereotypes.
Anthony Bourdain Travels to the uniquely beautiful state of west virginia to experience its culture and customs. Watch Parts Unknown Sundays at 9PM ET/PT on CNN.
Question what you think you know -- your own biases and your own nativity -- just as Bourdain did when he realized the complicated perils of aid in Haiti or met Trump supporters in West Virginia.
"Here in the heart of every belief system I've ever mocked or fought against, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone," Bourdain said in the West Virginia episode.

Leave something good behind

One of Bourdain's oft-quoted sentiment about travel from "No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach" says it all:
"Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."
Bourdain's legacy inspires us to be better travelers, to share a meal and a common ground with strangers and to listen to what's on their minds.
Bourdain made us a little less scared of the unknown and a little more excited to explore it and revel in it.
What will be your legacy? What good will you leave behind in the places you go?