Once you were done being caught off guard by his warm smile, the next thing you noticed about Anthony Bourdain was his most obvious physical trait: his tremendous height.
I remember staring up in awe at the 6’4 “bad boy chef” back in 2007, interviewing him in Miami for my college paper. The term “celebrity chefs” had recently entered our country’s lexicon, and no one at the time exuded as much star power as the tattooed, Jersey-accented Bourdain, whose shows for the Food Network and Travel Channel were just becoming watercooler hits.
Despite the mob of fans waiting for autographs under the South Florida sun, Bourdain listened as I nervously listed off questions, calmly swigging from his water bottle before each answer. He dished on his favorite Miami dive bars, his unabashed love of meat, and how his unwavering affection for pork in particular couldn’t save the worst thing he’d ever tasted: Namibian warthog anus. When we finished, I apologized for my nerves and admitted he was my first celebrity interview.
“Showing up’s half the battle,” he told me as his handlers moved him on to the next event. “Just keep putting yourself out there and you’ll do great.”
That small bit of encouragement offhandedly tossed at me over a decade ago was the first thing I thought of when news broke that Bourdain had died, lost to us from an apparent suicide in France.
As all the obits and social media tributes have pointed out today, “Put yourself out there” seems to have been as close to a Bourdain mantra as any. The man turned leaving one’s comfort zone into a sport, and he encouraged others to do the same whenever he could.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move,” he’s been quoted as saying. “As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
The brash cook apparently even forced himself to try new experiences when insecurities got in the way. In an article for Slate, writer Joshua Keating points out that when pre-fame Bourdain traveled, he had to battle anxiety over his appearance before entering a local restaurant. According to Bourdain’s 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential, he was afraid his height would make him stick out.
Bourdain encouraged me and others to overcome our nerves: “Just keep putting yourself out there.” I’m saddened that after helping so many, this endearing, affable man couldn’t overcome whatever pain he was dealing with.
I know all his fans will continue to carry on his message, living with the same insatiable curiosity and warmth that made sure no matter what restaurant Bourdain visited, he entered as a guest but left as a friend.