Ascending: The Rise of the Underdog

Po' Monkey's juke joint with Willie, the owner

Po' Monkey's juke joint with Willie, the owner

It’s hard to explain why Bourdain’s passing is such a huge loss. Many of us felt like we know him well.

I felt like he was always in my pocket guiding my travels, coercing me to dance at Po’ Monkey’s juke joint in Mississippi or banter with old men about mushrooms at a cafe at 8am in Nice.

To stop, listen and appreciate people.

But despite his travels and celebrity status, he remained grounded. I think that’s what was so incredible about him and what we’ll all miss so much.


A World of Underdogs


Bourdain always rooted for the underdog. There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes in restaurants. It is a huge beast, and each person, no matter the size of their role, is vital in keeping it running smoothly. He stood up for those who were invisible in kitchens - and beyond -  throughout the world. He said he would eat anything cooked by someone (even dog) in their own home; otherwise he risked offending their reputation.

He was a human.

He appreciated the rough physical and emotional labor of the restaurant industry. He survived it. It hurts. He rooted for busboys, waitresses, fishmongers, and everyone who makes the chaotic restaurant industry function for a night at a time.

I always root for the underdog too. I am an underdog. I never want to do things the predictable way. Life is more exciting in unpredictable moments. I’m a cheerleader for people who break boundaries, and I hope to be on that team.

On Rules that Shouldn’t Be Broken

Bourdain admittedly regretted contributing to “meathead culture” in restaurants. But he was working to make himself better. He fearlessly stood up for the victims, including girlfriend Asia Argento, on social media and in interviews. Argento was raped by Harvey Weinstein, and fled Italy when she was treated like shit by the Italian media in October 2017. Yes, 2017. This is the world we live in. We are citizens of this world. Bourdain spoke out against the accused when almost everyone at his level in the culinary world remained silent.

The bounds of toxic masculinity are hard to break, even for someone of his status. But he stood up and spoke out. He was a role model, a true and genuine one.

In an upsetting turn of events today, Chef and recent James Beard Award winner Gabrielle Hamilton, who counted Bourdain as a fan and supporter, announced she is partnering with Ken Friedman, The Spotted Pig owner with multiple sexual misconduct allegations from former employees.

Hamilton will take over the kitchen at The Spotted Pig, along with her wife and co-chef, Ashley Merriman. The Spotted Pig is also where Mario Batali committed sexual assaults, including raping an unconscious woman in the upstairs party room known as the “rape room.” He is under criminal investigation by the NYPD.

Can’t The Spotted Pig just close already? I can’t imagine ever enjoying a burger there again.

Why does this all hurt so much?

Yes, we glorify chefs. I’m guilty of that. We read their books, love their stories (often carefully co-written and edited to become cohesive), follow them on social media and watch them on cooking and travel shows. We don’t see the hard work that got them to celebrity chef status, and we don’t see the wounds and imperfections.

We don’t see the underdogs, and when they emerge with terrible stories of harassment and abuse, it’s up to us to be on their side.

To say I’m disappointed in Gabrielle Hamilton is a huge understatement. I list her book, Blood, Bones and Butter at the top of my favorite food memoirs, my favorite genre to read. I loved how she tied in a sense of place and family to her story, in a similar raw and real way like Bourdain’s writing. I loved how she keeps her food honest and simple, against the opinions of critics and foodies. She was an underdog.

We could always count on Bourdain for a snarky soundbyte when someone in the industry did or said something stupid - like comparing José Andres’ incredible work for Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico to stepping in to help a sexual predator’s business thrive.

Bourdain is gone, and we have to stand together to fight the bullshit. And the bullshit just keeps coming. Stay strong, and let’s fight together.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.

To report a sexual assault: 

Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

How does it work?

When you call 800.656.HOPE (4673), you’ll be routed to a local RAINN affiliate organization based on the first six digits of your phone number. Cell phone callers have the option to enter the ZIP code of their current location to more accurately locate the nearest sexual assault service provider.

Thumbnail image ©Mr. Brainwash