I didn’t go to Anthony Bourdain for his food or drink stuff.
Discovering a hidden basement bar in London, watching the work of master sushi chef or seeing Barack Obama eat Vietnamese food was a bonus. But what I liked most about Bourdain was his common sense – his basic ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ belief.
This attitude elevated the everyday people he met and worked with, while also pricking the pomposity of the various toadies, politicians and scenesters he’d occasionally come across.
To that end, of all his writing and television work, his CNN “Parts Unknown” programs appealed to me most, probably because they afforded him the most leeway to propound Bourdainism – that uncommon philosophical mix of Bruce Springsteen and Thomas Keller.
One of my favorite clips from “Parts Unknown”, and one which has returned to my mind repeatedly in recent days, was his 2016 visit to my favorite restaurant, St. John in London.
Bourdain got St. John. He understand its simplicity and practicality – and the culinary knowledge that underpinned the no-bullshit approach. (Its chef, Fergus Henderson, pioneered the now-everywhere concept of nose-to-tail eating 20 years ago, and he hasn’t strayed far from that since then.)
To put it another way, the place is a beacon of common sense. That’s why Bourdain returned to it again and again, in print and on-screen, over the past two decades. That’s why my wife and I do the same; every time we are in London we make it to the small narrow premises – a former smokehouse – near the former Smithfield market in Clerkenwell.
And – this might sound histrionic (if it does, you haven’t eaten there) – it’s why we’ve more than once echoed Bourdain’s words in this clip:
“St. John, I love you and I need you now more than ever.”