23 Anthony Bourdain Quotes on Culture, Cuisine and Following Your Calling

The potential benefits of both travel and food have long been exalted by wise souls the world over. Whether it’s the classic maxim that travel broadens one’s horizons or the idea that a good meal nourishes the soul, it is generally held that both have a key role to play in any rounded, consciously lived life. 

Almost single-handedly — and for nearly two decades — one man in particular has been championing these values on mainstream TV, spreading his ideas to a worldwide audience. Since the release of his book Kitchen Confidential in 2000, Anthony Bourdain has spent most of his time traveling the world to eat, learn and generally become a better person. In the process, he and his team have managed to make some of the most insightful food television ever, taking Bourdain’s ideas on everything from revolution, to music, to love and exploring them through the filters of food and place.

The former chef’s life has been anything but boring. During spells working in kitchens across New York he would routinely dose cocaine, LSD and heroin, embracing the early-punk movement of the 1980’s. Eventually kicking these habits, he became executive chef at Manhattan’s celebrated Brasserie Les Halles in 1998 before the release of Kitchen Confidential catapulted him to stardom. The book, with it’s stark revelations about life in a professional kitchen, owed much of it’s success to the sceptical yet perceptive voice of Bourdain, a style which has since become his trademark and which has endeared him to millions of viewers.

At a time when food television is becoming increasingly prosaic, Bourdain and his shows stand alone as a frank, intrepid and often downright hilarious reminder of the profound power of a good meal and just a little curiosity.

Along the way, the New Jersey native has racked up some truly memorable soundbites, with many providing valuable insight into the nature of culture, food and travel, whilst others are just really funny. 

Here are some of his best:

  • “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.” 
  • “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” 
  • “No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American.” 
  • “Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.” 
  • “If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”
  • “Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”
  • “We know, for instance, that there is a direct, inverse relationship between frequency of family meals and social problems. Bluntly stated, members of families who eat together regularly are statistically less likely to stick up liquor stores, blow up meth labs, give birth to crack babies, commit suicide…” 
  • “They’re professionals at this in Russia, so no matter how many Jell-O shots or Jager shooters you might have downed at college mixers, no matter how good a drinker you might think you are, don’t forget that the Russians — any Russian — can drink you under the table.” 
  • “I wanted adventures. I wanted to go up the Nung river to the heart of darkness in Cambodia. I wanted to ride out into a desert on camelback, sand and dunes in every direction, eat whole roasted lamb with my fingers. I wanted to kick snow off my boots in a Mafiya nightclub in Russia. I wanted to play with automatic weapons in Phnom Penh, recapture the past in a small oyster village in France, step into a seedy neon-lit pulqueria in rural Mexico. I wanted to run roadblocks in the middle of the night, blowing past angry militia with a handful of hurled Marlboro packs, experience fear, excitement, wonder.”
  • “I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure.” 
  • “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
  • “But I do think the idea that basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill…” 
  • “That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.”
  • “For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.” 
  • “It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and whats happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there- with your eyes open- and lived to see it.” 
  • “Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime… Please, treat your garlic with respect… Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.” 
  • “The journey is part of the experience – an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca.”
  • “I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.” 
  • “. . .three or four ingredients, as long as they are of the highest and freshest quality, can be combined in a straightforward way to make a truly excellent and occasionally wondrous product.”
  • “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” 
  • “I often use the hypothetical out-of-control ice-cream truck. What would happen if you were walking across the street and were suddenly hit by a careening Mister Softee truck? As you lie there, in your last few moments of consciousness, what kind of final regrets flash through your mind? ‘I should have had a last cigarette!’ might be one. Or, ‘I should have dropped acid with everybody else back in ’74!’ Maybe: ‘I should have done that hostess after all!’ Something along the lines of: ‘I should have had more fun in my life! I should have relaxed a little more, enjoyed myself a little more . . .’ That was never my problem. When they’re yanking a fender out of my chest cavity, I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.” 
  • “Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman — not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen — though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.”
  • “Writing anything is a treason of sorts.”
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James Connolly (james-connolly-freelance.tumblr.com) is a freelance writer based in southern France. He has worked with publications such as Roads and Kingdoms, Motherland and Amnesty International News.