When Anthony Bourdain tragically passed away in June of this year at the age of 61, the food world lost one of its brightest lights. During his two decades on the air, Bourdain’s no nonsense, intrepid attitude to eating inspired a global audience and prompted a generation of viewers to learn all they could about their food. TV is a more boring place without him.
Almost every episode of “Parts Unknown” or “No Reservations” offered a new nugget of information to a hungry viewer. Before I started bingeing Bourdain shows on Netflix, I had no idea, for instance, that biryani was invented in Iran, or that Paraguay had lost 70% of its adult male population in a 19th century South American war. But, beyond the facts, what made Bourdain such a great story teller was to show that, wherever you are on earth, food is the essential ingredient in bringing people together.
One Louisiana lecturer has decided that these lessons are worth taking a little more seriously than sitting hungover in your pants, streaming on the sofa. Starting this spring, film studies director and associate professor of English Todd Kennedy is offering students at Nicholls State University the chance to enroll in a class committed to understanding as much as possible about the enigmatic Anthony Bourdain and the work he left behind.
Entitled “Anthony Bourdain and his Influencers”, Kennedy’s course promises to offer students a fresh look at material they might think they know well. Speaking to The Daily Meal, Kennedy revealed that the content will focus on unravelling why Bourdain’s canon of work is so, “original and complex and important”.
Kennedy notes that almost every Bourdain-led project contains an allusion to other great works of film or literature. "I started realizing in almost every episode there's these obscure visual allusions to films that probably only he and his cinematographers were likely to know," Kennedy confessed to CNN.
Whether it’s opaque references to “Lost in Translation” during Parts Unknown’s Tokyo episode, or a direct pastiche of “Memento” in a South Korean episode that essentially plays in reverse, it’s obvious to even the most casual observer that there’s more going on with Bourdain than on your average foodie travel show. Though every episode can be enjoyed for the visual thrill of seeing something delicious, there’s a rich cultural subtext to be unearthed at every turn. This is what makes the shows such fascinating material for a class.
The new course isn’t just about TV. Around half of the material covered revolves around Bourdain’s literary work, including celebrated titles like “Kitchen Confidential” and “Medium Raw”. Students will also examine books such as “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad - one of Bourdain’s favourites - and A.J Leibling’s “Between Meals”, in order to understand what inspired him and why.
As you could tell from watching him on TV, Bourdain was a complicated character. Always driven to explore and discover the stories that no one else was telling, the idea of finding something new was perhaps the biggest influence on his work. Maybe it’s only right that a new course be created to help others follow in his footsteps.