Celebrity chef, TV host and avid traveler Anthony Bourdain died on Friday at 61.
The beloved American host, best known for his travel food shows Parts Unknown and No Reservations, was passionate about shedding light on unique cultures, food and traditions around the planet. Through food and travel, he found a unique way to highlight political and social issues that many of his viewers would have otherwise remained unaware of.
When it comes to the Arab world, Bourdain definitely showed his love and support. In memory of his legacy, here's a look at how he used his international platform to show his passion for the food and culture of the region.
Bourdain first visited Lebanon with No Reservations in 2006. The episode’s filming also happened to coincide with a month-long summer war between Israel and Hezbollah.
Despite the chaotic situation, he fell in love with the country and the episode was nominated for an Emmy award in 2007. Bourdain even wrote that he briefly considered naming his daughter after country’s vibrant capital city, Beirut. He later returned in 2010, and then again in 2016 with his new travel show, Parts Unknown.
In a 2016 interview, he encourage all his fans to visit Beirut. “The food’s delicious, the people are awesome. It’s a party town,” he told an interviewer from Bon Appetit magazine.
“You’ll come back as I did: changed and cautiously hopeful and confused in the best possible way … Yes, it’s divided. There are Shia neighborhoods, Christian areas—but they all go to the same restaurants. You can go from bikinis by the pool to Hezbollah in an 8-minute cab ride. They all coexist in a weird way. That’s part of the thing that makes Beirut so interesting.”
Bourdain visited Palestine in 2013, opening the episode of his show with the words: "It's easily the most contentious piece of real estate in the world, and there's no hope – none – of ever talking about it without pissing somebody, if not everybody, off."
Through the program Bourdain attempted to show what is so often hidden from American television screens, the plight of the Palestinian people.
"The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics. That is all we attempted to show," the host said of the experience, according to Democracy Now.
Speaking about the impact Bourdain's episode had, Palestinian-Canadian human rights lawyer Diana Buttu told CNN she appreciated how he highlighted the plight of her people.
"He saw Palestinians as human beings – it's sad we have to say this in this day and age, that someone saw us as human beings, but he did and that for me was very powerful," Buttu said.
In Saudi Arabia
In 2008, Bourdain took his show to Saudi Arabia. While now, a decade later, Saudi Arabia is moving quickly to modernize and open up to the rest of the world, things were a bit different when the celebrity chef visited. Nonetheless, he traveled to Saudi Arabia with the desire to show an honest and non-judgmental perspective of the kingdom.
"He experienced everything with an open mind and an open heart and relayed it very beautifully in the episode," Danya Alhamrani wrote for Elle on Friday, discussing her time hosting Bourdain. "I remember him telling me not to read the comments when the show aired; he felt people are cruel in general when commenting from behind the safety of a computer screen. But when the episode went live, the response was overwhelming positive."
Alhamrani goes on to point out that the episode is still, 10 years later, one of the few widely seen positive representations of the kingdom.
"To this day, 10 years later, I’m still told by people I meet that the only good thing they see online about Saudi Arabia is the episode of No Reservations," she wrote.
Traveling to Tangier, Morocco in 2013, Bourdain toured a local souq, tried lots of traditional cuisine, asked the locals about their experiences with tourists and even reported on the North African country's hashish trade.
"Of course, network standards prohibit me from even tasting this delicious and reportedly mind-altering treat, I’m guessing any way,” he joked when presented with the drug. “So until I see Chris, John, and Wolf doing bong rips in the Situation Room, I will of course abide by these rules, because that’s the kind of guy I am.”
Although some travelers may view Tangier as unappealing and even a bit dangerous, Bourdain jumped right in to show off the city's vibrance and hospitality.