We evoke the great chef, traveler and writer, and his brief passage through Panama.
There are moments when it is inevitable to stop, have a pause and honor the memory of those who moved us deeply, who enlightened us with brief flashes of intelligence or humor, who made us think or smile.
And that is the case of our subject today, in which we will remember the recently deceased chef, writer, traveler, and television personality Anthony Bourdain.
I know that it is unnecessary to present him. I´m sure that you know him very well. But a brief introduction is essential. Tony was a living part of many New York kitchens, and Brasserie Les Halles is undoubtedly the most remembered. Then he published an emblematic book: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. From there he jumped to television, which is where he became most recognizable. First with A Cook’s Tour, following with Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and in recent times Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, broadcasted through CNN.
Anthony Bourdain in “El Mercado del Marisco” (Fish Market) eating a Ceviche made from Corvina. Program “Anthony Bourdain: Sin reservas – Panamá ” issued on January 11, 2010 produced by Travel Channel.
In his delicious trips, he not only visited high-class restaurants with many Michelin stars. He also liked to visit taverns, markets, “secret and unknown” places, as he liked to proclaim. Many hours filmed have left us a living testimony of his effort to unveil the hidden, show places little or never seen, and step away from the obvious. His charisma made possible to open doors in any part of the world. With his radar always awake to detect extraordinary meals, and his ability to explore and show the most interesting and little-known aspects of the cultures he visited.
I do not know if you followed Tony Bourdain on Twitter, but his profile was only decorated by a single word: Enthusiastic. He was only 61 when his death happened. At the time, it seemed that his vital appetite had no limits. He was at the same time sophisticated and in love with the signs of popular culture. And that duality was always alive in his culinary tastes and in the trips he shared with millions of viewers. He had a genuine passion for street food, because it was a way to learn about people and their feelings.
To move was one of his main motivations. He once said: “Move as much as you can. Go as far as possible. Cross the ocean or simply cross the river or even cross the street. Open your mind, leave the sofa behind. Move on”. For Bourdain, to move, meant to travel. Go places was an example of curiosity and respect for others, no matter how different they seemed to be or how many difficulties they were experiencing.
Anthony Bourdain in Chorrillo, buying tamales in the neighborhood
And so, once again, emerges the word that defined him so well: enthusiasm. Enthusiasm to see more, learn more, eat more, experience more, connect more. To establish bridges with people who do not resemble oneself, with different cultures, and find points in common with those you thought were distant and different.
Surely you’re wondering if Tony ever visited Panama to do one of his programs. Of course, he did. He was here as reflected in an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which was both endearing, enlightening and fun. I strongly recommend that you see it by clicking here.
But I’m not going to leave without first mentioning some stellar moments of Tony’s visit to Panama. Don’t worry, I will not reveal great details, nor will I ruin the experience. But I must tell you that Bourdain´s trip includes a visit to a secret spot where the Panamanian authorities destroy with fire 6 tons of coca seized from traffickers. We also enter El Chorrillo, where Bourdain buys a tamal from a street vendor, as a prelude to a classic feast of fried fish with patacones. And, of course, there are the ubiquitous ceviches. Bourdain devours them in the Seafood Market and in luxurious restaurants, and reminds us that Panama could originally mean “abundance of fish”, but in the present, its name should be translated as “abundance of ceviches”. Bourdain did visit Casco. He had lunch at the classic Kwang Chao on Av. B (we dedicated a previous blog entry to that traditional Chinese food restaurant, you can read it by clicking here.
Anthony Bourdain having lunch at a “fonda” in El Chorrillo
There is also a trip to Isla Grande and an unexpected visit to the old house of Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, today a ghostly and abandoned ruin.
Bourdain’s trip to Panama closes with a modest feast in an Emberá community, near the Sambú River. And while he eats pork with yucca and the children run around and the musicians set the pace of ancestral rhythms with their drums, his unmistakable voice once again addresses us: “The light fades, but the party goes on. This is one of those moments where I’m happy to be where I am and see what I’m seeing, surrounded by the generosity of strangers in a place very, very far from home. “