My Mentor, Anthony Bourdain


You never know who your teachers are going to be or where you’re going to find them.

I’ve never been one to talk to strangers on planes, in lines, while sitting in a concert hall waiting for the music to begin. It’s not that I’m afraid. I’m just afraid of being bored. I don’t deal well with boredom. Sometimes, I admit, I feel like I’m missing a lot by not engaging in conversation with people I don’t know, so I’ll give it a try. And often, after a few minutes, my most urgent need is to whip out my book and start reading fiercely.

Recently, my husband and I have been watching the TV show, now on Netflix, Anthony Bourdain: Parts UnknownBourdain, of course, is a chef, author, and TV personality who is often a harsh and cruelly witty judge on Top Chef. In Parts Unknown he visits cities around the world, many in challenged countries, and tries many different kinds of food.

It turns out he is a wonderful conversationalist. He treats everybody the same, whether he’s dining from elegant china in a Quebec restaurant or eating street food in Tripoli. He laughs, he asks people what they dream of for their country’s future, he jokes. He tastes all kinds of weird food. He seems really interested.

I decided I want to be more like him.

So a few days ago, I was early for a meeting and there was a young woman—I’ll call her J—whom I’ve known for a couple of years, but have never really spoken to. In truth, she just seemed distant and remote. She’s a friend of another young women, M, whom I am close to, but whenever I’ve spoken with M, J has just stood there silently, staring into the distance. I thought she didn’t like me.

But there she was and there was I, and I thought about what my new mentor, Anthony Bourdain, would do. I walked right up to J and asked her how she was. She answered briefly. I said that her father had told me she’d been having some health problems and how was she doing with that? And then she began to open up a bit. I listened, I asked a few questions, and then I told her I really hoped she would feel better soon.

A couple of hours later, after the meeting ended, she passed by me on the way out the door—and she gave me a hug.

Thank you, Anthony Bourdain.