Bourdain Day Is About Turning Grief Into Celebration, Say the Chefs Who Created It
Grief is often a personal experience. When Anthony Bourdain died on June 8 of last year, private mourning consumed many of us. The man who had showed us how to live was suddenly gone. But celebration, that's easy, and it's meant to be shared. Bourdain's birthday was June 25, and to mark it this year, his longtime friends and celebrity chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés are calling on everyone, anyone, to raise a glass of beer, wine, or water—or perhaps bone marrow sucked from a straw in a Singapore marketplace, Bourdain-style—and toast to the man on what would be his 63rd birthday.
"I suffered so much grief after what happened that I only hope people will turn all that grief into happiness of life, and remembering how Tony made the world a smaller place by bringing us all together," Andrés told me over the weekend. "I hope that this is a place that many people will go, will enjoy life, will have a drink. They will cook, they will go to a food truck. They will go to [a] picnic. They will go to [a] street vendor. A hot dog, a fancy restaurant, whatever. And they will toast Tony and wish, 'Happy Bourdain Day' on Instagram, on [the] internet, on Twitter. That's it."
Just an image, a video, or even a few words, accompanied by the hashtag #BourdainDay—the world is invited to make this small gesture into a big thing, because that's what Bourdain did best.
"Anthony touched so many people. He was a celebrity worldwide. People from [a] very young age to older people were his audience. Some very humble people, blue-collar people, some wealthy people," Ripert told me late last week. "He was able to bring everybody together, and because of that, we want everybody to be able to celebrate. It's very simple to just open a beer and cheer and say, 'Happy birthday, Tony'—or say whatever you want about Anthony. We wanted this process to be very democratic."
There are a lot of things to say about how Bourdain changed people. Ripert, who met him years ago in New York at his acclaimed restaurant Le Bernardin, recalls how Bourdain taught him to be generous with his fame while they toured the country together for their live show, Good vs. Evil, a few years back.
"We would finish around 11 o'clock at night and then we would have a book signing and picture session with the spectators, and it would be lines around the block, with thousands of people waiting," Ripert says. "Myself, I was kind of impatient and wanted to go back to my room. And I was tired, also, by the performance. And Anthony would make sure that we stay until the last person has a signature, or has his picture with us. To me, [it] was very inspiring to see that. He was very respectful of his fans."
"It's very simple to just open a beer and cheer and say, 'Happy birthday, Tony'—or say whatever you want about Anthony."
(He was also, Ripert adds, a master of linguine con vongole.)
Andrés, who has known Bourdain for years, remembers him as a good father and a good friend. When Andrés was doing remarkable relief work down in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Bourdain texted him to check in, then texted him again to urge him to tell his story from the storm-destroyed island. In September, Andrés published We Fed an Island.
"In my case, and in the case of many others, he was always there trying to give a push to help anybody else or any other idea that he was thinking was worth helping," Andrés says. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have that Puerto Rican book probably, because why would I? This is who Tony always was."
Both Andrés and Ripert know that many will continue to think of Anthony Bourdain on June 8. And there is much to consider about his passing, the struggles of maintaining mental health, and how to look out for those who need help and aren’t getting it. Though those issues are very real, Andrés and Ripert hope there is room for celebration on his birthday, and for many Bourdain Days to come. "I think that's what friends are for: We are always saying that we are here only to celebrate, but I believe we are all there to support each other," Andrés says. "In my personal thing, this makes me be more aware of people around me, when I feel like they have a low day or are going through a bad moment."
"He was always there trying to give a push to help anybody else or any other idea that he was thinking was worth helping."
Ripert thinks Bourdain would not have wanted people to celebrate on the day he died. "I think that the end of his life obviously is traumatic and emotional, but [it] is not as important as the beginning of his life and what he has achieved in his life, and the inspiration that he brought to people," he says.
I ask Andrés what he thinks Bourdain would have said about this whole thing. Probably, something along the lines of, "Fuck off. What the heck are you doing?" he tells me. He laughs. "He was not the guy that looked a lot for himself in that sense. He always escaped the praise, and especially the easy praise."
Undoubtedly, though, Bourdain would be proud to know that the Culinary Institute of America, which he attended, set up a scholarship in his name to help young men and women travel the world.
Andrés and Ripert were both in Singapore for the World's 50 Best Restaurant ceremony when Bourdain Day began for them hours ahead of us. They drank beer, ate street food, and toasted to their good friend Tony.
If you or someone you know is struggling or just needs to talk, call the HOPELINE Project, a 24/7 crisis support hotline for depression and suicide prevention; (02) 804-HOPE (4673), 0917 558 HOPE (4673) and 2919 (toll-free number for all Globe and TM subscribers).
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.