Our hero is dead, and so is our love

I didn’t become a fan of Anthony Bourdain until you came into my life. It was you who introduced me to the joys of cable TV, after all.

It was 2014. We had only been dating for a couple of months but moved in together, anyway. It just happened, and before we knew it, we were already sharing meals in the studio apartment owned by your family and watching the same shows on TV.

Before that, my idea of television was limited to the shows produced and aired by mainstream networks. While I was not too fond of these programs, I developed a sense of familiarity with them. I was well aware of how convoluted a teleserye plot could be, especially when ratings were high and the producers felt the need to stretch the storyline just to make more money. But still, I didn’t get them.

No wonder, lifestyle shows on cable TV seemed like a blessing from the heavens to me. Finally, something I could watch! I was especially amazed by Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” I admired how great of a storyteller he was, and how his features defied formats usually employed by other television personalities. I also liked how he respected different cultures and how humble he was each time he had to interact with people from the places he was visiting.

One of the episodes I could not forget about was that one on Glasgow. It was, to me, as truthful as truthful could get. Instead of going for the usual cheap tricks other hosts usually resorted to using, he chose to present the place as honestly as possible: He showed how dark and bland the place seemed and why, for many, this wasn’t considered a viable tourist destination at all. But of course, he also told about the beauty he found in it — all those lovely little things that made it unique. And yes, it had a lot to do with food.

You were so glad to welcome me into the fandom as I grew fonder and fonder of him, and as I became more familiar with his works, too. Then, eventually, you told me about “Kitchen Confidential,” something you had read and learned a lot from. It was, according to you, what taught you about why one should not order fish at any restaurant on a Monday. It was also where you learned how blasphemous ordering a well-done steak was. These revelations intrigued me, so I read the book as well. And I devoured it.

The next thing we knew, we were already treating it as our bible. All of a sudden, our decisions on what to eat and where were affected by the bits of knowledge we had acquired while reading that book. There were even times when you’d call me out for my “boring” and “too safe” food choices. Shame on me, you would say, before reminding me that I, too, would have to explore and strive to become an educated eater so as to uphold the teachings of Bourdain, our hero.

It was fun, I must admit. It even changed me for the better. From the overly picky eater that I used to be, I finally started trying new things out. I no longer asked for a well-done steak. I stopped myself from fancying dishes whose meat swam in too much sauce, knowing how chefs typically used those rich liquids to conceal flaws. I also tried to suppress my seemingly endless fascination with fried chicken, especially when eating out. Chicken meat was all about playing safe, as you often said, making a reference, of course, to the book. In other words, it was a boring choice. Something I should avoid, yes.

With all the bits of new wisdom inside my head, I also became more open to trying out different cuisines. I graduated from being the pasta girl and braved Korean restaurants in Malate, finally able to appreciate the beauty of unlimited side dishes. I also became a bit more daring to try other dishes at Japanese restaurants and broke up with karaage, which had been my go-to order.

I even agreed to go to a Greek restaurant in Makati once. Although its pretentious atmosphere irked me upon entering the establishment, I soldiered on. I bravely asked for the menu, threw quick yet sensible questions about dishes at the server, and ordered what I thought we’d enjoy. As soon as the food landed on our table, we looked into each other’s eyes, as though we were sending one another an important message telepathically: Mission successful!

Our cooking habits changed, too. Since we were eager to prove how much we were learning, we started buying spices and ensured each of them was used with the right type of meat or in the correct dishes. We also tried, as much as we could, to buy ingredients from nearby wet and dry markets instead of the big supermarkets close to where we were living.

We also became more appreciative of the people behind the meals we consumed. Now aware of the preparation process as well as the struggles usually faced by the people involved in the food industry, we waited for our orders more patiently, said “thank you” to the servers more often, and gave bigger tips.

Like many other things, food kept us close and made our relationship stronger. Our shared commitment to educating ourselves on food and the different processes involving it gave us something to hold on to and nourish, besides our feelings.

However, it came to a point when our shared enthusiasm for food could no longer save us. Perhaps, we simply grew apart. When not trying out interesting dishes or conjuring meals together, we were nothing but two different people with different sets of values and priorities.

Remember the last food trip we had together? It happened in Manila’s Chinatown on your birthday in 2017. We ate Indonesian Tauhu at Quik Snack along Carvajal Street and wolfed down a platter of Kuchay at Dong Bei. Then we shared half an order of Sincerity’s iconic fried chicken.

It seemed like a perfect day, except I had already been full of doubts about our relationship deep inside. You had been cold for the past few weeks, and I was getting tired of having to initiate most of our conversations and plan our dates. It was as if you were no longer interested in me and whatever we had. I don’t know if it was because I had chosen to move out of your place, or if you were simply no longer excited to spend time with me. In fact, earlier that day, I had to force you to meet up with me for us to do something together on your special day. You said you didn’t have work that day, it was your birthday, yet you’d rather stay at home and prepare for a company dinner you weren’t even required to attend.

Your coldness and lack of interest persisted even during the holidays. And then, one day, I just woke up and realized that I no longer cared much about you. Maybe I just got used to not having you around. Or, maybe, I just got tired. Maybe I just realized that enough was enough, that I should devote my time and energy to other things instead of chasing after you. And so I decided to call it quits. I insisted, even if you objected, even if you promised me you’d do better. I was simply done.

I will remember our love in the same way that I will remember Bourdain’s life, or what I know of it: It was good while it lasted.

I know that to this day, many people still believe that what we had was too great to be thrown away—just like that. I am sure they remain convinced that it could have not ended if only we had enough courage and drive to fight for it a little bit harder. But what do they know? Our relationship may have seemed ideal from a distance, but they aren’t aware of what we had to go through and how difficult things were for us, especially in the last months we spent together. They may have seen our relationship ideal from a distance, but they aren’t aware of what we had to go through and how difficult things were for us, especially in the last months we spent together.

In the same way, some people probably still have no idea what Bourdain had to go through while trying to live his life and what really pushed him to the edge, until he could no longer take it. And while they can live their lives wondering about the things they could have done differently in order to save him, one thing will remain unchanged: It is too late now. He’s dead.

And like him, our love is, too.

I wrote this essay in June 2018, a few days after Anthony Bourdain’s passing and five months after the death of a four-year relationship.

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