CNN’s Parts Unknown is the latest project from chef, author and cultural aficionado Anthony Bourdain, increasingly hailed as one of “the most interesting men in the world,” an obvious reference to the now beloved Dos Equis’ promotions. In Bourdain’s case, the label feels oh so appropriate, and there’s a message in this for the rest of us. If we want to be more interesting—and who doesn’t?—guys like Bourdain are worth emulating.
He lives in the moment, his cynical but open mind exploring the world in a constant exchange of food, culture, ideas and perhaps most importantly, friendship. Bourdain isn’t an island unto himself. He meets up with friends old and new, a diverse array of ambassadors from the lands hosting each week’s show. He’s not just an interesting man; he’s a thoroughly social man.
If it’s not obvious, I love this show. It’s one of the most educational and well-produced programs on television, but it never lacks for entertainment. When Bourdain endured that crudely applied tattoo in Borneo this season, we could feel that. The latest stroll through South Carolina with Bill Murray was a double shot in the iconic, cool guy department. This is can’t-miss TV for anyone who loves a good story, some food porn and a visually stunning account of the world’s unexplored corners.
But what can we learn from the Bourdain way? How can we be more interesting, too?
The Ultimate Foodie
Everyone loves food in some form or fashion, and we love looking at it, too—watching others enjoy it, even. Stylish portrayals of the food’s preparation and consumption can be transfixing, all the more so when we’re seeing a new dish for the first time. Forget about keeping your culinary virginity. This experience is about trying new things, and Bourdain is never shy about doing so.
It’s not a gross-out competition by any means, not to be confused with shows about exclusively strange and off-putting foods. Bourdain enjoys his share of the basics, too—from street food to classic Southern barbecue. But there’s a diversity of foods and forms on display here, a celebration of artful hedonism in all its many guises.
We don’t all have to be foodies, but it never hurts to care about something enough that you study it for a lifetime. For Bourdain, that’s food and its shared experiences. What is that thing for you, and how can you use it to bring people together?
We like to hear ourselves talk, but much can be learned in the listening. Bourdain may not be a classically trained journalist, but he does some of the finest reporting on any news network. He poses thoughtful, on-point questions to his interlocutors, and they reward him with authentic commentary. For a host who’s become kind of a big deal, Bourdain is perfectly content to put the spotlight on others, focusing his attention on their histories, stories and opinions. This is fundamentally a show about the philosophical and cultural Other, a meditation on the things we share and sometimes what we don’t.
Make no mistake; Bourdain is part of the story. He’s a central part, and he’s honest about who he is. That is, perhaps, essential to respecting the differences and similarities he shares with others.
We should be asking questions, too. And we should be listening. You’ll find that others almost always see that as an endearing quality. There’s nothing wrong with having something to say, but you can often make the boldest statements by not making a statement at all—by asking a question, instead.
Bourdain paints political portraits with both broad narrative strokes and concrete, specific examples. He may not be a conventional political expert—but he certainly knows his history and themes. And he’s well-informed.
People appreciate that. If we’re willing to spend hours each week working out the body, why not show the mind some similar love? Of course, it can be difficult to keep up with current and global events. Unless it’s your job to know these things, it’s not easy to keep one’s finger on the pulse of Turkey’s now rapid investment in urban development—and the fact that it may be coming at the expense of the nation’s rich history. We can’t have it all covered quite like the Bourdains of the world.
But we can at least try to be fairly well read… in something, at least. Anyone can make him or herself into a quasi-expert about something. It may require a little time and focus, but it will enrich you and make you more interesting.
At his heart, Bourdain is an explorer for the modern age. There’s a lot to be learned from that kind of approach, wherever and however we choose to explore. It doesn’t have to be about geography or culture. It doesn’t have to be about food.
But we should all look to absorb the world around us in important ways, and we should try to share that experience with others. There’s something distinctly human about that. And if the big ideas don’t persuade you, maybe take a practical note from one of the most interesting men in the world.
Take a friend out to eat somewhere new. Ask some questions. And just listen.