Bourdain’s greatest asset, as I am neither the first nor hundredth to point out, was not his vast culinary experience, barfly’s wisdom, or even his world-weary good looks. He had all of that in spades, of course. But his triumph was his ability to drop himself literally anywhere in the world, recognize the humanity of the people he found there, and reveal it to the rest of us. His talent was knowing strangers; his credo, it might be said, is that strangers deserve to be known.
Take it from me: it is really fucking difficult to tell people’s stories on screen without flattening them into caricatures. If you take anything from this tribute to Bourdain, I hope it’s this. What he did was so, so hard, and he did it so naturally that you’d never know it unless you’ve tried to do it, too. I’ve tried to do it and I’m here to tell you, it’s monumentally unnatural. Food/Groups was orders of magnitude less rich, wide-ranging, or complex as anything Bourdain ever did (and I am orders of magnitude less talented than he was), but even so, it was, without question, the hardest I’ve worked in my career to date.