Anthony Bourdain is probably one of the greatest story tellers and coolest globetrotters of the 21st century. But how did he become the Anthony Bourdain, whose life left a bitter-sweet taste in our mouths, and whose works had kept us craving for more?
Well, students of Nicholls State University in Louisiana in the United States will soon find out how Bourdain’s insatiable appetite for the unfamiliar, peculiar, and uncharted food, people, and places made him become the guy who definitely got “the best job in the world.”
Film Studies Advisor Todd Kennedy is set to dissect the life and work of the fearless world traveler and gourmand in a special class dedicated to everything Bourdain. The course will begin early next year, and Kennedy intends to pair his lessons with the writings and films that influenced the celebrity chef.
Bourdain passed away last June at 61. He was found dead inside his hotel room in Strasbourg, France, while filming an episode for the next season of CNN’s “Parts Unknown.”
When asked what prompted him to create such a course, Kennedy told INQUIRER.net in an email interview, that Bourdain’s sudden death played a big part.
“I didn’t really plan it (course) to ‘honor’ him, though I think that explains a lot of students’ interest in it. But his death did play a part. Mostly, in as much as I’d never really considered a course on him. When he died, it had a profound impact on me, that really surprised me, and I didn’t quite understand why,” he said.
“Thinking through and coming to terms with why I was moved so much, led me to really think about how complex his shows are/were, and led me to think of this as a potential course,” he added.
Kennedy explained that the process he went through to come up with the course include putting up together a list of ideas of things, such as books and movies, to pair with Bourdain’s travel episodes.
He proposed the class, a cross-listed literature and film studies course, to his department chair, and immediately got a thumbs-up.
“She liked the idea, and she approved it,” he said.
English 475: Anthony Bourdain and His Influencers
“Bourdain isn’t exactly a canonical figure in literary or filmic studies,” Kennedy noted.
But the film professor said the reason he wanted to focus on Bourdain’s “influencers” is because the host himself is not who you would associate as a figure in literary or film.
“And while I’d argue he should be—for film at least—that’s an uphill argument that I have to make,” he said.
So, he explained, the best way to dissect the intricacies of Bourdain’s show is “to look at his relationship to what influenced him.”
“Which also had the bi-product of leading me to more canonical filmic and literary texts,” Kennedy said.
In the course description posted on twitter by Kennedy, Bourdain was described as a “novelist, screenwriter, graphic novelist, chef, television personality” who “had a profound influence on contemporary food and travel writing and elevated an entire television genre as he created shows that were among the most ‘filmic’ in the history of the small screen.”
So, it’s happening. For real. And I doubt they ever let me do this again. So spread the word to interested Nicholls students: a cross-listed literature and film studies course on Anthony Bourdain and his Influencers @PartsUnknownCNNpic.twitter.com/eZXTcaWaIR
It added that what’s “even more radical, however, was the degree to which landmark novels and films influenced his own work.”
“Almost every episode of Bourdain’s shows directly reference and/or pay homage to a major work of literature or film as he develops his own visual and narrative argument about culture, politics, food, art, and the intersections therein,” the description further said.
A class walkthrough
Once the class starts being offered in early 2019, students will experience, absorb, and learn about who or what influenced Bourdain in his work.
“Each week we’ll read a book or watch a film that influenced Bourdain for an episode/s, and we’ll discuss that text in its own right,” Kennedy said when asked what the class will be like for students who plan to take it.
“Later in the week we’ll watch the Bourdain episode and talk about the conversation between Bourdain and his influencer, and how it impacts his view of the place he is visiting,” he added.
At the opening of the class, Kennedy noted students would be made sure to have “good background” on Bourdain through his memoir “Kitchen Confidentials,” which hit the shelves in 2000.
Tony’s noble, rare attribute
To Kennedy, the fact that Bourdain “approached every location and every topic on its own terms” was what the professor admired most about the rock star chef.
“He didn’t try to pigeonhole it to match something else. He wanted to understand the culture for what it was. He was always aware of his outside influences, biases, made his spectator aware of those influences, and then tried to understand where he was on the terms of the local culture,” Kennedy said.
“This led him to ask better questions than any answers he tried to give—a noble attribute, and rare in television these days,” he added.
Kennedy said enrollment for the class is not until November. However, he noted that “there has been a lot of interest on campus as well as worldwide.”
“I’ve had at least 20 potential students email me directly about the online section of the course, and I’ve been putting them all in touch with Nicholls Online,” he revealed.
The film professor said the class is “obviously designed with English and Film majors in mind” but assured that anyone who is interested “in culture, history, food, travel would have a lot to say in this course.”
“And, of course, Nicholls has a large and well respected Culinary Arts Department, so I’m sure a lot of those students will want to take the course,” he said. /kga