Entertainment perpetually continues to adapt and evolve. Twenty years ago, television viewers were introduced to travel shows. A 30-minute program would give the audience a snapshot glimpse into a foreign culture. For those beset by financial issues, time constraints, or a fear of flying, these shows would essentially serve as a de facto vacation once a week.
Additionally, culinary shows — predominantly from the Food Network — began rising up from the surface with considerable popularity. Pioneers such as Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Alton Brown all delighted with their idiosyncratic abilities in the kitchen. Iron Chef became a global phenomenon, despite the show airing entirely in Japanese.
Conventional wisdom suggested combining the two premises to form a highly potent aesthetic. We’ve seen forays made by various networks and personalities. Niche shows have been created to showcase a plethora of different angles — which have included binge eating, fast-paced cooking, extreme stunts, and even races around the world.
All have their endearing qualities — though three specific individuals have set the standard for quality programming in the field: Anthony Bourdain, Eddie Huang, and Action Bronson. Universally revered and loved by virtually everyone who watches them, one has to wonder…why is this the case?
Bourdain has long been a favorite in the field. Initially starting as a cult icon, he’s since made an emergence as a mainstream darling. Brash, inquisitive, unapologetic, authentic, and wickedly intelligent, Bourdain transitioned from the kitchen to behind the camera in 2002. Simply put, he is undoubtedly a true bastion of the food-travel amalgam.
Although initially a lawyer, Huang abandoned that plan in favor of a career in media. His academic background — coupled with the experience he garnered whilst working at his father’s restaurant as a child — spurred Huang on into his involvement in the food world. While he’s not a chef, Huang is masterful in exploring humanity as a whole. Food is merely a backdrop for the innate desire to learn about various cultures throughout the globe.
Bronson had traditional beginnings in the business — though an unconventional shift in his profession allowed for a full-circle transition of sorts. He began as a chef at a fine dining restaurant in New York. He ultimately broke his leg whilst slipping on something during a shift. While he was on the sidelines, Bronson began writing bars. This then led to him becoming one of the more popular rappers over the last five years. While he’s not considered a giant in the industry, his easy going personality — in addition to his eccentric love of food — gave him a serious following.
One could pinpoint crossover traits between the trio. All of them are charismatic individuals. All of them have an intimate knowledge of the culinary world. All of them are wildly talented in their own unique way. However, each of these individuals are loved due to their ability to connect with individuals from all walks of life.
There’s a larger responsibility at stake here. Whether intentionally inherited or not, Bourdain, Huang, and Bronson fully embrace the altruistic act of embracing diversity in all forms. Those will be quick to peg Parts Unknown, Huang’s World, and F*ck, That’s Delicious as merely cooking shows. Yes, food is an integral aspect of each program. However, it’s not the defining emphasis. Food is merely a vehicle used to galvanize the conversation made applicable to the specific cultures.
Each of the three have spent large chunks of time with people from differing socioeconomic settings. In one episode, Bourdain will be sitting comfortably in the hunting cabin of famed chef Paul Bocuse. In another, he’ll be breaking bread with a displaced Palestinian family amidst the tensions in Israel. Huang isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to making people leap out of their respective comfort zones. One notable trip had Huang in Moscow — where he was digging deep at the class divide between native Russians and the disenfranchised working class of Uzbeks.
While Bronson isn’t as political or serious as the aforementioned duo, his impact within the program is just as significant. He does a brilliant job in celebrating food from all reaches of the world. He’ll genuinely be elated to partake in food at a local Kebab shop in London. His down-to-earth persona makes guests on his show feel at ease, and his disposition in general exudes genuine warmth.
Bourdain and Huang each delve into the respective histories of the places they’re visiting. It helps the audience gain a larger perspective for the current situation of the said country. This was clearly made apparent during Bourdain’s trip to Iran, and in regards to Huang’s capturing of the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump. None of the three try to shove a self-crafted agenda down anyone’s throat. Rather, a clear sense of the country — both in the past and present — is demonstrated. From there, the audience can get a truncated exploration of the tendencies, quirks, fears, injustices, cultural practices, and moods experienced within these places. Misconceptions of a place and its peoples may be cleared up by the tangible nature of interaction on camera.
Bourdain, Huang, and Bronson are figureheads within a movement of tolerance. Those with platforms have the opportunity to influence one’s mindset one way or the other. The respect exuded by all three is something of note. There’s not a universal set of standards and practices for which every single country has to abide by. As such, they’re careful to not intentionally offend anyone when offered a signature dish, or even a local drink. This heterogeneous way of life is what makes life truly fascinating. Each location has its own story, which has been molded and remolded for hundreds (and thousands) of years.
A homogeneous environment — from both a cultural and racial standpoint — would make for an utterly vapid and unfulfilled existence. Within the last year, an increased bubbling of xenophobia has began flooding the surface of the world’s collective ethos. These individuals rooted in hate should watch the programs of Bourdain, Huang, and Bronson. While the shows may not sway them from this abhorrent and archaic mindset, it will offer them a chance to see the world in its intended positive light.
Image Source: Vogue