“I’m not a Middle East expert. I’m not an Africa expert. I’m not a foreign policy wonk,” Bourdain told Fast Company magazine in 2014. “But I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don’t. If we have a role, it’s to put a face on people who you might not otherwise have seen or cared about.”
Viewers appreciated this personal touch. Among the many tributes to him on social media, there were numerous tweets from people who liked that he did not waltz into a new place and attempt to sum it up neatly.
Iran was the country that surprised him the most, Bourdain told National Geographic.
“The people you meet, the mood, and the streets are very different than Iranian foreign policy and the Iran we have to deal with on a geopolitical level,” he said.
His shows were not just about taking viewers to places they had never been, he also had a knack for taking local viewers along for the ride too.
The New Yorker once called him a “travelling statesman” – inspired by an episode in Vietnam where he dined with then-President Barack Obama – yet his language was rarely diplomatic and own political opinions regularly came crashing to the fore.
In one undiplomatic outburst, he told TMZ he would never go to North Korea for his show, calling it “bad taste” to eat in a country where “most of the population are starving” and damning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “chubby” because “nobody else eats”.
Filipino chef Joel Binamira thanked him for “shining the global spotlight” on their food in an Instagram post, while others praised the episode of Parts Unknown filmed in the country in which he called Filipinos “probably the most giving of all people on the planet”.
“You trusted him with Your Heritage,” the thread reads. “He understood the complexity of people just as well as he understood the complexity of food.”