Anthony Bourdain and His Influencers Inspire a New College Course

A professor at a Louisiana college believes the late chef and television host has much to teach us
Anthony Bourdain
CNN

Anthony Bourdain, who died in June at age 61, was in many ways, a teacher. The chef and television host taught readers about food, sure, but also about reaching out across cultural lines and borders to bring the world closer together.

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And now, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, is offering a spring class called “Anthony Bourdain and His Influencers,” taught by Todd Kennedy, director of the university's film studies program and associate professor of English. It’ll be taught at the school in spring, and an online version will be offered as well.

“I always respected what (Bourdain) did, but never imagined teaching a course on him,” Kennedy told The Daily Meal. Yet Bourdain’s death in June affected him in a way he didn’t understand, and he tried to figure out why.

“I started really thinking about Anthony Bourdain and why I was so shaken by his loss,” he said. “It led me to really think about how original and complex and important what he did was. And so I started thinking about a class.”

Todd Kennedy

The course will examine Bourdain’s television projects along with the major works of literature and film that inspired him.

"I started realizing in almost every episode there's these obscure visual allusions to films that probably only he and his cinematographers were likely to know," Kennedy told CNN.

Filmmakers and authors alike influenced the way Bourdain presented his episodes. His Tokyo "Parts Unknown" episode pays homage to Sofia Coppola's 2003 film "Lost in Translation," and a Rome-set episode of Bourdain's earlier show, "No Reservations," evokes such famed Italian film directors as Federico Fellini.

On the literary side, Kennedy plans to begin with Bourdain’s own memoir, “Kitchen Confidential,” and include books such as A.J. Liebling's “Between Meals,” Lydia Lunch's “Will Work for Drugs,” Joseph Conrad's “Heart of Darkness,” Jim Harrison's “Legends of the Fall,” and Graham Greene's “The Quiet American."

The response, to a class that won’t begin for months, was fairly overwhelming, Kennedy admits, noting that Bourdain has a “zillion” fans, “and they are all really passionate.”

But they also seem to legitimately care about the man and his message.

“It seems like most, if not all, of Bourdain's fans are really interested in what Bourdain had to say, what he meant, what he represented,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t seem like the typical cult-of-the-celebrity group.”

The semester-long, in-person class at the school can accommodate 30 students. But even if you aren't in Louisiana, truly interested scholars can take the half-semester online course through Nicholls Online Education. That course is capped at 25, though more could be added later. At least 20 people from outside the university have emailed asking how to enroll, though Kennedy says it’s too early to tell how many are serious.

“This has all gotten so big so fast, we are just kind of waiting to see,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy recalls hearing the news of the host’s death while he and his wife were in Spain, ironically heading to a favorite restaurant of Bourdain’s.

“We were stunned,” he said. “And we ended up going anyway, and eating (one of Bourdain’s favorite dishes) in stunned silence, tears literally streaming down our faces.”

Many fans, he says, were equally touched by the news.

“It’s hard to imagine (Bourdain’s death) won't come up and have to be dealt with in some way, shape or form in the course,” he said. “But, mostly, I want to always steer discussion back to his work. That's what we can study and discuss objectively.”

Bourdain and his CNN travel-food show, "Parts Unknown," recently won six Emmy Awards, including the award for outstanding writing which had eluded Bourdain in previous years. It’s just further proof of how Bourdain forever changed the food world.

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