Seeking Revelation in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

Liz Wann

Anthony Bourdain is more than just a crass, foodie traveler known for eating rotten shark meat and a still-beating cobra heart. In his CNN show Parts Unknown, Bourdain reveals the many layers of faraway cultures. Fast Company’s Rob Brunner writes that "Bourdain is on a mission to illuminate underappreciated and misunderstood cultures, whether it's Myanmar or Detroit. He regularly takes viewers to the sorts of places—Libya, Gaza, Congo—that most Americans know only from grim headlines about political strife and body counts."

Season 7 of Parts Unknown concluded in the streets of Buenos Aires this past June. The episode hinged on extended therapy sessions, as Bourdain invited us into the "dark crannies of my skull" in honor of the psychology-obsessed Argentinians. He can also be found engaging in the local pastime of lawn chair-lounging and beer sipping while watching airplanes land.

Buenos Aires was only the latest stop in a journey that began many years ago, even before Bourdain published his seedy life story in Kitchen Confidential. Bourdain’s first stop, in many ways, was Tokyo. In an interview with Men’s Journal, Bourdain recalled his life-changing trip to the city. "I came back thinking about everything in a completely different way,” he said. “I went there thinking there were a certain amount of primary colors. I came back knowing, in fact, there were 10 or 12 more. It made me want to do things. It showed me there was so much more in the world than I had any idea about—there was so much to learn and there was so much stuff out there."

The places Bourdain has experienced will be represented before the throne of God.

Tokyo was the seed that birthed wanderlust in Bourdain; it made him hungry for more. Since Tokyo, Bourdain has traveled the globe eating with local artists, chefs, musicians, and political activists, learning about himself and teaching us along the way. Every culture in Parts Unknown opens up new possibilities for self-revelation, beauty, joy, and longing. The taste of fiery curries, the tangy flavors of bread with a crispy crust and soft airy center, and the intricate ways of plating and serving all show that food is a delight from God meant to point us to something greater. We can catch glimpses of heaven with Bourdain.

Wanderlust is in us all—that drive for more, to know more, see more, and have a life-altering experience. It's the pulse that tells us we're alive. The rush Bourdain experienced in Tokyo is indicative of a longing for another place, a reminder that this world is a shadow of what's to come. And when we pass through the shadow and into the form of whom the shadow was cast we will come face to face with Christ.

C.S. Lewis refers to this idea in The Weight of Glory: "The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing... For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

All the beautifully exotic sights, sounds, and tastes Bourdain has experienced will be represented before the throne of God, as people from every tribe and nation bow down in worship. Parts Unknown reminds us that from the beginning of time God's plan of redemption included a diverse group of people. Until we join with the colorful heavenly throng, we long for the thing itself by exploring the primary colors of Tokyo.

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, News & Politics, World