Former President Barack Obama met with Bourdain during a Parts Unknown shoot in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2016. The men shared a meal and a conversation that resembled what two fathers and food lovers might have shared instead of an exchange between the leader of the free world and a celebrity chef. Obama’s tweet punctuated that meeting, reminding us (page 5) of one big reason, among many, why we’ve lost so much more.
1. The setting was 100% Bourdain
Where do you meet the President of the United States? If you are Anthony Bourdain you choose Hanoi, Vietnam, of course. After the meeting, Bourdain wrote in a piece for CNN about why he selected the location, “I love Vietnam. Everybody on my crew loves Vietnam. We have a lot of experience working there, we have friends, connections, favorite dishes, favorite restaurants. It’s beautiful. We know we can reliably do our best work there.”
Next: This was why Bourdain chose that particular restaurant.
2. Bourdain had a gift for choosing the right dining experience
Bourdain was determined to strip away any polished layers that may have been on the agenda for other interviews. “It’s always seemed pointless to me to go all the way to someplace as extraordinary as Vietnam and spend time in an air-conditioned, Western-style restaurant with tourist-friendly food,” he wrote for CNN. “The President, I guessed, had spent more than his share of time in the banquet rooms of major chain hotels, slogging through long state dinners, eating representative menus of ‘national dishes.’”
Next: The meal they shared was authentic.
3. Both men tweeted about the menu and ambiance
Following the encounter, Bourdain shared the iconic image of the men with the tweet, “Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.” In his tribute, Obama echoed Bourdain’s share in his Twitter tribute, “Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.”
Bourdain wrote about how important that meal was to the locals as a few people approached him, expressing their pride that Bourdain took President Obama to the kind of place where they ate. Sitting on plastic stools, eating authentic bun cha, and drinking Hanoi beer.
Next: Obama reminds us that Bourdain unified people.
4. Bourdain brought people and cultures together
Obama also tweeted about one of Bourdain’s unique gifts. “He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together.” Bourdain had a sense of exhilaration writing about how the people of Vietnam were excited to see Obama in their country.
When the Vietnamese, especially young people, saw how Bourdain brought the president to their country, he wrote in CNN, “The effect was extraordinary. I cannot possibly overstate the warmth with which he was received by the Vietnamese — particularly the young ones — who were not even alive during the war years, for whom America appears a far, far more attractive (and less threatening ) model than China.”
Next: But this was one thing that Obama reminds us we tragically lost too.
5. No one shows us the world like Bourdain
In addition to his many gifts, the one thing Bourdain could do was take viewers on his journey to parts unknown. Some of the places and dishes Bourdain happily dove into were often uncomfortable or extremely remote. Bourdain took viewers to tag along and see the world through his eyes, words, and food.
Obama ended his tweet that Bourdain had the ability, “To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.” Other interviewers may have opted for a comfortable setting with less traditional dishes if they had the chance to interview the president. But Bourdain went for the truly authentic, a move that was not lost on Obama. Bourdain recapped some of his favorite destinations for CNN, many of which most people only dream of visiting.
Next: Obama reminds us to keep Bourdain’s memory alive.
6. Bourdain’s authenticity stayed with Obama
As people share their favorite Bourdain stories and memories, Obama said the little restaurant, food, and those plastic stools will stay with him. “This is how I’ll remember Tony,” Obama tweeted. “We’ll miss him.”
When Bourdain wrote about his decision to meet with Obama at the family-run noodle restaurant, he said the Secret Service was less than thrilled. But Bourdain was real and, knowing that his decision made Secret Service member’s jobs harder he wrote in his CNN piece, “I’d like to thank them. They were, all of them, very nice guys with thick necks. Many of them had to spend a lot of time standing stoically in the driving rain.”
Next: What wasn’t said in the tweet (but was all over it)?
7. This may be why his meeting with Bourdain stayed with Obama
Bourdain wrote for CNN that he didn’t want to just “interview” Obama or be a platform to discuss foreign policy. Rather, he wanted to meet with the president as two fathers, who enjoy food, conversation, and a cold beer. Bourdain asked Obama what he thought about dealing with opposition, to which Obama responded that we should be having a dialog with people who disagree with us. And as a father concerned about his child growing up in what seems to be a dangerous world, he asked Obama if after hearing all the intelligence briefings, would it be o.k. as his daughter grew up? “He replied with confidence that on balance, it would,” Bourdain wrote.
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