Like any writer or food lover or travel enthusiast or current or former service industry professional, the loss of Anthony Bourdain last week hit me pretty hard. I found Bourdain right around the time I started writing for this site back in 2010, and both things are pretty significant events in my personal history as a writer.
But that’s not what this post is about.
There are a lot of ways to view Oklahoma. Some people love it, see nothing wrong with anything, and are happy to continue on as if nothing ever needs to change. Some people hate it, can’t stand anything, and leave as soon as they possibly can. Most of us are ambivalent and exhausted. We’re tired of showing up for a state that doesn’t really ever seem to show up for us. We want to love this place and feel at home, but it’s hard when there’s a whole system in place that makes change or progress impossible.
I don’t think this makes Oklahoma special. I do think, though, to see all this requires nuance, and it’s the sort of nuance that most coastal media outlets don’t afford us when they tell our story.
For some reason, I always thought that if Anthony Bourdain got to film a show here, it would be different. I always thought he could show Oklahoma City as a place that has changed drastically, even though local advertisements and politicians rarely acknowledge it.
I’ve been thinking about this hypothetical show a lot, and more so since his passing. Here’s how I believe it would go.
Upon entering OKC, Bourdain would remark at how enjoyable the Will Rogers World Airport is. Sure, it’s just an airport, but it’s so easy to navigate, impossibly clean, and just generally chill. It’s a great way to be welcomed into a city, and I think a person who travels often would enjoy the novelty of such a quiet airport.
Sure, Bourdain would have to visit the standard places. But I like to think they wouldn’t make up much of the episode. But we always need to have that stark contrast, and to show what the world is purported to be, only so he can turn it on it’s head by the end of the episode. So we’d see Stockyards City so he could grab a meal at Cattlemen’s. But then, he’d really get to know OKC.
As a descendant of immigrants who carved out a piece of the American Dream for themselves by starting a restaurant, I like to think that Bourdain would hit up some local restaurants to find the real Oklahoma.
In the Asian District, he’d meet a family of restaurant owners. They’d serve him a meal in the restaurant, but then invite him for a meal at home later after taking him shopping through Super Cao. I also feel like Bourdain would really enjoy seeing the group of old men at Lee’s.
He’d definitely make a trip to south OKC, maybe to Crudoolandia for a drive thru michelada. Maybe our Louis would’ve taken him to the best taqueria. I like to think they would’ve eventually ended up at a big Mexican barbecue.
I like to think he would’ve had lunch with the proles at Nebu, and maybe planted a few seeds of revolution. And if he didn’t plant those seeds, at least he would’ve made fun of the oil and gas puppeteers that run this place.
I imagine he’d meet the young chefs of Nonesuch. He’d get the full experience. They’d talk about food and creating dishes and the business. They’d talk well into the night, occasionally stepping outside to smoke on the sidewalk along Hudson.
He probably would’ve stopped at Lovato’s School of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, since that’s a sport he enjoyed and practiced.
The episode would end with him comparing Cattlemen’s to the rest of his experience. He’d talk about how strong the establishment is here in Oklahoma City, but also how vibrant the immigrant communities are. He’d talk about how we still think of Oklahoma City as this white cowboy place, even though that’s functionally relegated to historical districts, and the immigrant-owned businesses are building the city in new directions.
Pretty symbolic, right? It’s the sort of nuance we deserve, but don’t often get.
Marisa, perhaps foolishly, once believed that if Anthony Bourdain ever came to Oklahoma, he would’ve wound up at her parents’ house for a night Persian-Mexican cuisine and a story about how Oklahoma made it possible for an Iranian man to meet a Mexican woman. Follow her on Twitter.