This summer I am traveling to Vietnam, because you have written that it is your favorite place on Earth. In the years since I first picked up Kitchen Confidential I have had the privilege of seeing much of the world through your eyes. A devotee of your essays and memoirs and travel shows, I discovered distant cuisines and communities, and now places as seemingly remote as the Congo and Beirut have opened to me, a Jewish girl from the Bay Area, thanks to your thorough pursuit of knowledge—better yet, of understanding.
You are the guide that makes these parts knowable. You can enter any room with your balance of acerbic wit, total respect and sincere curiosity, and disarm people, connect with them, truly see them. You taught me that flavors are a gateway into other worlds, a bridge across continents and eras.
You have introduced me to some of my very favorite tastes and most vibrant memories—Under Bridge Spicy Crab and roasted goose in Hong Kong, “carrot cake” in Singapore, fresh cheese with local honey in Sardinia (a stop on my honeymoon with the express purpose of eating what we watched you eat there). An episode of “No Reservations” featuring an endless green noodle brought me, miraculously, (after attempts to communicate its whereabouts to two different cab drivers) to a noodle shop in Beijing, where I got to deploy my Rosetta Stone-practiced Mandarin, “two beers and one tea, please.”
I am lucky to have had many food-lover influences in my life. But it was you who saved me from inheriting my Mom’s germophobia (my brother got it, sadly), by showing me that a willingness to commune over a choice cut of “squeezle” or glass after glass of home-brewed Chinese moonshine will pay dividends in experience, even if it may wreak havoc on the digestive system.
Your veneration for other food cultures inspires me to want to taste the world. Your humility in writing that the more you travel, the less you know fuels my curiosity and my sense of adventure. I am proud to claim you as an American ambassador to other lands. Your tough-guy persona belies a deep commitment to the values of respect, humility and kindness.
Before I had the terminology for what I was, (“foodie” is so obnoxious, anyhow), I was simply someone who had an insatiable hunger for travel, for chocolate almond croissants, galaktabourekos, lamb vindaloo and claypot chicken. And you were my beacon, guiding me to the certainty that a life devoted to making a true connection over a shared plate was possible, even admirable. You showed me that food is the universal language that tells our stories when words cannot. Someday I hope to be half the explorer and translator that you are.