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Embracing the Parts Unknown


Mark Shillingford, Marketing Director  

About six years ago, I landed in China to take on a new marketing position with BASF in Shanghai. It wasn’t long before colleagues started teasing me for not picking up the language (despite my stellar charades skills). My reply to them would be this: you can live without speaking, but you can't live without eating. My lack of Chinese language skills aside, I could start to learn the culture through food and drink, which was also a natural fit for someone working in the agricultural industry.


My half-joking retort would always get a few laughs, but I live by the truth that food – and the rituals that go along with planning, preparing, serving and enjoying it with others – is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a new place, and establish human connections. No one truly understood this better than the late Anthony Bourdain.


Just over a year ago, the world tragically lost Anthony, and it had a big impact on me. On June 25 – Anthony's birthday – chefs and fans around the world, including me, celebrated the man who has had such as profound impact on how we approach our lives – not just personally, but professionally as well. So, with that in mind, I wanted to share just a few lessons I've learned from the way Anthony lived his life.

Nothing builds connection like respect and humility (and food)

I started watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown shortly after moving to China. The timing was fortuitous. I'd just come from Germany, where I had already made strides working in a new country. But China was a different game: I was definitely in the unknown. I needed some inspiration and Anthony served it up.


He was proof that closing a gap in culture isn't as hard as we might think. At every stage, from farm to fork, food is a way to build a common language, and to connect with people. Anthony could (and did) talk to anyone. He felt everyone deserved attention and respect, regardless of who they were. Whether he was in a greasy kitchen with a street food cook or dining with an elite celebrity, he treated everyone the same. He made every person feel important and comfortable. No pretense. No hierarchy.


I'll always admire that genuineness, and in life and at work, I try to emulate Anthony's talent for building connections and respecting one another.

It's all about the story

Anthony was a talented chef, author and TV host. But above all, he was a brilliant storyteller.


At BASF, I encourage my team to be storytellers every day. [quote] “Stories turn information into emotion and make what we have to say memorable. In any job and in every part of life, the more you can relate, the easier things are going to be, and there's nothing more relatable than a powerful story.”


There's no doubt that Anthony's storytelling abilities are what make him truly relatable and unforgettable. He had a unique, and frankly unmatched, ability to naturally weave in the culture and history of the places he travelled, educating his viewers not through lecture, but through real, human stories. Whether he was enjoying $6 noodles and beer at a local spot in Hanoi, Vietnam with Barack Obama, or scarfing a cheesesteak with his brother in his hometown of Camden, New Jersey, Anthony gave everyone equal opportunity to share their stories and experiences through a mutual love of food.


I hope one day I will have even a fraction of his intellect and deep knowledge of history, but for now, I try to stay curious, and hungry for knowledge that can be shared with others.

Be fearless – you'll be rewarded

As I started learning more about Anthony, I realized we both have daughters of a similar age, which made his work resonate with me on an even deeper level.


Being a parent isn't always easy, especially when it comes to meal times. At one point, my wife and I were making more than one meal to accommodate everyone's tastes. It was definitely not sustainable, so we decided to change it up. We started embracing taking risks in the kitchen, and risks with what we put on the table for our kids to learn to enjoy.  My eldest daughter and I now share a special bond over Chinese food – especially xiolongbao (Chinese steamed dumplings) – that has continued now that we’re in Canada. No matter where we are, I know her first question will always be, “can we find a good place for dim sum?”


Just as Anthony's fearlessness and passion for trying new things inspired me to expand my palate, now, my daughters are expanding theirs, too. Instead of being a challenge, food connects us as a family. Today, my daughters often join me in the kitchen, where I can see them developing their own senses of adventure and curiosity.


Despite never meeting him, I've been gutted by the loss of Anthony Bourdain. I've mourned him as I would a friend, just like countless other people around the world have. I'll celebrate his life every June 25, but also in the way that I aspire to live, every single day.