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Letter: Bourdain made it OK for the restaurant industry to be a chosen profession

"Anthony Bourdain is dead." That was the headline I woke up to from my phone Friday morning. His name might not mean much to some. You may have caught one of his TV shows and recognized him as "the guy that travels around the world and eats food." He most definitely was that guy, but to many of us who have spent several years working in bars, restaurants and the food service industry in general, he was the guy who made it OK to have that be your chosen profession.

Ask anyone who works or has ever worked in a bar or restaurant what the most common question is that they get from a customer, and 9 out of 10 will likely give you some form of this response, "So, is this your only job?" or "What else do you do for a living?" As if employment in the food service industry couldn't possibly be what anyone wanted to do for a career.

From my perspective, Bourdain made it OK for the restaurant industry to be your chosen path. More than just OK, he made many of us embrace the lifestyle of being a cook, a bartender, a server; the late nights, the long hours, dealing with unruly people. We love(d) that stuff!

Outside of my family, the best people I know have been the ones I have worked with in bars and restaurants. I haven't talked to some of them for several years, but I know that each one of them would be there for me at the drop of a hat, as I would for them.

I didn't know Bourdain. I'm not even sure why I felt the need to write about his passing, but I felt a deep sadness when I learned of his death. I loved his show, his writing, his humor, his voice. Most of all, I think I loved how he always made food the backdrop of something deeper and more meaningful: a gathering with familiar friends and family or someone you've just met. It didn't matter. As long as you have the commonality of food, you're in for a good time.

As someone who works in an industry that's main purpose is to make people happy with food and/or drink, he's been an inspiration to me as he has for countless others. I think it was his insatiable curiosity for life and learning new things, meeting new people, being open to new ideas (and new food), and absorbing new cultures throughout the world. Good or bad, food is a universal language.

He may no longer be with us, but Bourdain has left a legacy--and quite honestly an attitude--that will be felt for decades to come. So, to all my fellow food service employees, the next time someone asks you, "What else do you do for a living?" like me you can kindly respond, as you hold back your frustration with a smile, "This is what I do. How may I help you?"

Nelson lives in Fargo.

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