On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Anthony Bourdain was a chef. He was an author. He was the host of his own cooking and travel TV show, Parts Unknown. In between those roles, he also juggled a number of other ventures in publishing, with Anthony Bourdain Books, films, and magazines – he was the sole investor and editor-at-large at culture & politics website Roads & Kingdoms.
I change location every two weeks. I’m not a cook, nor am I a journalist. The kind of care and feeding required of friends, I’m frankly incapable of. I’m not there. I’m not going to remember your birthday. I’m not going to be there for the important moments in your life. We are not going to reliably hang out, no matter how I feel about you. For fifteen years, more or less, I’ve been travelling two hundred days a year. I make very good friends a week at a time.Anthony Bourdain’s Moveable Feast | The New Yorker
When asked why he worked so much and rarely took a break, Bourdain explained that he was afraid of an “inner hippie” taking over his life. “I understand that free time is probably my enemy. That if I’m given too much free time to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, I’m afraid of that inner hippie emerging,” he told Men’s Journal.
“There’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, and smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons, and old movies. I could easily do that. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.”
So, he worked. A lot. At a constant, frenetic pace. He told Maria Bustillos for a Popula interview that shortly after he finishes a big project – writing a book or filming a season of Parts Unknown – and he has a few weeks of free time, he’ll begin to panic and “start overcommitting to a lot of projects, maybe comfortably removed from that date but I do suddenly feel like: What do I do now?”
Filming Parts Unknown took up a majority of his time. The CNN show, which spanned 12 seasons from 2013 to 2018, featured Bourdain visiting off the beaten path spots around the world from a cultural and culinary perspective: revisiting the 1992 Los Angeles riots in Koreatown, dining with locals in Punjab, discussing politics in Istanbul, exploring Okinawa’s history, sharing a beer with President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam and many more.
According to a New Yorker profile piece, the No Reservations host had “travelled to nearly a hundred countries and has filmed two hundred and forty-eight episodes, each a distinct exploration of the food and culture of a place.”
Though Bourdain was on the road for over 250 days a year, he had a few set rules to ensure some sort of work-life balance. He never filmed two destinations back to back, and reserved five days a month to spend time with his daughter, Ariane, who lives with his ex-wife, Ottavia Busia, in New York. He also made frequent flights to Rome to spend time with his girlfriend, Italian actress, singer and director, Asia Argento.
“I’ll go back, see my daughter, unpack, repack, mimic a normal life, which is extraordinarily pleasurable to me,” he told People magazine. “I really love doing laundry. When I go home, putting my laundry in the machine and then hearing the dryer going around, that’s very comforting to me.”
I need deadlines, I need pressure, I need my mind to be working.Bourdain Confidential | Popula
In a 2013 interview with Fast Company, Bourdain described himself as a morning person, a habit formed from his early years as a writer, who woke up at 6am every day, no matter what time zone he’s in. He broke down what a typical daily routine looked like for him while filming Parts Unknown:
I wake up early. Any writing I did during my career in the restaurant business required that I do it before a 12-hour-or-more shift in the restaurant. So I’m a morning person. I try and get done as much as I can before noon. Any notes on editing for the show, or editing a manuscript, or any important conversations–those are best done in the morning. I’m at my most productive before I even have my first cup of coffee. I only get slower and stupider as the day progresses. I’m honestly the first person on set. I’m there in the lobby waiting for the camera crew. As a chef, I spent so many years in a business with a lot of moving parts, and when I’m in a situation where there are a lot of things to do, I’m very organized. I relentlessly check and double-check that all of the little pieces are moving the way they’re supposed to be moving. Holding it together is clearly part of my pathology. I like to be in control. Even on summer vacation, I write a menu of what I’m going to be cooking for dinner.How Anthony Bourdain Slays His Lazy Inner Hippie Every Morning | Fast Company
While he was busy enough already with filming, writing and globetrotting around the world, Bourdain also found time to practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a sport he fell in love with when Busia, who is a mixed martial artist, invited him to one of her training sessions in 2014.
“I always train in the morning. I’m not eating lunch and then going for a roll. I wake up, have a little water, and then it’s straight there,” Bourdain told Men’s Journal, describing a typical training day for him. “It’s incredible for you physically. I feel like I lose eight pounds after five rounds. You’re pouring water. Then you eat an immense meal after and feel just fine about it.”
“I’d never been in a gym in my life. I was 35 pounds overweight, a chain smoker, flabby, zero cardio,” he said to Men’s Health. “Taking stairs was not fun. To my shock and surprise, I endured, barely, that first session. I found it very strategically and intellectually intriguing. I like problem solving and I also like being the stupidest person in the room.”
One of my great joys in places that I love, and have come to love, is to sit and watch daily life. You learn so much. You learn so much more about Saigon, for instance, sitting on a low plastic stool, drinking coffee or eating some spicy noodles — just watching the Vietnamese, how they live, where they go, the rhythms of daily life. It’s deeply satisfying, enlightening, and instructive.‘Don’t Be Afraid to Just Sit and Watch.’ What Anthony Bourdain Taught Us About Travel and Humanity | CNN
Before you go…
Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.