(CNN)The London (and England) show is another example of my crew and I heading out to do one thing and, due to a sudden change in circumstances, finding ourselves doing something else entirely.
Anthony Bourdain visits London as it reels from the Brexit vote. “Parts Unknown” airs Sunday at 9 p.m.
What we wanted and expected to be a happy, carefree, food-centric show became squeezed by the sudden arrival of an elephant in the room.
I love London and have many dear friends there. I thought, what a simple thing to do: make a show about the typical, simple pleasures of old-school British cookery, revisit some cherished favorites, connect with some old friends. A bit of lighthearted fun, some great traditional food, nice scenery.
But I woke up the day after arriving in London to a very different country than the one I’d gone to sleep in.
Most Londoners I know, and seemingly everyone I encountered while in London, had also gone to sleep that night confident and fully expecting that Brexit, a referendum on whether or not the country should leave the European Union, would be defeated.
They assumed that since everyone they knew felt the same way, that there was little chance that the nation would so suddenly and drastically change course. They were wrong.
I woke up to a London blinking in shock. Stunned.
Within hours, the prime minister announced his resignation, the leadership of both of the main political parties was in disarray, the value of the British pound plummeted to horrifying new lows and the country’s credit rating was downgraded. The future looked very, very different than it had the day before.
This was a new phase, reflective of another England than my admittedly rarefied bubble in London — an inward-looking, fearful, angry, even xenophobic England, mostly rural, mostly white: their vote in many ways a mirror of the same feelings of disenfranchisement, frustration and rage — the sense that no one cares about their disappearing way of life — that we see in Donald Trump’s base.
The drinking, never pretty to start with in England, became even uglier as people drowned their sorrows and their fears for the future in many pints.
In times of uncertainty and unpleasantness, when all around me seems to threaten to spin into chaos, it’s nice to have friends. It’s especially nice when those friends can cook.
Fergus Henderson of London’s St. John restaurant is probably the most inspiring chef I know. His “Nose To Tail” cooking did more to empower chefs everywhere than any other cookbook I know.
Margot Henderson, his wife, is a fantastic chef in her own right — and I was overjoyed to finally eat at her lunch-only restaurant, Rochelle Kitchen.
Nigella Lawson is a true and loyal friend, a person of great kindness and dignity, who has always looked after me and my knucklehead colleagues when we worked together. If you are a friend of Nigella you are lucky indeed — and to have her make me a hangover breakfast was both a privilege and great joy.
Marco Pierre White was the chef we all wanted to be when I was coming up as a young cook and wannabe chef. A legend.
To see him at rest, surrounding himself with beautiful things, in the countryside he has always felt strongly connected to, went a long way towards reassuring me that there ARE happy endings. And to join him for a meal of some of his greatest hits — dishes that we used to gape at in his cookbook, “White Heat,” with longing and wonder — was a dream.
So, I made it through with the help of friends — though the city of London seemed to be undergoing a collective nervous breakdown around me.
What happens next will be instructive.