I almost didn’t meet Anthony Bourdain.
My husband, Jason Rezaian, and I had just returned from a trip for my 30th birthday, and during those few days away I had hurt my foot and was having a hard time walking.
We were supposed to meet Bourdain in Darband, a popular hilltop area in Tehran that has a handful of restaurants with spectacular views of the capital. Getting there requires a short climb, by foot, on a muddy trail.
Jason convinced me that while my injury would heal, I might never get another chance to have lunch with Anthony Bourdain in my hometown. I trusted him, reluctantly, knowing he was right but doubtful about how much time this superstar would actually spend with us.
I thought to myself, This is a show about food. The people who appear in it are just there to talk about food.
How wrong I was!
We drove to the foot of Darband, walked up to the restaurant, and waited. Bourdain was famously always early, but even he was no match for Tehran’s weekend traffic.
When he finally arrived, climbing the steep stairs to the restaurant, he went from being “Anthony Bourdain, major celebrity” to our friend, Tony.
We spoke for about an hour and a half. Tony asked about every conceivable aspect of life in Tehran and the long and strange enmity between his government and mine. The only thing that almost never came up, though, was food.
His observations about my hometown—like how assertive Iranian women are despite all the legal limitations imposed on us—were so accurate and ones I never considered. (Our mutual friend José Andrés said he experienced the same thing when Tony visited his native Asturias, in Spain.)
Seeing how well he understood and communicated about Tehran, I knew I could trust him to take me anywhere. When I moved to the US in 2016, Parts Unknown became the one show I watched every week.
After our shoot in Tehran, Tony gave us his email address and suggested that we stay in touch. I remember thinking, How was it possible that he could make friends with people in so many places around the world? One of the producers assured us that the interview would end up in the episode. Jason and I went home thrilled with the experience.
A few weeks later we were arrested in our Tehran apartment for crimes that were never committed.
I spent 72 nights in prison; Jason would spend 18 months. Soon after my conditional release on bail, I turned on CNN to see Tony and my brother-in-law [Ali Rezaian] on Anderson Cooper 360, discussing our plight and calling for our freedom. A man we had met once, who was one of the most recognizable people in the world, had become one of my husband’s and my most loyal friends.
As quickly as the news of our arrest became public, Tony became a committed and vocal advocate, writing op-eds calling for our release, tweeting about us, and doing all in his power to ensure that our appearance on Parts Unknown would not be detrimental to our situation.
We have long understood the opposite to be true: Appearing on the show with Tony was probably the best thing that ever happened to my husband and me. It brought international attention to our plight and resulted in a meaningful friendship.
The Iran episode of Parts Unknown did more than any foreign television production ever has to show my homeland in all its complexities—for better and for worse. He gave a voice to my country in a way no American production had before.
I now see that Tony’s wanderlust had more to do with people than with food. He and his crew were never just after a few quick shots of a place or its most iconic dishes. They were there to tell our stories, to highlight our similarities and differences.
The legacy of Tony’s many travels will be the hundreds of hours of film showing that all human beings share common dreams and aspirations. At this time in history, that’s what the people of Iran—and so many other places around the world—need most.
I’m forever grateful to Tony and Parts Unknown for their quest to humanize us all.