Posted by: acooksca | 10/05/2012

What’s Next, Tony?

At a book signing with Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain winds up his tenure at the Travel Channel this season with No Reservations, The Final Tour, airing now on Mondays through the first of November. My husband, Bruce, and I are big fans and have seen every episode, some multiple times. Tony began his T.V. career about ten years ago with a few seasons on the Food Channel. In those years he appeared self conscious, often cantankerous… and authentic. The Food Channel offered to make him a “celebrity chef”. All he had to do was dumb down the food, be more agreeable and endorse some products. Instead, Tony jumped to the Travel Channel, becoming that channel’s most popular T.V. host. 

To me the Food Channel is celebrity driven and food is an after thought. Bourdain seems embarrassed by star status and focuses on other cooks, their food and lives. He looks for the soul of a place by starting with its cooking. Tony comes from what he knows best hoping to be touched by another culture, another place. I get this completely, and although I met him only once, feel I know him. We share a common background: we are the same age, spent our 20-plus years as restaurant chefs in a time before the Food Channel, when kitchens were closer to factories than sound stages and  believe one can evolve personally through travel. 

Japadog, Vancouver

Since the first episode, many of his most memorable meals haven’t been in temples of rare edibles but as a guest at family tables, as in China and Sri Lanka. Trying to fit in and be a good guest, Tony sometimes over drinks or gets sentimental, but his appreciation is genuine.

I refer to notes from Tony’s shows for a sense of the food before we travel (Argentina, Peru, Istanbul, Lisbon). His enthusiasm is so palpable for Vietnam that we arranged  a Bourdain-like culinary tour for 2 with guides, chefs to walk through the markets and cook with and restaurants for sampling regional specialties. We can’t wait to dive into the street food culture he raves about in Singapore.

What I know about different types of bar-b-que across our country comes from No Reservations episodes (Kansas City, Memphis, North Carolina, Austin). I feel inspired when Tony meets with artisans who dedicate themselves to producing a rare product (Pata Negra Jamon Iberico, Spain and Culatello, Emilia Romana). And share his esteem for those shaping cuisine around the world with food we will never eat and places we will never eat at (molecular gastronomy at the now closed El Bulli).

Under Bridge Spicy Crab, Hong Kong

Oh, there are episodes that disappoint such as the most recent Manhattan, where he samples mostly hot dogs. Not that we mind Tony’s hot dog fetish…we very much enjoyed the Bourdain recommended wasabi-mayo and nori topped dogs at Japadog, Vancouver. We also stood in line for an hour at Voo-Doo Donuts, Portland  for  a maple glazed topped with bacon. But it is particularly thrilling to seek out a unique dish that Tony claims defines a place (foie gras at Au Pied du Cochon, Montreal, typhoon shelter crab at Under Bridge Spicy Crab, Hong Kong). 

In the last few years No Reservations has deepened to a more thoughtful level. A family in Cuba offers Tony a cup of coffee and we learn that coffee is saved for visitors; it is too expensive for local consumption. He interviews victims and shows exploding land mines buried decades ago (Laos). We shelter along with Tony and his crew awaiting an escape route from the bombing of Lebanon (this episode won an Emmy).

My favorite episode is probably Rome, inspired by Italian cinema of the 1960’s.  Shot in black and white, Tony wears a thin lapel suit and skinny tie, drives with a beautiful woman in a sports car around the Coliseum and dines at crowded trattorias on traditional Roman specialties. It is both nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek and quite brilliant.

As he jumps channels we anxiously wait to see what the next Bourdain project will be. I hope he keeps the food/culture format. For the Travel Channel, as Tony says to the camera in the closing shot of many episodes, “I think our work here is done”.

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Responses

  1. I knew you liked Tony, but didn’t realize how much! Thanks for another fun posting!
    DiAnn

    • DiAnn:   I guess I am just one dimensional…food and travel…(Okay, two dimensional).   We are off on Tuesday evening. At least we will go to the airport and see if there are any seats heading to Newark on United or Frankfurt on Lufthansa on way to Portugal. With the planes so full these days it is pretty stressful for Bruce to guess the most likely open flights, which carriers to get back-up standby tickets on…etc. But we have until next Sunday before our car and hotel reservations start and days to try and get to Lisbon. Will post photo albums.   Have a great few weeks. Thanks for reading my blog.   Karen

      ________________________________


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