Reservations with Anthony Bourdain
One only has to tune in to the Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations to see that in the past two years the man has truly become a globetrotter. Hardly a regurgitation of the Zagat-approved restaurants of the cities, Bourdain dines on the street, with locals in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and even occasionally at private residences. His show, much like his writing, can be hilarious, critical, and endearing—all in one segment.
Although he received a lot press for merging politics with food as war broke out in Lebanon, that special episode was hardly the first suggestion Bourdain has made that food and politics are intertwined. For example, recently while traveling through Texas and Mexico, Bourdain struggled with the concept of borders, citizenship, and the people who deal with these issues on a daily basis—all while dining in Texas on sushi prepared by a Mexican chef. Although he was traveling in Jamaica with a cold at the time of this interview, Anthony Bourdain managed to take a moment to chat with City Pages.
City Pages: How do you feel about the rise of the celebrity chef? Do you feel that it’s good for the industry? Is it detrimental in any way?
Anthony Bourdain: I think that on balance, it's a good thing. Even at its most annoying—if you're talking celebrity "chefs" and not including the industry created bobbleheads, the phenomenon has raised the hopes and expectations and prestige of working cooks. Kitchens have more pride and hope than when I started out—and that can only be a good thing. And almost anything that informs the public and raises their awareness and knowledge—aspirations and expectations for a meal is a good thing. The downside is the poor bastards who are taking out huge student loans to go to cooking school at age 35—without really knowing what they're getting into. Basically—if you're going to culinary school to be a "celebrity chef," you are in for a very hard—and likley very short ride in the restaurant biz. The industry will always shake out the unprepared, the uninformed, the weak, and the delusional. A lot of nice people are going to get shredded in the interim. Prestige may have grown for cooks—but the work itself is NOT glamorous.
CP: Has your cooking style changed since traveling extensively for your show?
AB: No. I cooked old school French bistro classics ‘til the end of my cooking days. Even I am not so arrogant as to think I could cook Thai food—or add anything to that glorious, centuries old tradition, after only a few weeks in Thailand.
CP:Have you ever been terrified of a meal (be it the situation or the actual food)? How did you get through the experience?
AB: Chicken McNuggets terrify me. That, and uncleaned warthog ass encrusted with sand, fur, crap, and redolent of undigested reflux. I won't be having that again. Oh yeah—I think those Cinnabon things are pretty scary. They're fucking huge. You see some Jabba-sized monster shoving one a those things into their face in an airport at six in the morning? That's the sort of thing that haunts your dreams.
CP:Do you have any theories as to why Americans are obsessed with food safety, yet continue to consume junk food?
AB: We're afraid of everything these days. We're quickly becoming a nanny state—and it's not just us. The EU is way ahead of us in building in and reinforcing the notion that the State owes you a guarantee that everything you could possibly shove in your mouth is "clean," "pure, " and without any risk. It has been decided that we are too stupid to make even the most basic of decisions about our lives—what to put in our mouths. We have essentially called for our own infantalization, and not without reason. One only need look at the current stats for expected cases of Type 2 diabetes, percentage of Americans currently considered "morbidly" obese, or unhealthily overweight, to see the point of view.
CP:If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
AB: Sushi. It's clean, it's light, it's delicious. I would, of course, want Masa Takayama preparing it for me.
CP:How do you feel about people that say they search for “authentic” food—people that expect to eat Thai food in Minnesota as if dining in Thailand, for example. Does the addition of the cream cheese wonton to a menu destroy any attempts at authenticity? Is authenticity important?
AB: Authentic first. I'm willing to try and occasionally enjoy improvs on the classics. But just as chefs should know and respect the classics before expanding their horizons, I think diners should know the "real thing" before they start eating cream cheese, crawdad, and avocado novelty hand rolls at Cajun Sushi Dome.
See Anthony Bourdain read, sign, and discusses his latest book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach at the Triple Rock tonight. The event is all ages, free, and starts at 7:00 p.m.
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