The Globe-Hopping Gourmet
“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” on Travel Channel
You could describe Anthony Bourdain as one of those celebrity chefs--except, of course, that he isn't really famous for his cooking. He's famous, mostly, for penning the tell-all, behind-the-scenes exposé Kitchen Confidential, in which the New Jersey-born chef recounts all his smoking, drinking, womanizing--and occasionally cooking--exploits.
Bourdain's book will be coming to FOX television this fall in a fictionalized sitcom version produced by “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star. FOX's version of “Kitchen Confidential” will relate the nightly exploits of a stereotypical “bad boy” New York City chef named “Jack Bourdain.” Serious fans of Bourdain's book might want to steer clear.
If you want to see the the real Anthony Bourdain in all his grumpy, chain-smoking glory, however, I suggest you head over to the Travel Channel for the upscale hash-slinger's new show, “No Reservations.”
Part travel show, part food show, sometimes fantasy, occasional comedy, “No Reservations” is an uncategorizable delight--sort of a cross between Alton Brown's “Good Eats” and Dave Attell's “Insomniac.” Although I'm sure that, in real life, Bourdain is a pain in the ass, I must admit he's the perfect host for this sort of colorful outing.
The show sends Bourdain to various corners of the Earth (France, Malaysia, New Jersey) in search of whatever. “Be a traveler, not a tourist,” is Bourdain's earthy mantra. More often than not, Bourdain's quest centers on food--the more exotic the better. Although he's an expert, Bourdain is no snooty gourmand. He's smart enough to enjoy a fine French wine, but isn't about to turn down a chance to chow down on fried “squeasel” in the wilds of Vietnam (porcupine, it turns out).
Although the show hews, more or less, to the standard travel show formula, with Bourdain visiting a dairy farm in New Jersey, wandering around the sewers of Paris and getting drunk with Communist party officials in Vietnam, it's always enlivened by its host's unique “what the hell” personality. Occasionally, the show descends into downright fantasy. Bourdain's trip to Vietnam, for example, played out like a James Bond movie complete with climactic island fortress full of kung fu warriors.
Bourdain isn't above razzing fellow chefs either. Standing in front of the Paris Museum of the Plague, Bourdain worked up an entire enthusiastic commercial for Rocco DiSpirito's new rat-themed restaurant featuring “rat kabobs, Rats-a-Roni, rat-tat-toulle.” No love lost between Bourdain and the guy from “The Restaurant,” I guess.
Despite Bourdain's rough-edged rock 'n' roll persona, it's clear that he loves travel as much as he loves food. Just watch the blissful beam that comes off this gruff dude as he hunkers down over a plate of blood sausage in some hole-in-the-wall Parisian restaurant that's been around since before the Nazis bugged out. “This job ain't so bad,” he often intones. Frankly, we're lucky he's dragging us along for the wild ride.
“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” airs every Monday night at 8 p.m. on the Travel Channel.