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Q&A: Anthony Bourdain

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Chef. Television star. World traveler. Culinary rebel. Those are merely a few of the colorful (and G-rated) terms used to describe Anthony Bourdain. As host of the Travel Channel’s Emmy-winning No Reservations and author of the New York Times best-seller, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, Bourdain’s curiosity is as brutal as his honesty is. And both take center stage on Feb. 14 at the Keswick Theatre for his No Reservations: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain tour.

We snagged a seat with the globe-trotter as he prepped for this month’s agenda and found out just what kind of folks you’ll be sitting next to if you make the Valentine’s Day event.

MLT: This tour has you making eight stops in under two weeks. How does a travel expert pack for such an excursion?
AB:
I pack for security, and it’s all carry-on—shoes that slip on and off quickly, jackets that I can beat into submission, shirts that don’t require pressing. I actually don’t know what I’m going to do about shirts, I might just have to buy some cheap shirts on the road. I pack light. I’ve always got my iPad with a lot of entertaining apps and books I’ve downloaded to keep me busy when I’m hanging out in the airport.

MLT: Your stop in Philly is scheduled for Valentine’s Day. Exactly what types of people go to see your show on the most romantic night of the year?
AB:
Hopefully, restaurant people. They hate Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, especially if there’s a set menu. I’m hoping it’s an audience of people who got off for the night and are happy about it. There will be a lot of strange couples out that night and, of course, the tormented loners—they’re a pretty big part of my demographic.

MLT: What can your audience expect from the show?
AB:
I’ll talk about food and travel, whatever’s pissing me off that day, whatever’s exciting me that day, travel tips. It’s a one-man theater. I’ll come out and talk for an hour or so and answer questions. It could go in any direction, depending on how good or how bad the questions are.

MLT: Do you plan on grabbing a bite while you’re in town?
AB:
I won’t be in town long enough. It’s like Spinal Tap on tour. I’ll have time to pull into the venue, do the show, then have a few hours where I can grab a bag of chips from the hotel minibar, go to sleep, and wake up at 4 a.m. and go to the next show. To be honest, I’ll probably just be scooping microwaveable mac-and-cheese with my hotel room key, if I have time.

MLT: When you’re not hopping on domestic flights for tour dates, you’re all over the world with No Reservations. Where’s your next destination?
AB:
We shot a lot this past year, but I’m leaving [Jan. 30] for Hokkaido, Japan.

MLT: What’s the research process like for each assignment?
AB:
Generally, to a greater or lesser extent, I pick the spot and write a few paragraphs on just what I’m thinking about the place—what it should sound like, look like, feel like—and what aspects I’m interested in. For Hokkaido, I’m interested in the snow. When I was thinking about Japan, I didn’t want this one to look like a Tokyo or Osaka show. I want it to have the feel of those Japanese woodcuts or the paintings of traditional characters. To do that, we typically reach out to local bloggers and audition natives of the location, trying to find the right people to point us in the right direction. We look for people who understand the show. We don’t look for the best thing to eat, but rather what’s off the beaten track.

MLT: Is there something you’ve yet to try or something you’re looking forward to?
AB:
In terms of the whole cross-spectrum of food, no. I’ve pretty much had them all. Perhaps there’s a few that I haven’t. There’s a French dish of wild hare that’s very uncommon. It’s stuffed with foie gras and truffles. Otherwise, I’ve pretty much covered the major and national food groups.

MLT: With all that traveling, what’s a real vacation like for you?
AB:
Once a year, I go to the Cayman Cookout hosted by chef Eric Ripert. It’s a food-and-wine festival, and my family comes along with me. Then, of course, in summer, we take a couple of weeks to go to Italy. My wife’s from there, and we stay near where her parents live.

MLT: If viewers haven’t seen you on No Reservations, they’ve seen you on Top Chef, where you’re a repeat guest judge. What’s it like playing a role in the experiences of young chefs?
AB:
At this point, these guys are all pros, and they’ve been to the rodeo before, working the celebrity chef racket for a few years. They will always and forever be associated with the show, so they’re no virgins. This season is certainly different than the previous others, where I maybe would be a little more gentle than I am now. I’m always rooting for chefs, and I’m supportive of chefs. I want them all to do well, which is why it can be disappointing when an otherwise talented cook screws up. We all try to strike a balance when we’re judging food on its merits and the chefs on theirs, but at the end of the day, it’s television. We’re all complicit in something, we know it’s going to be edited down from 12 hours to 47 minutes, and you see that behavior in all of us. I do the show because it’s fun. It’s my privilege, and I’m really a fan of the show. It’s not a profit-making venture.

MLT: Congratulations are also in order for the success of your recent book. Who is Anthony Bourdain of Medium Raw versus the Kitchen Confidential version?
AB:
I’m a hell of a lot older and a dad—and I can’t deny that’s a life-changing thing. I’m not the same guy as Kitchen Confidential. The restaurant scene has changed, the world’s changed, the world of cooks has changed. I stand by that book as being an accurate reflection of my life and career at the time. I never took the bad boy chef thing seriously; I never cared. And, at this point, I have a young daughter, and I’m spending a lot of time watching children’s TV.

MLT: When’s the last time you’ve been behind the line? Do you miss the stress and hustle?
AB:
I don’t miss it. I had 28 years of it. It’s flattering and fun to go back behind the line like I did with Eric [Ripert] on one episode, but I’m 54 now, and there’s no way I could get up and do it every day. Not just do it, but do it well. Life is good, and I put in my time.

MLT: Is there anything you wouldn’t eat?
AB:
I’m not eating live monkey brain, that’s for sure. I would prefer to avoid dog and cat and monkey, but I might not. You never know. In Africa, bushmeat is an all-encompassing term. I really do try to avoid finding myself in a situation where I’m being offered dog or cat. I’ll drive right by those restaurants.
 

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