Anthony Bourdain has a lightness to his voice. It's jovial, almost, which is unnerving. "This is the longest I've stayed still in one place for ... wow, nine years," says the typically acerbic chef and TV host. He's recently wrapped shooting his ninth and final season of No Reservations, and is on vacation with his wife and young daughter in Long Island. "This vacation, this is the only vacation of its kind I've ever had with my family."
He's been cooking a lot in his beachside rental, he says, something he hasn't done since he left Les Halles about 10 years ago. His daughter's been making requests. "She's crazy for lobster," he says, "and corn on the cob, she's just batshit for."
Bourdain's life won't be this leisurely for long, though. Come October he'll start filming an as-yet-unnamed show for CNN that, thankfully for his longtime fans, will be similar in structure to No Reservations. But how will it be different? Where will he go? And will he still make time for Treme? These were among our questions for food TV's reigning hero, along with the status of his friendship, or lack thereof, with Alan Richman. Read the full interview after the jump.
Squid Ink: Did having a family and a young daughter play into your decision to end the run of the show?
Anthony Bourdain: Well, I was definitely looking to be away from home a little bit less, but I'll be making as many episodes of the new series for CNN as I was making for No Reservations. I won't be doing The Layover, though, that is for sure. Or an additional series of 10 episodes where I have to travel. I'll definitely be cutting that back.
SI: Ah, so The Layover is done?
AB: We have 10 more episodes to air, but we've finished all but one episode of that.
SI: What are you doing with your new CNN show that's new? What do you hope to make out of it?
AB: I think, most importantly, it's the same production partners, the same camera people, editors -- the same band that I've been traveling with for my entire television career. I don't know any other way I'd want to make television, or anyone else I'd want to make television with, whether travel- or food-based. And whatever it is, it will be travel- and food-based, similar to what I've been doing with No Reservations, but on a slightly larger scale, I guess, in the sense that CNN is a worldwide news organization, they have a larger infrastructure and contacts on the ground, and experience on the ground in a lot of places we haven't been able to get to for one reason or another.
I'm interested in looking at places like the Congo, Myanmar, Libya; you know, post-conflict Syria would be wonderful, through the prism of what people eat every day. I think it's useful information to show how people live, how they eat, what makes them happy. I think the extent to which we identify those things in the world around us before we read about some disaster happening in the news ... We put faces to the people we're reading about in the news rather than seeing them as abstract.
SI: Of course a lot of these aren't touristy places. Do you feel a sense of obligation to keep that going? Your show has always had a storytelling element that's obviously very important to what you do, and those of us who are fans of travel and fans of food don't get that many other places. It's either you or the Food Network, basically.
AB: I don't feel any obligation to make television any particular way. It's sort of counterintuitive. However other people were telling stories, I didn't want to do that. Whatever the conventional wisdom was on how to make food or travel television, I definitely didn't want to do that. Whatever worked for us last week, I didn't want to do that either.
The most important factor in making No Reservations has always been: How do I stay adrift, how does my crew stay interested, meaning the camera people and the editors, how do we challenge ourselves to tell the pretty conventional story arc in a different way? It's a very selfish, creative enterprise, but one that I'm proud of. If it inspires people to do anything like get a passport or eat something that they wouldn't have thought of before, great, but I don't see myself as an advocate or anything beyond a storyteller and an enthusiast.
SI: So it's not about dispelling fear in any way? Americans are largely pretty afraid of leaving the country.
AB: We have a notoriously low percentage of passport holders. I don't understand that at all. It's not my intention to drag Americans out of their shell. Like I said, I'm not an advocate. But I hear from people a lot that they hadn't thought of going to Vietnam until they saw a show, and that they were really happy they did. And that makes me really happy. As cranky as I can be about some things, I'm also very enthusiastic about others, and I do feel a certain satisfaction if I've managed to convince somebody ... every time I hear that somebody went to a place that I love, yeah, of course I'm satisfied.
SI: I went to Baja because of you, actually. I think that's a lot of what the show has always done for people. I guess it is less about dispelling fear and more about realizing it's OK to do things out of your comfort zone. Do you even have a comfort zone left at this point?