For the second installment of his new CNN show Parts Unknown, which aired last night, Anthony Bourdain explored L.A.'s Koreatown. The show was insightful, revealing and pretty much spot-on, giving an accurate depiction of both the fraught history of K-Town and its current status as one of our city's culinary and cultural gems. Which is a relief, seeing as no food TV show ever seems to get Los Angeles right, including past L.A.-themed episodes of Bourdain's Travel Channel show, No Reservations.
Using chef Roy Choi and artist David Choe as guides, Bourdain explored Koreatown through the lens of its history, and in particular the L.A. riots in 1992. Choi took Bourdain to the roof where Choi had watched the neighborhood burn for days on end, and Choe explained the effect of having society fall apart around him as a teenager, even as he himself took part in the mayhem. Thanks (I'm assuming) to CNN's access to news footage, the show had a ton of footage of Koreatown during the riots, and 21 years later the images of an entire swath of the city devolving into a war zone are still gut-wrenchingly shocking.
Of course, there was also food. In fact, Bourdain gave up his food snobbery to visit Sizzler with Choe and Jollibee with Choy. He also hit up Myung In Dumplings, Dong Il Jang, and a bunch of Choi's restaurants.
In the past week I've heard a few people wonder why Bourdain decided to hit Los Angeles second on his new show, after he's spent the last six months talking up the exotic locations CNN would allow him access to. (The show's tagline on the website is "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown takes you to exotic global destinations through Bourdain's unique lens.")
But after watching the show it makes a lot of sense. It's not just the less stable locations Bourdain now has permission to explore, it's the entire way in which he approaches his locations. Bourdain has always aimed to use food as a form of social anthropology, a way into cultures we may otherwise not understand. But the new show brings a news organization's point of view to the table, taking that aim one step further. Last night, Bourdain effectively got an audience who think of themselves primarily as food-lovers to revisit the L.A. riots and take a deeper look into the psyche of Korean-American culture than I've seen explored anywhere in mainstream media, ever.
It was refreshing, and pride-inducing, and incredibly well executed. Thank god, someone finally got an L.A.-based food show right.