Yesterday, Roy Choi and Anthony Bourdain held court at Pot, Choi's Koreatown hot pot restaurant, to talk about what they've been up to at CNN. (Yes, much food was served; and yes, Bourdain wore an apron.) As you may recall, Choi and Bourdain have worked together before, with Choi appearing on Bourdain's L.A. episode of Parts Unknown and Choi's first book, L.A. Son, coming out with Bourdain's line of books at Ecco.
As for what's going on now, the fourth season of Bourdain's Parts Unknown premieres this Sunday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. And in even bigger news, at least in this town, Choi's new show, Street Food, will be released on CNN on Oct. 13.
Here are a few things to consider before you find your clicker.
Because the eight episodes of Street Food will be released across CNN's digital platforms all at once, you can binge-watch it. Kind of like House of Cards, but with a lot better food — well, except for that D.C. rib joint Kevin Spacey likes so much.
The episodes of Street Food are NOT hour-long mediations on strange food in strange lands (unless you consider L.A. a strange land, which many people still do), but 5-minute clips of vintage Choi. Yes, just five minute each. Because you can cram a lot of Choi into five minutes. (Here's a clip.) The L.A. chef will be interviewing people, including Michelle Phan, Jon Favreau, Mike D., Sage Vaughn and Bourdain himself. And he'll be talking not only about food, but the wider cultural scene as well, with subjects that will be familiar to those who've followed Choi's career and interests over the years: hip-hop musicians, low-riders, the homeless, street artists, and more. “It all starts on the streets,” says Choi about his subject material — and his show itself.
“There will be food,” reassures Choi. Among the places he'll visit in the first episodes? Mariscos Jalisco in East Los Angeles and the Tsujita L.A. ramen shop on Sawtelle. And yes, he and his crew got into the kitchen at Tsujita. “A lot of Asian kitchens don't want you in there,” points out Choi. “'I gotta get to work; why you in my way?'” And yes, the first eight episodes are all set in L.A. “We had to start in L.A.,” says Choi. “It's where I'm from. And there are a lot of misconceptions about our city: We're not what you want us to be.” As for the format, “It's a kind of long-play look at a city, from many different angles.” A lot of people. A lot of 5-minute segments. The next city? Choi likes Detroit, also Chicago, Baltimore and Seattle. “As many cities as I can.”
Bourdain's fourth season kicks off in Shanghai. Perhaps “the most aesthetically beautiful” of the cities Bourdain has so far visited on his show, and where our casual definition of foodie has little meaning: “Just about every Chinese person is a 'foodie.'” What other places are coming up? Africa, Vietnam, the Bronx — and Iran. This last one was years in the making, says Bourdain. Years. Plural. “Iran is one of those subjects you can't speak sensibly about without pissing people off,” Bourdain says. “Television doesn't translate complicated issues well.” Indeed.
Another issue Bourdain will cover in the upcoming season: heroin. In one episode, he returns to Massachusetts, where he once spent time cooking in Provincetown — and once did his fair share of drugs. His most personal episode? “Well, I guess so. All the shows are about me.”
So what advice has Bourdain given Choi on the occasion of the L.A. chef's first cooking show? “I would never presume to tell Roy anything,” Bourdain says. Choi, on the other hand, apparently finally explained to Bourdain why L.A. doesn't have the fine dining scene of, say, New York. It's because New York is traditionally European, says Choi, whereas L.A. is and has long been Latino and Asian. Totally different cultural backgrounds, and thus completely separate dining trajectories.
Finally, a brief message from Bourdain. He is not a journalist. Yeah, yeah, he has his own show on CNN and trails camera crews to Iran and Libya, but he's not. He's an essayist; he tells stories, from his own point of view. If you want journalists, they've apparently got those on CNN too. He's just saying.