Anthony Bourdain, Part 2: Layovers, Twitter, Ruth Bourdain and the Dangers of Boredom
Likes: oysters, Treme, Austin, barbecue. Dislikes: John Mariani, Leslie Brenner, tuna tartare, layovers.
Yesterday, we caught up with Anthony Bourdain -- chef, author, TV host, publisher and recent Texas barbecue convert.
We talked about his love affair with Austin (he used the word "quirky" twice, if you're counting) and his disdain for Dallas Morning News critic Leslie Brenner, why restaurants serving tasting menus should be wary and why tuna tartare needs to be taken off menus everywhere. The interview even sparked a minor battle in the national press with John Mariani of Esquire, one of the "snowy-haired" food critics Bourdain bashed as one of a group of "entitled, old farts who'll die soon anyway."
Bourdain is headed to Houston on November 10 for a one-night-only speaking engagement with fellow chef and friend Eric Ripert, in a show called "Good vs. Evil." Anyone familiar with the Bourdain-Ripert dynamic should be able to discern which is which in that equation. Tickets are still available for the show at Jones Hall through the Society for Performing Arts, which is responsible for bringing an amazing amount of talent through this town on a weekly basis.
And even if you don't snag tickets to the show, you can head down to Jones Hall that night for a food truck court featuring four of Tony's favorite cuisines served from one of his favorite dining mediums. In cooperation with the SPA, the Houston Press has invited L'es-Car-Go, the Eatsie Boys, Coreanos, The Waffle Bus and Bernie's Burger Bus to set up camp outside the venue that night. And when I mentioned the fact that one of the food trucks was French and served escargot, Bourdain's interest was ever-so-slightly piqued. Maybe we'll see him there...
On leaving The Layover after only two seasons:
It was my choice. I was not enjoying myself doing the series. It was very hard on me -- a week's worth of eating and drinking in only 48 hours. After shooting a season of No Reservations, it was very punishing. I was determined not to do any more seasons of The Layover, but I hoped to bring someone else on in my place, maybe Adam Richman or Aziz Ansari or a specific chef who'd have connections in the locations where we'd be shooting.
On forgetting all of that crap when CNN came knocking on his door with a new show proposal:
When they called up, it was right in the middle of renewal negotiations with the Travel Channel. And what they were saying was very attractive in that they were willing and eager to move our whole operations over -- the same producers, the same camera team, the same editing team. We were frankly surprised, so we sent them four of our wildest and most self-indulgent shows to look at before we had a meeting. We said, "Are you sure you're interested in this?"
I ended up having some of the best meetings I've ever had in any professional setting. They were offering the kind of infrastructure and contacts and resources that would make it possible to do television in places we haven't been able to. They also offered the opportunity to air the shows immediately. With the Travel Channel, a lag time of two or three years wasn't uncommon. And I like that immediacy with our fans. I like to hear right away whether we got it right or whether we screwed up.
On which of the "most self-indulgent shows" Bourdain's team sent over to CNN:
We sent them the last holiday show, which the Travel Channel found absolutely horrifying and mortifying, the Rome show and the second food porn show. We wanted to make sure that they understood how rude we can be; that's the kind of freedom we're used to having. They were attracted to the harder-edged shows like Beirut and Kurdistan. But no one should think that I'm going to segue into political commentary.
CNN has just said the right things and done everything right by us so far. We'll be shooting by next month.
On why the freedom to be rude is so important:
I'm accustomed to not having to muzzle myself. I've been very fortunate to do that, and I see no reason to change now. I think everybody understands that I would not be happy in a situation where I'm expected to do otherwise.
On how to constantly make "new" TV out of areas that have already been extensively documented:
We're hoping to do a show in Los Angeles that's entirely Korea-centric. Any time we can make television in a place that people have already made TV from a completely different perspective, it's great. Our goal in shooting the Paris episode of No Reservations was to film an entire show that didn't have the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower in it.
On taking over his own social media accounts:
It began, honestly, as a defensive measure on my part. I can't have someone Tweeting as me with these simplistic promos. So we took over the @NoReservations account [which is now just @Bourdain] and then started my own when we changed networks. The alternative is loathsome to me.
On why he enjoys Tweeting:
As a writer and a storyteller, the constraints of Twitter are really fun. It's like writing a little haiku each time. And now the whole crew Tweets and we often work sort of in concert while we're shooting and live Tweet while we're airing. One of our producers likes to drunk Tweet. It's just a different way of telling a story.
On why he's taking on so much these days:
A lot of really fun stuff has come up lately. I take it on largely for the fun factor -- a lot of these ventures aren't particularly lucrative, but I get to work with a lot of fun people and have fun doing it. And I'm a person who shouldn't be bored. It's bad for me, and it's bad for the world. I work really hard to make sure I'm not bored. When I do get bored, I tend to become self-destructive.
When asked about the often-maligned Gulf variant of one of his favorite foods, oysters:
I will eat them and like them. Generally I'm a cold-water oyster guy but I'd eat them out of sheer spite. I've had great Gulf oysters in New Orleans. As a supporter of Gulf fisheries I think it's the American duty to eat them. They're really great grilled, in an oyster roast.
On whether or not he ever wants to discover who's behind his semi-alter-ego, Ruth Bourdain (who recently published his/her first book):
Friends have given me some ideas, but I kind of don't want to know. I'm enjoying the joke at this point.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.