Bourdain: Have Fork, Will Travel

By Erin Carlson
Associated Press
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

NEW YORK -- Anthony Bourdain suffered quietly as he dined on wart hog -- encrusted with sand, fur and fecal bacteria -- in the African country of Namibia.

Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations," finished the meal knowing he would become terribly ill. But who was he to complain as a VIP guest in the same arid landscape where Angelina Jolie gave birth to Brad Pitt's baby?

Spitting out nasty bits of wart hog would be rude to the locals with whom he was dining.

"The chief is there in front of his whole tribe offering you his very best," Bourdain said. "Show respect. I'm lucky to be there. I'm lucky to see that. I'm lucky to have that experience. Chewing some antibiotics is a small price to pay."

Taking culinary risks is nothing unusual for Bourdain, executive chef of Brasserie Les Halles in New York and obsessive gastronome whose appetite for food and adventure has few limits. As the sardonic explorer of "No Reservations," an off-the-beaten-path look at cultures and cuisines, he famously chowed down on raw seal in Quebec, eyeballs and all. He also sampled stinky tofu in China and fermented shark in Iceland. In a previous series, he swallowed a still-beating cobra heart in Saigon.

"If you see me eating on the show, I really eat it, and more often than not I have seconds," Bourdain said before ordering a salad at a French restaurant in Manhattan. "I'm in it for the long haul. I might see that guy again."

At 51, Bourdain prides himself on keeping it real. His best-selling memoir, "Kitchen Confidential," published in 2000, served up the restaurant industry as page-turning entertainment and recounted the rampant drug use and other unseemly past behavior. It also launched his career as a celebrity chef and author.

He quickly snagged a short-lived Food Network series, "A Cook's Tour," and later jumped ship to star in "No Reservations," which debuted in 2005. The show, nominated for an Emmy, is the highest-rated series on the Travel Channel, according to a network spokesman.

"The show has a voice, and it's very much his voice," said Travel Channel president Patrick Younge. "He tells it as he sees it. If it's good that means it's good; if it's bad, then he'll tell you it's bad." And that's a credibility that comes from experience, from knowledge and from being true to himself."

While he may not be a household name in the United States, Bourdain is somewhat of rock star in certain parts of Asia.

"People are really proud of their show and when they see something on television of a kooky American guy who likes and appreciates what they do, then they seem to appreciate that back," he said. "First time I landed in Kuala Lumpur, I walked through customs and all the taxi drivers and limo drivers started screaming at me: 'Tony! What do you eat? What do you eat tonight?' "

With final say on the show's destinations, Bourdain finds himself drawn to places with tragic histories or pathos. I'm looking for kind of a dark or kooky side." He prefers Asia, an "enduring passion," and learned his lesson from taking the crew to Sweden, where "everybody's happy and everything works. Hate that."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company