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Q& A: Anthony Bourdain

He Eats, Shoots, Then Leaves

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Anthony Bourdain is the bluntest food writer we know, and one of the most entertaining. But his frenetic Travel Channel series shows that the rogue chef has kept his literate, even poetic sensibility as he globe-trots (28 countries, 200,000 miles and counting) in search of culinary wonderlands.

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His ninth book, "No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach" (Bloomsbury USA), is a travel scrapbook that depicts him and his crew in various states of drunkenness, exhaustion, gluttony, repose and, yes, injury. It also contains a hefty dose of food porn (just look at the two-page spread of one single dish of razor clams in Hong Kong) and the kind of no-holds-barred commentary that has made him famous, plus a touch of deftly placed romanticism.

Bourdain, who broke out with the 2000 blockbuster "Kitchen Confidential," came through Washington recently to co-host the Capital Food Fight, a fundraiser for D.C. Central Kitchen, and to speak to a sold-out crowd at a Smithsonian event at Lisner Auditorium. Over lunch at Bistro Bis on Capitol Hill (he ordered a Negroni, fish soup, calf's liver, pinot noir and a double espresso), he talked with Food editor Joe Yonan about adrenaline, vodka, durian, cigarettes and his baby daughter. Edited excerpts from their conversation follow:

You've created a mini genre. Now there's Andrew Zimmern ("Bizarre Foods") on your channel. And the Food Network finally jumped in ("Have Fork, Will Travel").

Oh, God. They hired a comedian [Zane Lamprey] to go around the world making fun of people's accents. I caught 15 minutes of the show. He described bouillabaisse as "really fishy fish." It's like hiring Roberto Benigni, very slapstick. How many cultures can you offend in one series? It's unspeakably awful.

That's the danger if it's done by somebody with the wrong sensibility, right?

It's like, what kind of traveler are you? Can you relax and have a good time when you're there, or at least give it a good try? There have been places where I've been miserable and just didn't like the culture much. But I do my best to be polite.

Like where?

Uzbekistan was not one of my better traveling experiences. There's a lot to respect and be impressed by, but I was not a happy guy. The food was a misery. Meat on a stick, mostly. It just doesn't seem to be a priority.

Your favorite places are places where . . .

. . . they're food crazy. Where they're in your face telling you, "You're lucky to be here. We have the best food."

Who's the most food-obsessed?

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