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CHEF, TV SHOW HOST, CRIME FICTION WRITER - ANTHONY BOURDAIN HAS BEEN THERE, DONE THAT AND IS STILL RARING TO GO, SAYS ARUNDHATI BASU   |   Published 06.07.08, 12:00 AM

His tongue-in-cheek style and bold adventurous streak make Anthony Bourdain a hot favourite with his audiences

Anthony Bourdain has No Reservations — about almost anything. He digs into fermented shark meat with a fervent gusto, he pens books on the culinary underbelly, is candid about his cocaine-addled days, lambasts vegans and minces few words while poking fun at celebrity chefs.

The culinary adventurer and intrepid host of No Reservations on Travel & Living, is one of the most entertaining watches on the channel. The show — now into its fourth series that’s poised to go on air —will have Bourdain taking off once again to the exotic and the not-so exotic.

All the locales are new — Greek Islands, New Orleans, Scotland, Singapore, Berlin, Jamaica, Romania and Hawaii — but the essence remains vintage Bourdain. He’s at his wry no-holds-barred best, his outspoken voice-overs in place, as he gives a wide berth to fine dining restaurants and instead drops in at family weddings and street stalls. Says Bourdain, also the international bestselling author of Kitchen Confidential: “I bring all my prejudices and preconceptions along with me.”

As in the past, nothing will be forbidden on the show. In an earlier episode, one saw Bourdain all messed up after knocking back Absinthe in Paris. Back in his hotel room at L’Hôtel (famed as the place where Oscar Wilde died), he falls back on the bed, hallucinates and wonders aloud about Wilde staring at the ‘melting, buzzing walls’. In another, the Beirut episode, he and his crew are stranded in their hotel during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award last year.

Bourdain’s connect with the audience is almost immediate. He arrests his viewers’ attention with his determination to try out daring (sometimes alarming) ethnic dishes — fermented shark in Iceland, a warthog rectum in Namibia, sheep testicles in Morocco, ant eggs in Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of a traditional Inuit seal hunt, and a whole cobra in Vietnam.

Anthony in a moment from No Reservations, which draws one of the highest ratings on Travel & Living channel

He has even fed on a live octopus in Korea. “It grabs hold of your tongue and tries to cling to the side of your mouth as you’re chewing it. That was a little challenging,” he says, tongue-firmly-in-cheek. So it’s hard to imagine that back home with his Italian wife and little daughter in New York, Bourdain usually ends up ordering a safe pizza.

An eagerness to sit down with the locals and eat what they offer makes No Reservations all the more special, says Bourdain, who happens to be a vocal proponent of eating meat. He cuttingly refers to vegetarians and “their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans” as “a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn”.

So when he visited India a couple of years back, he did a double take as he bit into the purely vegetarian vada pav in Mumbai. “The Bombay burger, as I call it, doesn’t sound all that promising in theory, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” he says, still sounding surprised.

It’s been a long haul for Bourdain since he started out as a chef 30 years ago. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Bourdain has had a colourful career that has included turning crime fiction writer. The man has three crime fiction novels and as many culinary books under his belt. Then of course there’s his affiliation with punk bands and he’s deeply influenced by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Says Bourdain: “I’m trying to follow his example and to do it all — travel, write, do talks, be a chef. But there is no balance in my life. I’m completely dysfunctional.”

His television career kicked-off in 2001 with A Cook’s Tour, a 22-part TV series on the international Food Network. Two years later he hopped aboard Travel & Living along with his original handheld-camera crew. Since then he’s never looked back. As he says: “I don’t see myself like Gordon Ramsay or Thomas Keller. I was a mediocre chef and I’m lucky enough to be able to go anywhere I want to go in the world and make television about it.”

Today, after three odd decades of having stood in restaurant kitchens for 15 to 16 hours a day, Bourdain is Chef-at-Large (he chooses to call it ‘figurehead at best’) at New York’s famed bistro, Les Halles. His travels take up most of his time.

In his blog, the 52-year-old says that it hurts his feelings when the occasional Internet poster suggests that ‘whatever I might have to say about food, about travel — about anything —is somehow gravely diminished by the fact that I’m no longer working in a professional kitchen’.

His instinctive reaction? He writes in his blog: ‘A raised middle finger and a — I had 28 years of standing behind a stove while you were arguing over bundt cake recipes in a chat room! Now, kiss my a**!’ It is this colourful use of words that makes Bourdain’s the only show on Travel & Living to be preceded by a parental warning.

Maybe it is the salt-and-pepper hair crowning a tall, lanky frame and the untamed bad boy image or simply the fact that he shoots from the hip that his show draws one of the highest ratings on the channel. “I don’t try to be an authority. I come from an oral storytelling tradition in the kitchen. We tell stories to one another and in much the same way, I write and talk about my experiences as I travel,” he says. So watch out for his upcoming crime novel about a “former ’80s it boy writer’’.

At the end of the day in his quest for the perfect meal, Bourdain has arrived at a conclusion. “If I’ve learned anything, you can’t look for it. The perfect meal finds you.”



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