Lessons from the road with Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain is in his last days of vacation. He’s not globe-trotting around the world or eating local specialties, the kinds of trips that have gained the no-nonsense chef a cult following on his Travel Channel show “No Reservations.” No, this is a getaway in the Hamptons with his wife and daughter, who, he says via cellphone, is snuggled up to Dad as he answers our questions about the show’s ninth and final season.
One of the great things about “No Reservations” was the way that you documented regions — it was you, exploring a country and culture, through food. Looking back, how were you able to get such a non-touristy show on the air — and then last for nine years?
You know what? I don’t really know. We were surprised that it did well. What I’ve heard from people was that [they love] what we don’t do, that we weren’t like other shows. I didn’t care if I was particularly likable, I didn’t care if I was particularly informative; it was always a really personal travel essay. We wanted to make the best, most interesting show we could. The number of people who watched it, we didn’t care about. You can’t think about those things in any creative endeavor.
Another hallmark of the show was the soundtrack. How did you choose the musicians?
You get a sense over the years, “Do I want to hang out with this person?” Most of the decisions in my life are built around, “Do I have to have business meetings on a regular basis with assholes?” I will forgo a lot of money and I will avoid plenty of opportunities if it erodes my quality of life. I like a guy like me who likes to collaborate with people and isn’t so much about making the big money tomorrow.
Speaking of collaborations, you are involved in so many projects — from writing on the HBO series “Treme” to writing a graphic novel. Are you deliberately trying to stay closer to home?
I’m making a conscious effort to be away from home a little less. But the things you mentioned I do for free or relatively little money. Those are things I do for the pleasure of working with the people who I really respect and admire.
When do you find the time?
Look — when ["Treme" creator] David Simon calls, you find the time. [Laughs]
In later seasons it seemed like you delved even more into the politics and history of some of the places you visited. Is that part of what led to your next food and travel show, which will air on CNN?
I know that CNN probably saw a place for us on their network when they saw episodes like the Haiti show. Where food comes from and what people in any given place eat is already a very political thing. Maybe unconsciously we started to look at harder stories to tell because with food and travel, there’s always the threat of becoming insipid and repetitive.