Anthony Bourdain is one hell of a TV host. The title personality and mastermind behind the Travel Channel's wildly popular Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Bourdain has spent the last six years traveling the world, chewing his way through every city and country he's managed to touch down in (and at the Travel Channel's expense!). Along the way, he's survived being trapped in Beirut during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, consumed an entire cobra in Vietnam, and destroyed six tons of cocaine in Panama (by burning it, not snorting it, thankyouverymuch). I called him to chat during one of his rare stints at home in New York City, where he lives when he's not gallivanting across the globe in search of
TV.com: Hi Anthony! I'm surprised to actually reach you at home. How often are you on the road these days?
Anthony Bourdain: [Being home] is a rare, rare occurrence. Just filming the show is about two weeks out of every month for ten months a year. And then I’m doing a lot of public speaking gigs and travel for other reasons. So, the better part of ten months a year I’m traveling.
What goes into producing an episode? How much research do you do ahead of time? How do you find your hosts?
It all starts with me and often times my camera crew, my road crew, sitting around somewhere drinking beer and thinking about where do we want to go? Where do we want to go that's going to be interesting, hopefully, fun to be where we can make a show that looks different than the one we did last week or the week before, and where we can do something interesting? But basically it's, you know, me deciding I want to go to some place cool, in consultation with my crew. Then it's a few weeks of pre-production.
Generally people at the production office will, after reading some notes [I put together for them]—maybe some general ideas or a theme or something I want to focus on, maybe a list of people I may or may not know in that country—they'll reach out and try to find somebody who lives in that place who's either already familiar with the show or, you know, understands what it is that we want to see. Someone who understands that we don't want to do the best restaurants in town or the cathedrals and museums and usual spots.
So, it's a few weeks of pre-production, a week to ten days of shooting, and then nine weeks of post-production—which really cannot be underestimated or understated as far as how important it is to the finished product. We work really, really hard on the editing, the writing of voiceover, post-production graphics and sounds. That makes a big difference in how the story, such as it is, looks.
What comes first, the narrative or the final edit of the footage?
It’s sort of a back-and-forth. I’ll get a rough cut and start writing voiceover narration. What I write will then help shape the way it’s reshaped and recut, and it just keeps going between my writing and their editing until there’s a final, right up until the very end. It’s a very, very collaborative process at that point.
It seems like you get away with a lot when it comes to No Reservations' narration; it’s very, uh, "adult" in tone. Setting aside the show's "mature audiences" rating, have you ever had to deal with any pushback from the Travel Channel?
Well, I think they knew, certainly, what they were getting into when they signed me on. But to give them full credit, they’ve been really solid in that regard since the very beginning. They’ve never messed with us as far as the tone of the narration or the way we choose to tell a story. I probably have more creative freedom with this show, with Travel Channel, than anyone else in like the history of television. I think. I don’t know. I mean, we know there are some words that are going to get beeped out; we don't have arguments about, you know, "How come you wouldn’t let 'goat-fucking' in the cut?" I have no complaints.
Speaking of complaints, have you ever been anywhere that flat-out sucked?
Yes. Well, it’s more like there have been shows where we failed. You know, I think we failed in Romania [even though] we came back with what I think is a very funny, very entertaining show that a lot of people really liked.
Isn't that episode a fan-favorite?
It is, but creatively, we didn’t get what we were looking to get, which was ordinary life and work-a-day food in Romania. We weren’t allowed to get it, and we also failed to get it. The fact that we came back with an entertaining show is still good. But I look back as much as I look forward.
Which episode has been your favorite so far?
There’s a bunch of favorites. I think Hong Kong was a really great one. Venice, Sardinia, Cleveland. I loved the Cleveland episode. Cleveland was—almost everything went according to plan in Cleveland. It looks, well, just like what we wanted it to, which was American Splendor; we got rip off a great movie pretty successfully, and it ended up looking the way it was supposed to, so I’m really proud of that one. And then there are some episodes that we were just breaking ground, meaning we started to really make the show look like film-quality, with 35mm lenses, around the time we started shooting in Laos and Venice and Sardinia. I’m proud of those.
Where haven’t you been yet that’s high on your list?
Cuba. It’s a constant frustration that we have not been able to successfully shoot in Cuba. But we've planned and hoped to do it over and over and over. We were always foiled for one reason or another. I would love to see the political situation change in Iran. I’d like to shoot there. I’d like to see the government change in Burma, in Myanmar; I’d love to shoot there, too. Or the Congo. We know that there are places where the security situation is an issue, like the Congo. But one by one, I’m kind of knocking them down. I mean, we’re going back to Beirut this season to shoot, to finish what we started in 2006. I’m very, very happy about that.
Where else will you be eating this season?
Let's see: The Central Highlands of Vietnam, Ecuador, Manchuria. We're also doing a bunch of really cool specials, one of which is sort of instructional, with an amazing, amazing line up of chefs. You know, ridiculously over-qualified great chefs of the world teaching you how to do really simple things like make an omelet or roast a chicken, which is going to be shockingly awesome. There’s a special about people obsessed with making food, people obsessed with eating food, blogging about food. And then there is a sequel to our Food Porn show, called Hot Nasty Food Sluts 2, and that’s going to be really, really off the hook wild.
You write about every episode of No Reservations on your Travel Channel blog. But do you read the comments? How—if at all—do you respond to the people who complain about your itineraries: "I can't believe you went there!!! Why didn't you go here?!?!"
I mean, that’s going to happen. It’s a function of people feeling very strongly about where they come from, and everybody has their own itinerary in mind for you. All I can do is repeat over and over and over and over that we are not in the business of doing a comprehensive overview of your home community, town, or country. We’re not there to do the "Best Of," and we’re not even there to make a fair representation. It’s about, well, it’s about me trying to have a good time, or looking at one tiny slice. It's very personal; I don’t feel any obligation to present an attractive or even fair overview of your town or country. It’s just that simple.
That said, I like it when we do. I’d like it very much if we go to Chile and Chileans say, “Man, you know, you did great, and you went to the places I would have taken people,” or “It’s really cool that you went to this place. How did you find out? Only locals know about that.” But I feel bad for people who are hurt or pissed off because they feel we’ve misrepresented their town. I’m not Bobby Flay, or even Samantha Brown for that matter. People shouldn’t be looking at me for that stuff. We’re looking to make little mini movies that express “This is what it felt like for me when I went there.” It’s not necessarily what you’re going to experience.
When you're not making television, what do you watch on it? What's on your Tivo?
Now that The Wire has been over for a while, I’m literally kind of like hanging on for the next David Simon project. Because as far as I'm concerned, the sun shines out of David Simon's ass. The Wire is the greatest show in the history of television. But I also watch Jersey Shore.
Who’s your favorite Jersey Shore personality?
I think Snookie is awesome. I’m so rooting for that girl! It’s like, if John Waters had directed that show ten years ago, nobody would have believed it. So, I love that show. I also try to keep up with my friend Eric [Ripert]’s show, Avec Eric, on PBS. But I don't watch much else.
Last question: I’m sure you get the "What's your favorite food?" query all the time, so what do you wish interviewers asked you that you don’t get to talk about enough?
Actually, people are pretty cool. I mean, I get to talk about everything from TV, movies, and music. I got no complaints. Maybe, no one asks me about my favorite, you know, film from Italian neo-realist cinema, but then, why should they?
What is your favorite film from Italian neo-realist cinema?
Gee, I do like [director Michelangelo] Antonioni and hope to rip off his style. I’m also really into Wong Kar-Wei lately. We’re looking for every opportunity to rip him off, too.
Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation airs Monday nights at 11pm on the Travel Channel.