Friday, November 13, 2015

The Fascinating Case of Anthony Bourdain

               In the late 1990s, Anthony Bourdain was a successful chef who had run several restaurants in New York City.  As a way of coping with the high pressure environment, he had developed an acerbic, sometimes wildly inappropriate humor and strong outspoken opinions.  In 1999, he published an article called “Don’t Eat before Reading this.”  That article led to his book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” which told a surprisingly brutal, honest, and even funny look at what a real kitchen environment looks like in NYC.  Taken from book’s description: “Talking about why you probably shouldn’t order fish on a Monday, why those who favor well-done get the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel, and why seafood frittata is not a wise brunch selection…. But I’m simply not going to deceive anybody about the life as I’ve seen it.”
                The wild success of the book led to an opportunity form Food Network: another book: “A Cook’s Tour” and a 30-minute TV show of the same name.  This TV show involved Bourdain traveling to a city from around the world and partaking in the local food, not always in a fine restaurant but authentic to th4e region.  Many times he meets a local guide on who helps him along with his adventures.  While most episodes are free from the “inappropriateness” that are prevalent in his book, in one early episode where he had to consume a duck fetus in Japan, he gave his less-than-flattering opinion of eating the whole dish.  The show lasted two seasons and thirty-five episodes. 
                After three years, more articles in well known magazines, Anthony Bourdain came back to TV with his most well known TV series, the hour long Anthony Bourdain: No Reservation on the Travel Channel, which premiered in 2005.  The show came with the disclaimer before each episode that, basically, each one may have sexual and other inappropriate moments and viewer discretion is advised.  In this series, Bourdain flourished as television personality.  His tell-it-like-it-is humor and honest opinions were valued in a world of everyone presenting a flattering version of everything they meet (especially in travel and cooking shows).  But overall, the show was positive: Bourdain was in search of great authentic local food from all countries, including the United States.  The show’s original run was for nine seasons and one hundred forty-two episodes, though Travel Channel has repackaged old episodes for into new ones for specific themes, for example all of the Europe episodes together. 
                Anthony Bourdain became a guest celebrity chef on Top Chef during several seasons, and later appeared on the similar Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman on the Travel Channel while Andrew appeared in his show.  Towards the end of his run on the Travel Channel, he also hosted a more traditional travel show called “The Layover” which was about what do in a city if you only had 24 hours.  Bourdain completed his transition to celebrity chef with mentoring on the reality cooking completion show, “The Taste,” which lasted three seasons and twenty-three episodes.  This celebrity chef status is ironic considering his less-than kind opinion of some celebrity chefs like Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, and Guy Fieri (though he has also been pointing out good chefs like Ferran Adriá). 
                Today, Bourdain is on the third generation of his TV show, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” which premiered in 2013 on CNN and is currently in its sixth season.  Again, he travels around the world and experiences local culture and good authentic food from the region.  He left his head chef status in real restaurant a long time ago.  But nevertheless, his honest opinions and blunt humor about food around the world will be appreciated by many for years to come.

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