"I’m looking at having a good and creatively satisfying time telling interesting stories. It’s not to entertain, it’s not to enlighten, it’s not to inspire, it’s not to change behaviors. It’s to stay interested and engage myself." — Anthony Bourdain
Most of us only fantasize of the chance to get paid to indulge our travel curiosities and set out on grand journeys fraught with exotic foods and tales of romance and misadventure. Anthony Bourdain is living exactly that dream, and, unlike many seasoned adventurers, he doesn’t take one ounce of his sweet gig for granted.
Anthony Bourdain has been a chef, writer and TV host of the popular series “No Reservations”and “The Layover.” But his most recent claim to fame is hosting CNN’s “Parts Unknown.” This Emmy-winning show has skyrocketed Bourdain from a once cult-like notoriety into a household name.
Bourdain’s raw sense of adventure is all at once aspirational and attainable, taking us along for the ride as he samples spices at a Kesar Da Dhaba in Punjab, India,and breaks bread with locals in Lyon, France. It’s that sense of adventure that draws us to him in a very relatable way, so we decided to sit down with him at the Cayman Cookout in the Cayman Islands, where he spilled it all about his new series, his favorite grilling destinations, and what it’s like to be famous after years of…well…already being famous.
Kristy Alpert: So after all these years with your face on the screen and book covers, what’s it feel like to finally be a household name now that “Parts Unknown” has taken off?
Anthony Bourdain: It’s been a surprise to me. I was 44 years old, standing in a kitchen, dunking French fries in 2000, and “Kitchen Confidential” came out and everything changed over night. For the first time in my life there was the possibility of paying my rent on time. Then suddenly, very short order, I found myself in the position to do pretty much whatever I wanted; and what I wanted to do was travel and indulge my curiously about a very interesting world.
KA: Is it weird getting recognized more often?
AB: I travel 250 days a year. Honestly I’m a moving target. Maybe a few more people will stop me when I’m running across an airport looking for a bathroom, but other than that, much of the time I’m in places where most of the people don’t know who I am.
KA: What’s it like getting paid to indulge your interests?
AB: Look, I understand that the success of “Kitchen Confidential” was an enormous stroke of late-in-life good fortune, and I’ve tried very hard not to screw up. It’s always been a quality of life issue for me. No matter how much money is involved, if I think it’s not going to be fun or if it’s going to be embarrassing, then I don’t do it.
KA: So what types of things have you turned down?
AB: I haven’t done pots and pans. I haven’t opened a branded restaurant. I haven’t endorsed liquor. I continue to do what interests me with the people I enjoy working with.
KA: Your show really challenges the way most people travel (i.e., getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing what’s local, where it’s local). Are you hoping to change the industry in any way?
AB: I haven’t made any calculated moves, and I have no grand strategy. It’s a very selfish enterprise, honestly. I’m looking at having a good and creatively satisfying time telling interesting stories. It’s not to entertain, it’s not to enlighten, it’s not to inspire, it’s not to change behaviors. It’s to stay interested and engage myself.
KA: Well it’s obvious people enjoy watching your uncensored take on traveling.
AB: It’s not an intentional thing. I was pretty set in my ways by the time I was making television. I had success with a really obnoxious and very honest book. Nobody expected me to suddenly morph into someone TV ready. I’m a storyteller with a very personal style. It’s deeply satisfying to build an hour of television in an exotic location using a variety of film and storytelling styles to hopefully make people feel the way you felt about a place.
KA: So what is the goal with your new series, “Parts Unknown”?
AB: The story line is essentially the same: We go to a place, I eat a bunch of stuff, and I come home. So the pressure is to tell that story in a different way each time. We honestly sit around in a lobby and ask ourselves what is the most fucked up thing we can do.
KA: Seen any common themes with food through your travels?
AB: You see people grilling all over the world; you see a lot of grilling everywhere.
KA: What country would you say grills the best?
AB: America. Well now, maybe the best I’ve seen is in Spain in Basque country at a restaurant called Etxebarri where the chef is a fanatic about grilling. He has different grills, he builds individual coal fires for each ingredient, and he has custom grills that move up and down depending on what he’s grilling. Also the Japanese, the yakitori masters are on a whole other level. Probably the Japanese are the best in the world; the most precise. They use nothing but artisanal Japanese charcoal, and they really use pristine little skewers of chicken bits for the most part; little boutique skewers of chicken skins, chicken meatballs, chicken ass — which is amazing. They really think about textures and flavors and doneness at the end. So the yakitori masters are really the best. As far as grilling steak, [Americans] pretty much have it down. And certainly at barbecue we are the masters of the universe.
KA: What other projects do you have coming up?
AB: We’re shooting straight through until July. Then I’m thinking about doing another comic book: “Jiro 2,” the prequel. I just started working on it and I’ll be publishing a lot of books coming up. Other than that, just keep having fun and keep getting away with what I’ve been getting away with.