Anthony Bourdain returns to Austin
Anthony Bourdain is a professional chef, critically acclaimed author, Top Chef judge, and gastronomic adventurer who has carved out a unique niche for himself in modern culinary culture. First with A Cook's Tour and now into his third season of the wildly popular No Reservations, Bourdain leads viewers around the globe with equal parts intellect and wit, creative hedonism, and perverse edginess. He takes food travel to inspired new heights. Judging from past book-tour appearances, his Oct. 20 date at the Paramount will be hilarious and entertaining. The Chronicle interviewed Bourdain via e-mail.
Austin Chronicle: New spouse, Octavia, and baby, Ariane? ... How well does that fit into your modern, now a-go-go globe-trotting life?
Anthony Bourdain: Newly married. New baby (first-time father). As far as how that's all going to fit in with my traveling? It's a struggle. But I'm trying to balance it all – and hope for the best.
AC: The new season of No Reservations has gotten more polished and funnier. Seems like there is much more thought going on into the writing and planning and perhaps a bigger shooting budget. Is it as much fun as it seems?
AB: We are having a lot more fun making the show – and I have as much or as little influence on the style and edit as I want. We try very, very hard – in the best kind of collaborative way – to make each show different in style, content, look, and sound from the ones before. That pisses off a lot of hardcore fans from time to time. And serious foodies. But I'd rather a creative, inconsistent show than a predictable one.
AC: What was it like hanging with Harvey Pekar in the Cleveland show? A strange combo: Michael Ruhlman, Toby [Radloff], Harvey, and you. And the comic graphics were superb!
AB: Really proud of the Cleveland show. It really WAS like stepping into American Splendor with Harvey and his family and Toby. We went to a lot of trouble – and worked closely with his graphic artist to get that look. I LOVE Cleveland. And though a lot of the Chamber of Commerce types were unhappy with the show, I was real proud. And always a pleasure to mess with Ruhlman.
AC: When you're shooting No Reservations on location, are you writing the script as you go, or is it fully fleshed-out? Do you work from notes, or is it all ad-lib/improvisational?
AB: The formula varies widely. Depending on the location – and the subject – and what happened during the shoot, I write ... before, during, or after. Some shows go just as planned. Some go off the rails. Others, I wait and see how the brilliant editors see the material. There are no writers employed on the show. Just as there is no sound guy, no hair and make-up, and no wardrobe. It's me. Three people with digital cameras. An assistant producer and a local fixer. The post production effort is MUCH larger.
AC: Now that Travel has Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) to take the bizarre/gross-out cuisine heat, are you relieved? You seem to be eating much better these days.
AB: Yeah. I'm glad I can leave the puppy heads to Andrew. Been there, done that. Let him get the mail.
AC: Was it sweet when Fox canceled that god-awful show based on you and Kitchen Confidential? Hopefully you were paid up front!
AB: Up front, my friend.
AC: Which of your corps de cuisine pals got the rest of the group roped into the Top Chef thing? Have you found it enjoyable?
AB: I do Top Chef from time to time 'cause I like it. Because I'm a fan of the show, because it's fun to do. I like and admire [Tom] Colicchio and enjoy judging what is usually a pretty high caliber of contestants (compared to any other similar show). I am in no way moving away or apart from Travel Channel – where I have my own show. I enjoy a degree of creative control and indulgence and support at Travel undreamed of in television. I get to work with close friends. I can go wherever I want and make television about the experience and tell the story any way I want. When I guest-judge or blog for Top Chef, I'm indulging my hobby.
AC: Your criticism of the dishes on Top Chef was much more cutthroat and vicious than the kiddos expected. ... Was this by decree from the producers, or did you feel a need to serve a wake-up call to the combatants?
AB: I really want to stress this: There are NO decrees from the producers on Top Chef. I've NEVER – in any way on repeated appearances – gotten even a whiff of pressure or influence during the judging. And I'm guessing they would have much preferred some of the more popular or dramatic contestants to hang around for a while longer. But no way anybody's going to tell Colicchio to dump one cook over another for dramatic reasons. Does not happen. And we don't get any "be more mean" talks, either. Understand. It's often TWO HOURS of debate and discussion at judges table before a decision is reached. How that is edited into two minutes is another matter. I was a vicious bastard on the "Snacks on a Plane" [episode] because I was genuinely cranky. I thought some of the food was just inexplicably awful. They cut the part where I sang "Kumbaya" and wished everyone well.
AC: What's your take on the current fervor against immigration? How will the well-heeled neocon fascists react when they find that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has kicked out all of the Latino kitchen staffers that produce all of the food at their favorite five-star restaurants?
AB: It's disingenuous. Everybody KNOWS we can't do without immigrant labor. Everybody knows that Americans just won't do dishwasher, clean-up, agricultural, and prep work. Just as Italians won't pick grapes or olives anymore. Everybody also knows that the jobs we're losing are being lost thousands at a time when whole industries go relocate abroad and get tax breaks. But it's easy to blame the guy with the accent. It's a strategy that's worked everywhere for centuries. Blame the foreigners.
If you want to find a way to restrict people from coming into America, fine. But let's be honest about who's here NOW – and what they've contributed and continue to contribute.
Saturday, Oct. 20, 8pm.
Paramount Theatre (713 Congress)