Having read the chef's two detective novels they were well-reviewed but not best-sellers , Batterberry assigned him a story for Food Arts. Batterberry also encouraged the literate chef to write the New Yorker essay.
By Baird Howland, Andrew Pasquier, and Brian Waniewski
Inspired by George Orwell's acerbic tell-all restaurant book Down and Out in Paris and London , "Don't Eat Before Reading This" explained why it wasn't a good idea to select fish from a menu on a Monday, and how chefs punish those who order well-done steaks by using the tougher examples "riddled with nerve and connective tissue, off the hip end of the loin, and maybe a little stinky from age. He actually welcomed the interruptions. The publicity was good for us. Published in , the book's frank, raucous tone infuriated many old-guard French chefs, who did not want their clientele to know how many restaurants reused uneaten bread, or saved the worst ingredients for customers they did not like.
Accounts of sex and drugs in their kitchens made them queasy. Fish not fresh? It's something we all had to deal with.
Most of all, chefs today are indebted to him for bringing our trade from the bottom of the social scale to where chefs are being called geniuses. When the publisher asked for another book, Bourdain was stumped for a topic.
I needed new stories. He had hardly traveled outside the United States, so he proposed exploring the world's most interesting food cities and writing about his adventures. Having already sold the TV rights for an ill-fated sitcom , he told them, "I apparently have to go eat my way around the world and write about it. How about that? Freelance producers Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia were assigned to shoot an minute documentary in his kitchen at Les Halles as a pilot.
Presently Bourdain found himself in a meeting with Food Network to pitch the show.
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He was in full bad-boy mode. The show would be a turning point not only for Bourdain but also for Collins and Tenaglia. The pair came to the project ignorant about food, fresh from producing and directing several documentary series on hospital emergency rooms. They had just been married. They joke today that Tony came with them on their honeymoon. They helped shape his unique approach, and have worked with him ever since.
But the first stop did not go well. In Tokyo, Bourdain balked when Tenaglia asked him to turn to the camera and explain what he was doing. I knew how to write a story and I could talk a good game, but I had no clue about how to talk to a camera.
Bourdain struggled to find a rhythm in the first couple of episodes. He had read all the literature, had seen so many movies he could draw from. After a long day shooting and eating, Bourdain was sitting at a bar in Nha Trang, staring up at a ceiling fan. In an early scene, the protagonist, perspiring in his hotel bed, fixates on a ceiling fan, the whirling blades a gesture to the omnipresent military helicopters.
Bourdain suggested they finish the show with the camera shooting through the rotating fan, Bourdain moaning in bed from too much food and drink. Typically for Bourdain, it all started with an off-the-cuff snarky comment. At the time, food insiders were divided on El Bulli, some in awe of its culinary magic, others dismissive. I had seawater sorbet! But later, on a book tour in Spain, Bourdain received a message through his publisher.
‘He Gave Me Hope’
The next day he took me to his favorite ham place, called Jamonissimo, where we sat in the back and ate ham. I liked this man. He likes ham. He's talking about it in a way I can totally relate to. But I still hadn't eaten any of his food. He wanted to show that it came from a place in his heart, specific to who he was and where he was.
Bourdain could not wait to share the news with Food Network: He had the greatest chef in the world to lead off the third season. They weren't interested. He was already chafing under Food Network's preference to limit A Cook's Tour to the United States and do more shows on barbecue and tailgating. So there would be no season three. Bourdain spent more time at Les Halles.
The Cooked and the Raw | Wine Spectator
Collins and Tenaglia freelanced on other documentaries. He circled back to New York Times Television. Chris and Lydia would put up their money. Eventually, the three paid their way to Spain and shot a one-hour documentary, with no idea how to market it. Buoyed by the book, the DVD sold well overseas.
Bourdain, Collins and Tenaglia also used it as a calling card to get a deal with Travel Channel for a new show, which debuted in A one-hour show, No Reservations had time to go into more depth, depicting more of the cultures and the people involved. Where do these things come from? What food makes you happy? What food do you miss most when you're away from home for a while? Trapped in Beirut in July as the Israel-Lebanon war broke out, Bourdain and his crew drew out information and insights from people they had met, over lunches and dinners in their homes, that traditional news organizations were not getting.
He affects a deep, newsman voice: "I'm here to get the story. What do you think about the Middle East? Where's the front? Who's fighting? Who do you think's going to win? OK, thanks, bye. To develop these connections, Bourdain is willing to eat some things most people would shun, a list that includes sheep testicles in Morocco, ant eggs in Mexico, a raw seal eyeball as part of a traditional Inuit hunt in Alaska, and a cobra in Vietnam. These revelations increasingly became an important part of No Reservations , which ran for nine seasons on Travel Channel, winning two Emmy awards for cinematography.
As Parts Unknown , his CNN show, enters its fifth season in April, viewers are already accustomed to topics that set it apart. Season four examined how the people of Iran survive under their oppressive government, unraveled mysteries in today's Vietnam, and took a highly personal look at Massachusetts, where Bourdain, while reporting on a heroin epidemic in the bucolic western part of the state, revealed in horrifying detail his own struggles with drugs. Although occasional episodes still focus on gastronomy—a visit to Burgundy with chef Daniel Boulud was one standout—food is now only a starting point.
Bourdain was reluctant to be interviewed about wine. But it's not what I do. A revealing passage in Kitchen Confidential confides: I am not immune to the charms of wine.