Talking Travel with Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, author, traveler, and host of Travel Channel’s No Reservations, joins us this week for another round of Gadling’s Talking Travel.

Mr. Bourdain was born in New York City, where he attended the Culinary Institute of America. He became executive chef at the famous New York City French restaurant, Brasserie Les Halles, and wrote the critically acclaimed and New York Times best-selling book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underground. He hosts the travel-cum-culinary show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which begins its new season on the Travel Channel tonight, July 30, at 10:00 PM ET.

Gadling got the chance to sit down and talk travel with Anthony Bourdain — check out what he had to say.

Where are you writing this from?

I’m writing this from the Raleigh Hotel in Miami–on short break between shoots for NR.

How did you get interested in travel? Were your foreign experiences limited to your trips to France as a kid, or did you get the opportunity to travel to other places?

What right minded person would NOT travel the world if and when given the chance? I began to travel seriously as soon as I COULD. It took a successful book–and an indulgent network to allow me the opportunity–and I’m making the most of it. Until Kitchen Confidential at age 44, I’d been hardly anywhere. France as a kid. A brief trip to the UK. The Caribbean, and a week or so in Mexico.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about both your writing and your television presence is that you’re never afraid to speak the truth. If a particular dish is bad, or a particular place dreadful, you’re not afraid to be up front about it. I know you love Vietnam, but what places have you been that you have no interest in returning?

Not crazy about Uzbekistan. Borat was dead right on that count.

Where in the world does the new season take you?

We’re planning to visit Laos, Tokyo, rural Spain, Uruguay, Vancouver, Papua New Guinea, England, San Francisco, Singapore…and elsewhere.

What’s the process for selecting an area to visit? Do you throw a dart and see where it lands? Do you pull out your list of dream destinations and go down the list? Or is the choice more methodical?

I choose where we go. I make those choices based on a number of criteria: I’ve been before on book tour and made friends among the chef and cook subculture. I’ve always been curious about the place, read about it in books or saw it in a cool or intriguing movie. Somebody said it was a great place. Or My producers pushed me until I finally said, “Why Not?” I think previous reading–or an earlier visit (as with Singapore) are the most frequent factors.

Some travelers shy away from street food when traveling under the assumption that while absolutely delicious and mind-numbingly cheap, it can be unsafe. Nonsense! But… have you ever had any close calls?

My Namibian warthog experience with the Bushmen of the Kalahari caused an unplanned Dr.’s visit about a week later–and a long course of antibiotics. Other than that, most problems are either temporary (extra time in the bathroom) or alcohol related. Nothing serious.

Sometimes it’s tough to tell which you are most: an eater or a traveler. You seem to really get to the heart of a culture through its food, so much that the viewer forgets they’re watching a culinary-focused show. Which comes first? Do you travel to eat, or eat to travel?

Eat first. It seems to open doors if you show people that you’re willing, eager and appreciative of their food. Food, of course, is the purest expression of a culture and a region and a history–and people tend to be proud of their food. Eating and drinking–breaking bread with our subjects (my crew as well) is what makes so much of what we get to see and do–and the unique way we see it–possible.

You usually travel with the help of a local guide on the show — how does their involvement shape the show? Are they essential for truly learning about a place?

A lot counts on our local “fixer”. And their involvement can shape the show a lot–as with the case of our three time guide and friend Zmir (in Russia and Uzbekistan) or hardly at all–as in Singapore, where I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do and where to go–and who with before hand. In a place like China–knowing no one, a good fixer like ours (China Matt) is invaluable–but it’s essential in our case that they “get” the show–that they understand that we’re not a normal travel show, that we don’t want to see the monuments or landmarks–or the best restaurant in town. We send Fixer candidates tapes of prior shows and make sure they respond appropriately–that they have a sense of what we do and what we want to see and NOT see. We REALLY try and avoid official Tourist Board involvement whenever possible–and when they are mandatory, we usually manage to escape their clutches.

How much traveling do you do outside of the show? Is this a different type of travel for you, or do you still get to know a place via its food, sans a camera crew?

I do a lot of additional travel for speaking engagements all over the world. For promotional trips for foreign broadcasters and networks who show the program (often in Asia–where the show does very well and seems to be particularly appreciated), book tours–foreign and domestic. I regard these as scouting trips for the show. Oh..yeah..and I take the occasional vacation. Usually seeking nothing more exciting than a palm tree, some sand and a hammock.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, begins its new season on the Travel Channel tonight, July 30, at 10:00 PM ET.