Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Nasty Bits, and No Reservations

Anthony Bourdain. Where do I begin? I love him, I hate him. He was a chef, then a writer, then a TV personality traveling the world eating and talking about it. Candid, opinionated, and not afraid to speak his mind, his criticizing of the Food Network and Rachel Ray famous, Anthony Bourdain is all about food, and when I say food, I mean good food.

I've just finished reading his book "The Nasty Bits" on the same day as finishing "No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach" two days after watching his show also named "No Reservations". It's been Tony overload, and I'm not complaining.

The first time I encountered AB, I was flipping through the channels and saw this guy and his buddy traveling in South East Asia, complaining about American fast food. I was turned off because I don't think there is anything wrong with a McDonald's McNugget once and a while. Listening to him I thought he was arrogant and a food snob.

But I continued to watch as he and his buddy searched for the REAL food of the people - not what they serve tourists who want to eat what they left back home. He was jetting around on a little boat when they saw a family who live on a boat, where sitting down to a meal. They pulled up to ask if they could eat with them, which the locals did with great generosity. After loving the meal they were being served, they noticed that the dishes they were eating off of were being washed in the river. The very river that was used for as a toilette, shower, was heavily polluted and always brown and murky. And they kept eating. It was then I thought this was a guy to watch.

Since then, I've been getting to know him better and the more I like him. He still seems like he can be a prick, but an interesting one at that. When I thought he was a food snob, I thought he was one of those people who need 3 forks at their dinner table and servings had to come in the size of a postage stamp instead of what 'real people' eat. What he likes is honest food - not something pulled out of the freezer and slopped on a plate. On the flip side, AB would probably not like the Wing King. Why? Well, I'm not very out going, I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I've never really done anything crazy. I am willing to try just about anything once, but I have my limits. And I know what I like and more what I don't like. I've lived on the straight and narrow, and I would think he would say I haven't lived then.

I loved reading "The Nasty Bits." A collection of articles and small pieces he wrote, together in one big collection. I like his style - it punches, it jokes and it's honest. Written in the same manner in which he narrates over his "No Reservations" show, I can hear his voice over every word, every sentence. I feel like I'm sitting with him at the pub listening to his travels and the food he's eaten. I can't put the book down, reading article after article. He makes eating what most North Americans would find gross, sound tasty. I salivate with every page, every chapter.

One thing for sure, I'm jealous of him traveling, eating and making TV about it for a living. I've been fortunate to travel around the world: North America, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Asia. And I have almost no photos of the food to prove it. Except for my last trip through Europe when I had my first digital camera, all my other trips were with point-and-click film cameras. Using precious film while running around eating in China never occurred to me - every click was precious and had to be reserved for giant Buddha's or when I camped out over night on the Great Wall. Now that I have a digital camera and can photograph with reckless abandon, I'm stuck here in Ottawa.

But reading his words about local foods really brings back the memories of food on such trips. I was too young and in-adventurous when I went to the Caribbean and South America to try anything exciting, aside from frogs legs (which did taste like chicken, but having dissected one in science class not long before the trip, I couldn't shake the smell of formaldehyde). In Europe I won't forget meals like a little one I had at an inn in France. They let us have a late lunch (they had closed for 'nap time') and made us garlic butter steak, quiche, potatoes, salad and giant eclairs. Soo rich, soo good, soo without photos. I had so many great meals in China. In Hong Kong, I sat with a family of a friend and the 'strangest' thing I had was duck's foot. I thought it was a joke on me, because NO ONE else ate it at the table, and they all watched me. I've tried to take it as an honour, that they didn't think the gwai-lo was going to eat it. I did; It was rubbery, and I wasn't a fan. But I did it. And even though I didn't start my blog until a few years ago, I have had chicken wings on 3 of the 4 continents I have been on. Just no photos, no video. But I did keep journals about it all.

Bourdain has inspired me to change the way I travel the next time I go and really pay attention to where the locals eat and to be more adventurous. I've been an Urban Explorer for a long time, and I learned early when I took the wrong bus in Hong Kong and ended up wandering around lost, it was the best way to see the city. A plan is good, but randomly coming across food can be a great thing. But I regret not eating that fish eye that everyone was daring everyone to eat in a fancy restaurant in Guangzhou - I mean, the locals must eat it for a reason? Now I just need some money and a few people willing to be video taped and travel, and we could have our own show to do, enjoying what the world has to offer. I love making film/TV, I love eating, I love talking about it. Any takers, with some money?

Thanks Tony for re-inspiring me to travel and eat and to go without reservation.


Chris said...

Anthony Bourdain is the kind of guy you don't WANT to like but can't help it anyway. I endured an AB marathon a few months back and got to loving No Reservations. I've been looking for a copy of Kitchen Confidential at the used book store. I guess the fact I never find his books there is a reflection that people keep them.

Anonymous said...

I also have a love/hate relationship with Tony Bourdain.

BTW, you can see eat fish eye at home if you pick up a whole fish at the fishmonger. Honestly, there's no real taste to it.

Anonymous said...

Hello does anybody remember the name of the restaurant he went to in Ottawa, I thought it was some kind of underground restaurant