Interview: Anthony Bourdain Discusses The Layover and How Global Travel Has Impacted His Connection to the Kitchen and the World

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Photo of Anthony Bourdain at the Ludo Truck courtesy of the Travel Channel

Onward and upward barely begins to describe Anthony Bourdain’s trajectory. In the food world, very few people are as well traveled, or eat as well, as Bourdain, a man who spent 28 years cooking professionally before a behind-the-scenes book called “Kitchen Confidential” started to show his range as a raconteur. He vaulted on screen with “A Cook’s Tour,” took his approach to another level with “No Reservations” – which is still going strong – and he even makes time to write for “Treme,” an acclaimed HBO drama set in New Orleans. November 21 marks the debut of his latest travel series – “The Layover” – where he shows viewers how to maximize up to 48 hours in a single Asian, American or European city, starting with Singapore.

On November 7, he spent an hour on a conference call with a group of writers, including me, and about a dozen people got to ask him questions. Bourdain started by describing “The Layover” as more fast-paced, with more destinations, than “No Reservations.” He said, “No Reservations is all about me, me, me and me having fun and me satisfying my curiosity about the world and less about whether or not anybody of the audience will actually be able to replicate the experience.” They designed “The Layover” to be more practical. Just don’t expect to learn about iconic museums, or say, the Eiffel Tower. Bourdain added, “We kind of assume that you will know about those things already.” Instead, expect “the local dive bar as well as sort of uniquely weird and wonderful places around the world that you might not be able to stumble upon yourself.” Bourdain added that he intends to avoid places that he’s already featured on prior television series.

Since we only had a limited window of time to ask questions, I decided to inquire about his current career as a writer and television personality, his nearly three decades as a chef, and how much of a connection remains between the two worlds.

In what ways has all this travel made you a better chef?

It hasn’t. The short answer is, it hasn’t at all. It’s taken me out of the kitchen. Maybe in some ways… I think anytime you’re able to see how other people live around the world, I like to think it makes you a more compassionate and tolerant person, maybe.

You know, maybe I’m a little tiny bit smarter, a little bit more optimistic actually about my fellow man. But as a cook, if anything, it’s taken me away from cooking.

Perhaps the only way that it’s changed my cooking in a useful way is seeing how much people make with very little around the world and how well — how delicious so many cultures could make, you know, food that you wouldn’t think of as being delicious again and again and again and seeing how hard people work for food and how generous they are even when they have very little.

It’s made me a lot less likely to waste food. It’s made me a little more careful about the respect with which I treat it.

Is there anything you miss about being in a restaurant kitchen on a regular basis?

I miss the first beer after the shift, that sense of triumph and camaraderie after surviving a busy night, the sense of certainty, the sense of closeness to the people you work with, of being part of this sort of cult. I miss that, but I mean, I had 28 years of it…I don’t miss being on my feet for 16 hours, not at my age.

Given all this global knowledge, what sort of restaurant would you be most excited to open, and is that a possibility?

I would never open a restaurant. If I’ve learned anything after 28 years of being in the restaurant business, it’s that I never want to own a restaurant…That’s a marriage.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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