“My stomach has a limited amount of real estate. And if I’m going to fill it, I’d like to fill it with good stuff, rather than waste it with crap. You’re never going to see me eating a cinnabun.” _Anthony Bourdain
The Layover With Anthony Bourdain
By: Daedrian McNaughton
A master chef, now an avid traveler, Anthony Bourdain is not only a star in the kitchen but he has going through airport security down to a science as well. We caught up with the traveling chef to learn about some of his food discoveries, and his new show, the Layover on The Food Network.
I’m very, very, very good at going through security and I’m unflustered. I don’t get cranky. I just go limp, like a guy who’s been to prison many, many times. I’m ready for the worst. I always wear a particular set of shoes. I’ve got my belt off by the time I’m anywhere near the machine I’ve got my belt off, my wristwatch in my pocket. I dress for security. My liquid, I’m not approaching that thing with any liquids or gels. I’ve got my shit together. I don’t want to be that guy that everybody else is waiting for. But also I don’t get cranky at security if it’s moving slow because there’s no point. Long, painful experience has taught me that other than relax, there’s really nothing you can do.
During this one-hour show, Tony tells viewers how to make the most out of 24 to 48-hours at unexpected destinations. He shows you how to cut right to the good stuff.
In what ways does The Layover differ from No Reservations?
Anthony Bourdain: Other than the fact that it’s a lot more fast-paced and a lot more scenes jammed in there and destinations. Unlike No Reservations, it is our hope that this will be actually useful. 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. So with this show we’re actually trying to be useful. We’ve unmasked a lot of information about places around the world over the course of eight years. We’ve gotten pretty good about cutting right to the heart of the matter. If you’re only in Rome for 24 hours I feel very strongly you should be eating (Caccula Peppe) rather than in a bad touristy restaurant. The fact is I happen to know a couple of places in Rome that serve this most Roman of dishes really, really well. No Reservations is a lot more bipolar even manic depressive at times. The whole look, feel, choice of lenses, color scheme, music changes wildly.
Describe some of the destinations featured on the show.
Anthony Bourdain: Particularly local, unique to that location places that we’ve come to know and like or that in some way personally connected to or clued into over the course of many years making television and all of them in locations where you — where a traveler might reasonably expected to find themselves hopefully at some point in their life. As with No Reservations, it’s not about the museum or the Eiffel Tower or the major sort of sight seeing spots. We kind of assume that you will know about those things already.
What do you do better in New York than any place else?
Anthony Bourdain: They’re more about the local joint, the places that make each individual place different than the other place. I like to use the example of New York. If you find yourself in New York for a brief period of time, I always advise people to go for a pastrami sandwich. So we’re looking for the Hong Kong version or Singapore or Montreal or L.A. or San Francisco version of the pastrami sandwich, 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. So it’s very much a departure for us and that, again, you will be actually able to go to these places and do these things.
What is your favorite place in New York to visit or for recommendations?
Anthony Bourdain: A really special place, quirky, to me that you haven’t seen or may not have seen in the other travel shows but are places that you can actually go that they’re reproducible experiences that you, yourself could do. I’m passionate about the (Bambulbin)’s Bar at the Carlisle Hotel because it’s just something I think a lot of people who visit New York haven’t seen and yet so many of us grew up at the Madeline Books. Particularly as a dad I feel this is something that particularly new parents would think is really cool, especially somebody who’s read that book aloud to their kid. And then some sort of quirky restaurant favorites that are for the most part really affordable but a little bit off the beaten track and, again, kind of unique to New York. We did (Picashi) in Hudson Street, which is an awesome and mind boggling new place, relatively new place, the burger bar at the Park Meridian, which even New York — I only found out about it a few years ago. That’s a slightly off the road find. Some good Chinese with (Eddie Wong) to (Bow House), so a good dive bar right in the middle of the upper east side, which you might not know until you stumble on it. So we’re trying to be helpful in our own dysfunctional way.
You were able to shed some light on the situation in Haiti and Iraq. How do you feel representing social issues like these?
Anthony Bourdain: It’s something I never set out to do but I guess, I’ve changed over the years. I never set out to let politics intrude into a scene. But again and again the elephant in the room makes itself so obvious. You have to ask, what happened to your arms and legs? How did we get to this point? Why are you eating what you’re eating? Why are you cooking the way you cook? No Reservations is very much about what’s behind who’s cooking and why they’re cooking what they’re cooking and why people eat what they eat or even what they’re not eating? And I think that as we progressed over the years, certainly Bay Route was a kind of a tipping point as far as direction on the show– reality really came home there. We’ve been going to places with the expectation of eating a great meal as a secondary consideration. I think in a lot of ways, maybe in the back of my head it’s not like I’m looking to do good in the world but I’m very aware on the one hand if I’m going to be eating at (Al Boully) in one of the last meals at this extraordinary dining experience, I just feel better about myself in the world if I could then go to a place where they don’t have it so lucky. I’m not trying to be an advocate. I’m curious about the world. I guess I’m investigating and looking at places, satisfying my curiosity about places a little outside the tighter scope that I started out with. It’s interesting to me. I’m fascinated in history and current events. So on one hand I’m indulging my curiosity. On the other hand it’s clearly something people should know.
Fancy restaurant or a local joint?
Anthony Bourdain: Chances are on any given day I would much prefer to be having a beer in a late afternoon in a favorite dive bar or at a family-run place, and not particularly, no tablecloth, not fancy, sleeping dog on the floor. It would be very hard to do better than having a (Cancho) at (Peppe) and a local pasta in Rome or a bowl of noodles someplace in Alaska or something like that in Singapore. That’s hard to beat for just pure pleasure and satisfaction, especially for a jaded guy like me. Puts me in my happy place every time. I’ll tell you that when we shot the Rome show, the whole crew as soon as we were headed into town, we know exactly the place we have to go to eat and we know exactly what we’re going to eat when we get there. It was a very, very local thing. In a lot of ways reflective of what we’re doing with The Layover because we learn stuff. We’ve made mistakes during the lengthier process of making No Reservations over the years. So, we’re pretty good at getting right to the good stuff even if it’s just for us. And I guess to some extent we’re sharing that now. We’re sharing that hard-won information.
Since you travel a lot and you are constantly going from airport to airport, how do you find our culinary offerings in airports compare to other countries?
Anthony Bourdain: It’s really dismaying. I’m a guy who grew up to believe that we have the best of everything in our country. And I certainly feel that as the wealthiest nation, we’re the best. Why shouldn’t we have the best? So, yes, it’s really dismaying when you’re seeing a better mass transit all over the world. When you go to an airport like (Chegy) airport in Singapore, it really makes it tough to travel through American airports. They have a swimming pool and a movie theater and actual good food, run by individuals who are nice to you. It makes it all the more enraging when you’re treating with callous indifference at these half-assed chains that you find in so many of our airports. I think it is dismaying and a little embarrassing. At least a (hawker) culture of snobbery free, affordable, delicious, reasonably healthy food made by actual individuals, mom and pop individually owned and operated, one chef, one dish specialist places. We have an immigrant population capable of making these foods. I would think that this would be a transformative event in many cities’ food cultures to have that kind of affordable dining environment. We lag behind and yet we have all of the elements in place.
When you travel do you worry about gaining weight or any healthy or unhealthy eating habits?
Anthony Bourdain: Well, it’s something I think about. I don’t snack. I eat when I’m hungry. I’m not eating to fill some other yearning. I don’t eat for a distraction. If I know I’m having a big lunch, I eat like an Italian in a perfect situation, meaning I’ll have a little coffee and maybe a bit of croissant in the morning, nothing more, if I’m having a big lunch and then a light supper. And if I know I’m going to overeat tomorrow, I’m going light today and I’m certainly not eating breakfast and I’ll try to schedule myself some rehab time. We have to think about it. And if we’re doing a show in Italy, I’ll be looking for some place with a lighter cuisine for the next show. It’s all about pace and it’s all about I look at my stomach as being a limited amount of real estate. And if I’m going to fill it, I’d like to fill it with good stuff, rather than waste it with crap. You’re never going to see me eating a cinnabun.
You mentioned you do not snack, what do you do when you feel hungry and you are not close to a restaurant or home?
Anthony Bourdain: I don’t snack. I really don’t snack. The crew will eat those nasty health bars that taste like stable floor. But they’re carrying cameras. I guess they need the energy. I’d rather hold out, I’ll wait for the good meal rather than settle for a crummy one now if at all possible. Maybe it helps that I really don’t care about sweet much. I’m not a dessert-type guy. I’m really kind of oblivious to that. And I think there’s a point after the third or fourth mouthful of a lot of things where you pretty much enjoyed it all you’re going to enjoy it.
Do you exercise at all?
Anthony Bourdain: No.
Are you a note taker?
Anthony Bourdain: I’m a yellow legal pad kind of guy. I’ll write very, very quickly on yellow legal and it depends what. If I’m writing a book I’ll take notes on the road and then do the actual writing when I’m home and I’ll try to set aside some time at home. Voiceovers for the show, scripts for (Trebay), stuff like that I’ll do on my laptop while I’m playing train, backup car, hotel, wherever.
On your travels do you plan layovers to experience a particular city or place?
Anthony Bourdain: I have, not often. I travel so much and have so little time at home with my family and since I get to go, I choose where we go on these shows and what we do there. But every once in a while I have. If I’m doing a speaking engagement in Australia, as has happened, or like a writer’s festival or food and wine festival, I would stop off scheduling myself a couple days, a two-day layover in Singapore would be something I’ve done before. I see friends, catch up with friends and get some good food. That would be a place that I would go out of my way to have a layover, also Hong Kong. I hate the thought of just changing planes in Hong Kong and at least not running into town and grabbing some roast goose or something.
Is it a challenge for you to highlight these foreign locations to the American audience?
Anthony Bourdain: I think, Layover, these are places that any international traveler wouldn’t be likely to find themselves. But, the challenge is making like Saudi Arabia or Liberia more accessible in the sense. And I think the way you do that is you sit people down at a table or you show people sitting down at a table and you relate in some way the way that I do. It takes us four hours to do a five-minute meal scene for No Reservations. That’s the end result of a lot of time spent getting to know the family, playing with the kids, petting the dog and drinking the local moonshine. And I think it’s bringing people into the human dimension but relating to people over food, being open to the experience on camera that maybe, I hope, allows those places, those off the road place and cultures to be at least more emotionally accessible and understandable to American viewers who might not ever see themselves going to those places. At least I hope so. I’d shoot with them, then move on to let’s say Montreal where the first crew would have been then leap frogged. So it was a lot of logistics and less room for error than No Reservations where if things go wrong we can make a scene out of that, maybe not a fun one for me but an entertaining one for the audience. In this case, since we’re trying to inform and actually provide people some useful information, we try very, very hard to get it right in preproduction.
Do you think doing these shows affect your cooking abilities as a chef?
Anthony Bourdain: It hasn’t at all. It’s taken me out of the kitchen. I think anytime you’re able to see how other people live around the world, I like to think it makes you more compassionate and tolerant person, maybe. 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 I could, that if it’s changed my cooking in a useful way it is seeing how much people make with very little around the world and how well delicious so many cultures could make 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.
Do you miss the kitchen?
Anthony Bourdain: I miss the first beer after being in the restaurant kitchen, that sense of triumph and camaraderie of having survived another 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. I had 28 years of it. I don’t miss standing on my feet for 16 hours, not at my age.
Any chance of you opening a restaurant?
Anthony Bourdain: I would never open a restaurant. If I’ve learned anything in 28 years of being in the restaurant business it’s that I never want to own a restaurant. That’s, you know, that’s a marriage.
Since you travel a lot how do you prepare yourself for TSA?
Anthony Bourdain: I’m very, very, very good at going through security and I’m unflustered. I don’t get cranky. I just go limp, like a guy who’s been to prison many, many times. I’m ready for the worst. I always wear a particular set of shoes. I’ve got my belt off by the time I’m anywhere near the machine I’ve got my belt off, my wristwatch in my pocket. I dress for security. My liquid, I’m not approaching that thing with any liquids or gels. I’ve got my shit together. I don’t want to be that guy that everybody else is waiting for. But also I don’t get cranky at security if it’s moving slow because there’s no point. Long, painful experience has taught me that other than relax, there’s really nothing you can do.
You are often in an airport, any favorite airport bars?
Anthony Bourdain: The last place I want to be drinking is an airport. I like (Narita) in Tokyo, (Chengy) in Singapore and Frankfurt’s not bad. It’s cool because Frankfurt Tweets you if you’re complaining about something – if you complain about an experience you’re having at Frankfurt airport, they get back to you in like three seconds telling you, and they try to help.
Wouldn’t it be great to have like a genuine dive bar at an airport?
Anthony Bourdain: My gosh, I would schedule myself around that. That would be the answer to a prayer.
How did you come up with the idea for Layover?
Anthony Bourdain: Gosh, probably in Italy. Or was it? Yes, it was. It would be at probably more likely was in a procession. The idea came together slowly over time in a series of post, we’d finish the day shooting and we’d be sitting in some cocktail, terrible cocktail lounge in a hotel somewhere, getting our night cap before we’d stagger off to our rooms at which point we tend to sort of blue sky and throw ideas around. It’s where we make a lot of our major decisions, a lot of our creative decisions as well on the show.
Where was the last place you traveled for the first time?
Anthony Bourdain: Just a couple weeks ago I went to Mozambique. It happens all the time. I’d never been to Croatia, (Austria). I’d never been to those places. For No Reservations I’d try very, very hard, whenever possible, to go someplace I’ve never been.
Will fans like it?
Anthony Bourdain: I don’t know and I try very hard not to think about it, honestly.
What country do you think the average American would have the most difficulty adjusting to food-wise?
Anthony Bourdain: I don’t know. There are parts of China where it would be a real shift if you grew up eating meat and potatoes, you’re from rural America in an area where you haven’t been exposed to the urban restaurant scene. It might be a real shock to the system in like (Sichwan) Province or poorer areas of China. Certainly Saudi Arabia, the traditional Arab meals, particularly in the desert where you’re eating with your hands, sitting around all eating out of one big platter. The very things that are in the end the most rewarding for me, the learning curve is maybe a little steep early on.
And has there ever been a restaurant that refused to be on one of your shows?
Anthony Bourdain: Sure, it’s happened. On No Reservations it’s happened. Eastern Europe, a lot of places in like the post-communist world, they’re sort of instinctively wary of cameras. Someone points a camera at you during (quiz chef) time, it was seldom a good thing. It generally meant they’re coming for you the next day, so a lot of that I think carried over. They don’t care about any business it might be bringing them. They’re just worried. Also really exclusive places; and In and Out Burger didn’t want us shooting there years ago. We really wanted to shoot inside at an In and Out Burger and they were not excited at the prospect.
And do you have a preference to writing or filming television shows?
Anthony Bourdain: Hard to say. They’re just so linked at this point. Making the television shows, seeing all of these places gives me things to write about. So I’m always writing in my head, so it’s really hard to separate out. It’s all part of a big, happy mess at this point.
Have you ever gotten sick while sampling dishes for the show?
Anthony Bourdain: I’ve been really ill twice on the show. Once was after Namibia I was not well after. There was a tribal situation. And then Liberia I was really, really badly poisoned.
Is your crew as open as you are in eating while filming?
Anthony Bourdain: Yes they are as adventurous. If they have the time, there are some scenes where they have to shoot the entire time and maybe they’ll get some leftovers, often very good leftovers. Most of the time, they’ll sit down and eat after me or before me in the same environment. Everybody on the crew more or less eats and is open to eating what I eat. You don’t work on this show year after year if you’ve got a fussy pallet. In fact, maybe the more enjoyable things about making these shows is that we get to hang out after and maybe have a casual meal together. They are as adventurous as me in their tastes.
After this many years of filming, is it still fun for you?
Anthony Bourdain: It is still fun. It’s still exciting. The minute it stops being fun I will stop doing it.
What do you listen to when traveling?
Anthony Bourdain: I bring a lot of stuff with me, rock and roll, early funk, movie soundtracks, rap, mid 80s, pop, everything.