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Q&A: Anthony Bourdain

As he continues to celebrate lesser-visited cultures in his new series, Parts Unknown, the chef and author explains why there's more to enjoying a meal than good food, writes Mark Peters

 

After having produced nine seasons of No Reservations with the Travel Channel, how has working with CNN changed the way you operate? “CNN can get us into places. They have experience, an infrastructure and a willingness to let us go to places like Libya, the Congo, Myanmar. Any location on Earth I can think of. They really expanded the possibilities for me and my team. It’s great having the muscle and experience of a worldwide news organisation behind you when your things-to-do list is as ambitious as ours.”

Is street food the best way to the heart of a city? “In almost every case, sure. That’s what ordinary people are eating; it’s what gives them pleasure; it’s what they enjoy in their unguarded moments. A culture that celebrates street food is always interesting to me; that lack of snobbery. A place like Singapore, where every income level will wait in line for an hour for a US$3 plate of food is always a place I like to go to.”

You visited Hong Kong and the mainland as part of your No Reservations show. How did you enjoy the food here? “Hong Kong is a wonderland; I can’t wait to find a way to come back. It’s one of the really great food destinations in the world. China is a big subject; I could make TV shows in China for the rest of my career and still know very little about it. That’s one of the things I find so exciting about shooting there.” 

I’m sure it’s near impossible to choose but do you have a favourite destination? “I feel very connected to Vietnam because it was my first love, in a lot of ways. But I’m always excited to eat in Japan, Spain, Brazil, Beirut. Good food and good surroundings. Libya is the show I’m most proud of, I can’t wait until it airs. It may be the best we’ve ever done under very difficult conditions.”

You’ve said vegetarians make “bad travellers and bad guests”. Do you still despise them? “I don’t dislike them personally, I just don’t understand how anyone can be so incurious about the world or so willing to offend people when they travel. What food choices they make in their home, I don’t have a problem with. The kind of relationships I’ve formed around the world are to a great extent dependent on my willingness to eat what’s offered and to be a good guest and to be grateful for whatever it is they offer me. It would have been a very stunting experience to come at that with a restricted diet.”

How much of your enjoyment of food is to do with the experience and the people you’re sharing it with? “I think it’s a vital connection. Just good food in a good restaurant is not that interesting to me. I’m much more interested in what’s going on around the meal, who’s cooking and what they’re cooking. “I’m very comfortable and enjoy eating and speaking with people who are very different from me and have very different world views and very different opinions. To me the idea of sitting in a room and talking to people who all agree with me is uninteresting. That would be hell.”

 

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown airs on Sundays at 9am on CNN International.

 

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