'DID YOU HEAR? He's single,' whispers woman after woman at a packed dinner at JW's California in the JW Marriott. They're giggling over a tall, skinny, tough-talking, chain-smoking, heavy drinking, party-hearty former heroin addict. Anthony Bourdain also happens to be a best-selling writer, suave television presenter and amusing public speaker. And he's a respected chef. Bourdain, executive chef of Brasserie Les Halles in New York, is author of several books, including Kitchen Confidential - Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, his breakthrough tell-all of a chef's life, and the star of A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal, his series on the Discovery Travel & Living television channel. The women would probably have been even more giddy and breathless if they'd heard him speaking before the dinner. 'There's a connection between sex and food,' he says. 'With both, you undergo the same physiological changes. If a person doesn't like food, he or she is not going to like sex.' Anybody who's watched Bourdain's TV show and witnessed his enthusiasm when he tastes something delicious might well be consumed with jealousy over whom he bestows his affections. And what could the lucky lady expect for a seduction meal? 'Well, it would be breakfast,' he says. 'But it's so easy. You feed someone champagne and caviar and then you sleep with them - that's kind of tacky.' What you should do, Bourdain says, is make them breakfast afterwards. 'You've had what you wanted, presumably. If you like them, it's a selfless act, a random act of kindness. There's clearly nothing in it for you. I think it's a nice thing, to wake up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to make you an omelette.' ' But what if she's a vegetarian or a vegan? 'I've met some cute vegetarians. That's all I'm saying on that subject.' (In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes: 'Vegetarians and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.') That Bourdain would woo a lover with something as simple as an omelette seems appropriate for a man so passionate about rustic peasant dishes of tripe, bone marrow and other, cheaper cuts of meat, and who's known for tasting everything from insects to a beating cobra's heart. His curiosity and anti-snob attitude about food is enthusiastically received by the audience of 140 guests at JW's California on Monday. They cheer when, after sampling a simple bowl of congee with pig's blood, he says: 'That's good, I love it. I want it for breakfast.' They laugh when, later on, he says: 'The same engine that drove the French to have a great culinary culture is in many ways the same engine that drove the Chinese culinary culture. The first person to eat a snail wasn't a chef - it was one hungry sonofabitch who thought, 'I'm hungry, maybe if I put on enough garlic butter, I could eat it.' 'Anyone can make a steak, it's simple. The challenge is to make something good out of rabbit or frog or shanks, shoulders, feet and tongue - that's the good stuff; that's what makes a cook. That's what's great about France and a lot of Asian cuisines. If you're smaller than me, slower than me, stupider than me and you taste good, you're my lunch.' And they applaud when he reveals his upcoming plans to live for a year in Vietnam, which he's visited many times. 'I'm going to live in a little fishing village on the coast of Vietnam, near Hoi An,' he says. 'I'm not going with cameras. I'm picking a village where there are no other tourists or expats. I plan to be the lone, freakishly tall white guy. I don't know what I'm doing. I have no plans. The idea is to go and find out what happens.' Bourdain was toiling away in the kitchen of Les Halles and writing in his spare moments what he describes as 'unsuccessful crime novels', when, in 1999, a piece he wrote was accepted by The New Yorker. Titled, Don't Eat Before Reading This, the article advised, among other things: don't order the Monday fish specials (the fish is four to five days old); don't eat anything with hollandaise at brunch (it's 'held' at a lukewarm temperature for several hours, allowing bacteria to thrive); and don't order steaks well done (you'll be served the worst piece). The article was a sensation, with the dining public both repelled and fascinated. Bourdain received a contract to expand the article into a book, and Kitchen Confidential was born. In it, he describes taking a childhood trip from the US to his father's ancestral home, France. The nine-year-old continually ate 'steak hache' (hamburger) with ketchup and cola, until he had the sudden epiphany that food is much more than just sustenance - that it 'could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please.' Bourdain writes of his aborted academic career, his early days as a kitchen dishwasher and attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He reveals that, after graduating and thinking he'd be the next Auguste Escoffier, he worked in a long line of decreasingly desirable kitchens, addicted to heroin and cocaine, and describes his slow climb out of 'the wilderness years'. Writing Kitchen Confidential meant working 17 hours a day. 'I'd wake up at 5am, write as long as I could, then I'd go to work,' he says. 'I didn't see it as any more important than roasting bones, filleting salmon or anything else I did. It was the same work ethic.' Before I meet Bourdain, who says he is 'no longer married', a mutual friend in Paris describes him as 'the classic sensitive guy with a tough exterior'. Bourdain hesitates when asked to comment: 'It's not untrue. I can be a bastard. I am capable of harshness, cruelty and insensitivity. It is not untrue.' And the sensitivity part? 'I'm the worst person to ask that question. It would be very easy for me to say 'yes' or 'no', but who could tell? I cry at Truffaut films, OK? It depends on who you ask. Someone might say, 'He's an insensitive, self-centred prick'; someone else will say, 'He's a complete softie'. It depends.' Bourdain does come across as surprisingly accommodating - virtues one doesn't see in his descriptions of himself in Kitchen Confidential. While taking a walk through the Central wet market, he signs autographs for passers-by. During the wet-market tour, Bourdain runs his fingers over rambutans, stops to sniff durians ('I love these') and jokes about his fertility while downing a cup of ginseng tea. He buys a jar of rich, aged soy bean paste at Kowloon Soy - and leaves it behind when we stop somewhere else. And although he's had a five-course lunch cooked by his friend Donovan Cooke at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, he stops to eat, in quick succession, a plate of roast pork and roast suckling pig at Dragon Restaurant on Graham Street, portions of dry noodles with pork and prawn won ton noodles at the famous Mak's Noodles on Wellington Street, and some strong milk tea and Hong Kong-style French toast at a cha chaan teng. So, what food did he like best on this brief promotional trip to Hong Kong? 'That suckling pig,' he says enthusiastically. 'Oh, my god, that was a religious experience. In the words of Homer Simpson, the pig is a magical animal. I like pig in general and suckling pig is probably the very best example of pork. When it's done brilliantly, I mean, it's all about the skin and that skin was just fantastic.' Given his excitement about the simple, local foods he tastes on this trip, it's a wonder it's taken him so long to pay his first visit to Hong Kong. 'Chinese food is such a major, important 'mother' cuisine,' he says. 'You'll notice I've also avoided Italy, India and, until recently, France. I've stayed away from subjects that other smarter, more authoritative people have covered. 'I went to places that haven't had much coverage. But I've been nibbling away at the edges for so long now, eating Chinese food in America, Malaysia, Singapore and Taipei, that I don't care if I look like an idiot, I just want to experience it. This is a very exciting place to be. I can't wait to come back and eat everything in sight.' A Cook's Tour, Discovery T&L channel, Tue, 10pm and Wed, 10am. Bourdain's new programme, Decoding Ferran Adria, about the experimental and influential chef whose restaurant in Roses, Spain, has three Michelin stars, starts May 10, 10pm.