Anthony Bourdain is sadly gone, but the food/travel genre he revolutionised continues to flourish.
Four shows offer new episodes in early July, including Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern; Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil; PBS newcomer No Passport Required and Viceland’s F---, That’s Delicious; which chronicles rapper/author Action Bronson’s culinary adventures in the New York area.
“I don’t think my show would exist without [Bourdain, who committed suicide on June 8]. He reinvented the genre. I pitched [my] show with one line: ‘I’m exactly like Anthony Bourdain, if he was afraid of everything’,” says Phil Rosenthal, the Everybody Loves Raymond creator who dedicated his inaugural Netflix season to Bourdain.
Rosenthal takes the Everyman tourist approach, substituting comedic skill for a lack of culinary expertise. He wants viewers to travel vicariously with him to Argentina, South Africa, Ireland, Denmark, Italy and New York (where his engaging and funny parents chat with renowned chef Daniel Boulud over a bowl of Rosenthal’s mom’s matzo ball soup).
The new episodes feature scenes of Rosenthal herding cattle with Argentinian gauchos and – even scarier – taking a tango lesson: The teacher “was lucky to get out with both her feet intact”.
“This is a show about human connection disguised as a food/travel show with humour. Hopefully humour,” he says. “That’s my way to hook you, so that you’ll be just a little bit braver, go a little out of your comfort zone,”
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who appeared on his pal Bourdain’s show, says the Parts Unknown host inspired No Passport, in which Samuelsson explores the cuisine and culture of immigrant groups in the US, including Detroit’s Middle Eastern population in the July 10 opener.
“What I learned from Anthony was to listen and be curious about other cultures. The type of show Anthony did brought so many people together. He brought the world a little closer,” says Samuelsson, who also serves as a judge on Food Network’s Chopped. Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain’s groundbreaking behind-the-scenes tale of restaurant life, “opened up a whole segment of books that didn’t exist before. We learned a lot from Anthony”.
The food/travel shows share Bourdain’s mission, encouraging viewers to travel, experiment and embrace the new and different. But each carries the imprint of its host.
Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, celebrates America’s immigrant culture in the six-episode series that visits Vietnamese immigrants in Louisiana, people of Ethiopian descent in Washington, DC, and Mexican-Americans in Chicago.
“I am an immigrant, and I feel very privileged to live and work in America,” he says, adding that positive messages about immigrants are especially important now. “What we do in the show is unpack this false narrative that we’re not contributing. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.”
Zimmern, whose Bizarre Foods premiered on Travel Channel in 2007, says Bourdain revolutionised and opened up the genre “to lots of personalities who bring something unique. I love watching them”.
Bourdain’s first series, Food Network’s A Cook’s Tour, “was historically seminal in that it put a self-effacing discoverer front and centre, where people wanted to follow him into any nook and cranny that he went into”, he says. “Tony was uniquely symphonic that way, endlessly curious and phenomenally aware.”
Season 12 of Bizarre Foods blends history, food and travel: Zimmern visits the site of the second world war’s Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and a section of the Underground Railroad in Kentucky and Ohio.
The opener, which finds Zimmern travelling a Nevada-California stretch of the Pony Express mail route, is a reminder of an inventive American exceptionalism that he believes can be called on to solve today’s seemingly intractable problems.
Zimmern wants to connect viewers with unfamiliar foods, places and cultures “in a world increasingly defined by our differences, not by our similarities”.
Rosenthal just hopes people are inspired to travel: “The world might be nicer if we could all experience a bit of someone else’s experience.”