by Patricia Grandjean
Feb 11, 2011
03:57 PMBox Office
Q & A: Anthony Bourdain
(page 2 of 4)
This is the sixth season of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel?
We're shooting the seventh now.
But the sixth included your 100th episode . . .
Yes, near the end.
What did you think were some of the stand-out episodes of last season?
I was very, very proud of the Rome show, because we took such an enormous chance with it and worked so hard to make it look a certain way that we defied all conventional wisdom—and we jammed it down the network's throat. I mean, we shot an entire episode of food and travel television in black-and-white. I thought it looked beautiful, I thought it captured the subject beautifully. But we knew it would potentially be a very, very unpopular move. Conventional wisdom tells us that anytime you show anything in black-and-white, people turn off in droves. So I'm glad it worked out as well as it did, as far as audience perception goes—but I'm just proud of it because technically, it's a beautiful piece of work. I assumed at least 50 to 80 percent of our core audience would just loathe, detest and hate it. In fact, only 20 percent did. It's something we can point to years down the line and say we did something really daring and beautiful.
Sardinia was a show I'm very proud of, because again it was a risky venture. The second Beirut show—we returned to Beirut because of unfinished business. This year we're doing something completely different. A lot of last year's shows were shot in fairly comfortable circumstances—Rome, Paris, Madrid—so in the seventh season we're doing some very difficult and very uncomfortable shows.
What will some of those be?
So far, we've done Haiti, Nicaragua, Cambodia, the Ozarks; we're looking at going up the Congo River, Yemen, possibly Kurdistan. It won't all be Frette sheets and good plumbing.
What struck you about Haiti?
We were there right in the middle of a cholera outbreak, with a hurricane headed our way. The devastation from the hurricane is mind-boggling. I think what struck me is who's doing good work there, and trying real hard to do the good work. And the amount of artwork the Haitians make . . . beautiful art, made from trash, with no expectations of selling any of it. If this work were shown in the galleries of New York, it would sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Yet, it's everywhere in Haiti. This is a country that deserves much, much better; they just can't seem to catch a break.
What was your culinary focus?
Right now, Port-au-Prince looks like Berlin after World War II. It's completely destroyed, so there's not much food there. But the roots of Haitian cuisine are the same as the fundamental roots of New Orleans: Cajun and Creole. The life's-blood of what we see as Creole cuisine is pretty much a product of Haiti. It's an important mother cuisine in a country that unfortunately, has suffered from bad leadership over many lifetimes.
Let's talk about the Ozarks. What was striking about that for you?
I love having all my preconceptions about a place turned completely upside down. I had an amazing time there, I'm a blue-state guy, and the Ozarks didn't sound like they'd be my speed. That's a hunting culture, deeply religious, anti-authoritarian, deeply patriotic—everyone you meet has a family member in the military. I loved it. I had an amazing time.
I'm a New Yorker, and until about 10 years ago I hadn't seen much of the interior of my country. Every time I go to the South or the Midwest I carry a little bit of those prejudices with me.It's a singular delight to have them turned upside down again and again and again. People are a hell of a lot more sophisticated, smarter and weirder than our politicians would have us believe. This notion of a "real" America—that is completely ridiculous. It's just as weird and crazily hip in the Ozarks as it is in New York City. We flatter ourselves.
Getting back to your 100th episode—you did that in Paris.
Our very first episode was in Paris, so it seemed like the right time to revisit.
After six years, is it getting easier or harder to do these shows?
Well, harder in the sense that we're not satisfied with doing the same thing again and again. I'd rather not make television than stick with a successful formula. So the challenge is always to make the shows, to as great an extent as possible, different from last week or last year. To find new ways to tell stories, to find new visual ways to present those stories, to create little standalone video essay that are different than anything we've done before. To find new ways to confuse and dismay the network and our viewers. I want to be inconsistent. I want people not to know what to expect this week: Are they going to love it, or are they going to be confused or offended? I'd rather make interesting television than reliable television.