At the risk of oversimplification, you might call ANTHONY BOURDAIN, 54, the punk rocker of celebrity chefdom. Who he is is probably best expressed in the goals he has for his culinary and cultural adventure program, “No Reservations,” now filming its seventh season for the Travel Channel. “My challenge is always, to as great an extent as possible, to make each show different from whatever worked last week or last year, to find new ways to tell stories, as well as new ways to confuse and dismay both the network and our viewers,” he says. “I want to be inconsistent; I want people to not know what to expect. I‘d rather make interesting TV than reliable TV.”
The same goes for his public-appearance tours, the latest of which will bring him to both the Stamford Center for the Arts on Feb. 12 and the Shubert Theater in New Haven on Feb. 23. Says Bourdain, “These live stage shows have morphed over time from book talks to a mix of stand-up routine and open-ended, almost anarchic, Q&As that are as crazy or thought-provoking as the audience can make them. A successful date for me is one where I can completely veer off my planned topics.” He fondly recalls a recent date at a Boston convention of dietitians that became “a very provocative discussion addressing the question of whether or not government should legislate food and how much of it we put in our mouths. I didn’t think they were going to be such a fun bunch.”
Bourdain gained renown with his 2000 book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a racy memoir of his early professional career. Six nonfiction books have followed; the most recent, 2010’s Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, has been touted as a Confidential sequel. He’s flirted with crime fiction, and will soon publish a new novel—his first in 10 years. “No Reservations” established itself early on with a 2006 show filmed in Beirut (just as the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out, requiring the TV crew to be evacuated by the U.S. Marines), and others in which Bourdain consumed sheep testicles (Morocco), a whole cobra (Vietnam) and an unwashed warthog rectum (Namibia). “I’m a big believer in second thoughts, always open to the possibility I’m wrong,” he says of the last experience.
Though he's also known for his put-downs of other celeb chefs (including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.—who he’s called “Pol Pot in a muumuu”—and the ubiquitous Rachael Ray), one peer he’s never had any reservations about is Madison’s Jacques Pépin. “My hero,” he says. “Worship him, absolutely. My god, he’s a pioneer of food television, he’s appeared at just about every important point in culinary history during his lifetime and he wrote the quintessential ‘how-to’ book on cooking. If Jacques Pépin shows you how to make an omelet, that is how to make an omelet. End of argument.” —P.G.
For more info on Bourdain’s appearance at Stamford Center for the Arts, call (203) 325-4466 or visit stamfordcenterforthearts.org; for the Shubert Theater show, call (888) 736-2663 or visit shubert.com.Anthony Bourdain