Tony Bourdain Would Pimp for Prada
The No Reservations star shares his plans, real and imagined
Anthony Bourdain was in Chicago late last month on a book tour for No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, the behind-the-scenes journal of his hot series on the Travel Channel. ¶ Over a few beers at his hotel bar, Bourdain proudly flashed a photo of his then-seven-month-old daughter, Ariane, for whom he made the ultimate sacrifice: quitting smoking. But even without nicotine, Bourdain is still Bourdain: He relived the horrors of a recent shoot in a Jamaican cave, spoke of his hopes to produce yet another epic travel series with a certain Crocs-clogged chef, and revealed that he’s going back to cooking.
Why did you quit smoking completely—rather than just not smoke around the baby?
It just became so hard. I mean, where am I going to smoke? I can’t smoke in my own apartment—the last refuge. … [A]ll that would be left would be the short distance between the hotel and the media escort’s car, and during shows, in which case I’d kind of only be smoking for television, and that seems fundamentally wrong. I’m going to end up like Hunter Thompson—tragic. And I’m not wearing the leather jacket anymore either. I mean, occasionally I’ll bring my old friend down. I joke about bobbleheads: I’m not going to become an action figure.
What’s with the book?
You were there! It’s our never-ending summer vacation isn’t it? Who gets to do what we do? It’s fun going where we go. Being able to go to cool places and be treated well and have lusty adventures in faraway places that you’ve only seen in movies. It doesn’t suck. It just absolutely is great.
What’s been the best show for you?
Tuscany was the most fun show to do ever. We were staying in this incredible villa. Right in the same town as Dario [Cecchini]—and Dario drops by. Faith Willinger was in town. Cesare [Casella] comes up to cook, hang out, and bring us gigantic truffles. People are giving us cheese that’s so good you want to black out. It was ludicrously good.
How was Jamaica? I heard you had a tough scene.
The single hardest scene [we] ever shot. Ever. Ever. Insane. We went caving. In the middle of the jungle. Down a shit-filled, guano-slicked tube. [Cameramen] Todd [Liebler] and Zach [Zamboni] are going, “This is fucked up. This is insanely reckless behavior.” [Segment producer] Diane [Schutz] said, “I thought there were going to be guardrails. And a gift shop.” You had to lower yourself down through moss-covered tree roots. It was horrifying. And covered with cockroaches.
But it’s going to make great television.
I heard you were going to be producing another show?
I hope this Mario [Batali] thing really goes through [for Travel Channel]. It looks like it’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be the greatest thing on television ever.
It will be an exhaustive, definitive Italy series with the kind of production values that Planet Earth had. It will let Mario be the fucking genius that we know he is: able to talk about everything from Renaissance architecture to rock-and-roll b-sides to food, geography, everything. It will just unleash him.
It is my expectation that it will be a series. Especially given his shoddy treatment at Food Network. Who wouldn’t want to make TV with us?
Why don’t you do endorsements?
I’ve done no endorsements ever. Amstel had some deal with MSN—they were paying for the page or something like that. I got no money. I got paid to write prose for MSN, which I did. Amstel? I don’t drink it. I’ll tell you right up front.
I think it’s vanity. I was having a very thoughtful conversation about this with Rocco DiSpirito—whom I make a lot of fun of, but who’s not a stupid guy—and another chef, whom I won’t mention, whom I really respect. I felt foolish at the end of the conversation. I mean, what is my problem? I think I’m behind the curve on this. Maybe it’s cynical, but I think to be honest with myself it is sheer vanity that prevents me from doing it. At this point it’s almost a fault. I’m looking to lose my cherry to the right guy, I guess. I’m thinking Aston Martin—my ankles will be behind my ears in a hot second! Aston Martin, and Prada, I’m there!
What about offers to be a partner in a restaurant?
It’s happened recently. “Here are monstrous sums of money to just show up with your friends once a month.” And it’s in a city I really like. And it’s not even once a month: “When you can, bring some friends. Spend as much money as you like. Stay in the presidential suite.” But you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking, “I’ve been in the restaurant business long enough to know that you want to put your name anywhere near the door, you better know everything—everything.” The bartender serves some 17-year-old girl, and she goes out and gets into a car wreck, and it’s “Girl Dies at Bourdain Restaurant.” No way. I’d be freaked out if I saw online that somebody found a fly in their soup or their plate was crusty. I’d take that personally. With the restaurant business, you’re either crazy enough to go all the way or you don’t bother.
What about a place like Mario’s with the Spotted Pig? Let’s say Fergus [Henderson] wanted to open a place?
Fergus? I’d do anything with Fergus. Anytime. Blind. I don’t care. We could kill 17-year-olds with regularity! I will personally serve 17-year-olds if I’m in business with Fergus!
How’s your cooking these days?
Well we’ll find out for sure on the “Into the Fire” special we’re doing Christmas week. We’re shooting it. We’re going back to Les Halles. I’m doing a double shift on sauté station. There are twice as many seats as there used to be. I will work sauté station for lunch and dinner.
And my grill bitch will be Eric [Ripert]! Can you imagine? Customers are going to shit themselves when they see us there! You know, “[It’s the] fish dude!” Most I ever did at Les Halles was 365 [plates]—that was when the dining room was half as big as it is now. Lunch was about 120, 140—it’s turn and burn.
Photograph courtesy of Diane Schutz and the Travel Channel; photo-illustration by Sean McCabe
Louisa Chu is a chef and food writer who’s cooked her way through the world’s hottest kitchens, from El Bulli to Alinea. And yeah, that’s her taking Anthony Bourdain on the Paris meat market tour in No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Louisa can currently be found in Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie on PBS, Gourmet’s Choptalk, and her own food blog, Movable Feast.