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First Mover: Anthony Bourdain

The globe-trotting chef aims for the next frontier in adventurous eating

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

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Specs
Age
59
New gig Host, CNN’s as-yet-unnamed forthcoming weekend program
Old gig Host, Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

So why leave Travel Channel for CNN?
There are a lot of places where me and my team have been wanting to make television for a long time and haven’t been able to. And CNN has the infrastructure and inclination to make those places doable.

Where have you had a hard time?
Getting to do a show in, for instance, Libya would have been very difficult. We have contacts all over the world, but you’ve got to get there.

And CNN can help with that?
When we finally got out of Beirut with my crew in 2006, an LCU [Landing Craft Utility, a ship for troop transport] comes in with the Marines and the door drops and the first person we see is [CNN correspondent] Barbara Starr—you know, they’re there. ... [Also], I like when the people who live in the places where we shoot are really happy afterward.

It drives the news story home, presumably.
We’ve done shows in places where I was a little intimidated, and places with which I was unfamiliar.

Where specifically?
Saudia Arabia. To sit in someone’s home and be looked after, be the guest of honor …it’s eye-opening. To be treated well in places where you don’t expect to be treated well, to find things in common with people you thought previously you had very, very little in common with, that can’t be a bad thing.

Where are you looking forward to going?
The Congo. It’s a historical [place] I’m really interested in, and I’m a [Heart of Darkness author Joseph] Conrad obsessive. Israel. Myanmar.

So you’ll mostly be going around the world?
We will also be doing shows that will be straight-up food porn. One of the things is challenging yourself to do a Rome show when everybody’s done a Rome show. To find some aspect of food culture or chef culture that people can look at in a new way. Those are often more gratifying and challenging than going into a shot-rich environment—that’s not the hardest hour of interesting television. But to do Paris without ever showing the Eiffel Tower—that’s interesting.

CNN correspondents tend to interview heads of state and guerrilla fighters.
There’s a lot to be said for letting people feed you and asking them simple questions. “What do you eat?” “Where do you get it?” “Who do you eat it with?” “What’s your favorite thing to eat?” “What are you proudest of?” “What makes you happy?” You learn a lot just in seeing those few questions answered.

Getting people’s blood sugar up probably makes them more forthcoming.
The willingness to drink indigenous beverages is one of the reasons that we’ve been able to get access.

How would you do the New York show?
Just look around to see whose story hasn’t been told. We just did a Brooklyn show, and in one housing project with Michael K. Williams from The Wire, he spent the entire afternoon with a bunch of moms and grandmothers he grew up with, and he identified them by the food they used to cook when he was a little kid. And they were all from different Caribbean/West Indian cultures. In one square block, we met people from Guyana, from Trinidad, from Curaçao, Jamaica, all of whom had grown up in the same area. That in itself is a story. I could do nothing but Brooklyn shows for the rest of my career, and I could die ignorant.

I think the hardest show would be in this four-block radius around Time Warner.
It would be tricky, but it sounds like a challenge. 
 



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