Anthony Bourdain sure has a high opinion of himself. I mean, I love watching his show No Reservations on the Travel Channel and I think he is a smart, open minded traveler for sure, but wow, he really loves himself and his image (see photo, right-- classic)! I find myself rolling my eyes at him but adoring the program just the same.
As someone who rarely has the opportunity to travel anywhere, much less to destinations like Namibia, Sicily, Iceland, Peru, New Zealand and, uh, New Jersey, I find myself swept away in the show's exotic locations, locals and of course, food. Bourdain was a chef for many years so a major focus of his show is indulging in local cuisine. I really appreciate the fact that he tries to get off of the beaten path and hang out with people who know their city/country like the back of their hand, and I think this is what plays a major part in making the show so addicting-- Samantha Brown, be damned! This show is no Tourist Board advertisement.
The Uzbekistan episode where Tony literally gets pummeled by a masseuse is a favorite.
Bourdain likes to present himself as someone dark and edgy, someone who's seen it all before, someone who is tough enough to scrap through any given situation and then light up a cigarette. [Although I recently heard he quit smoking when his daughter was born this April! That's a huge deal.] Some portions of the show are so self indulgent! I can forgive Bourdain's Ramones obsession, which seems, incredibly, to come up in about 50% of the episodes, but in Shanghai we got an entire segment of Bourdain swinging from wires in fighting style and edited into a fake movie. It got a little much. His Dante's Inferno fascination in the Tuscany episode quickly becomes grating. Where's the food??
Still, there is so much to love about the program. Bourdain is always on the watch for the perfect roast pork, and that is one indulgence that makes for an entertaining search! From Puerto Rico to Southeast Asia, Bourdain is constantly sniffing out the greatest roast pig and daintiest, most delicate pork fat.
A recent episode in Sao Paulo showed the more tender side of Bourdain, hanging out with Brazillian friends, getting to the heart of a complicated city. My favorite portion of the show took place in the cozy home of a kind and experienced cook, Claudia, who made feijoada, a native stew dish. Bourdain is smart enough to know that the home is where the true native cuisine comes from and it's these home-based portions of his program that really show us what each place he visits is about. It's enlightening to see how others actually live and what their day-to-day is like. That's the greatest part of the show-- whether we are seeing communal living in a village in Borneo or a family villa in Tuscany, it all shows us Americans what is really going on somewhere foreign and that cultural difference can be beautiful and a striking contrast to the monoculture we have here. For a reality show, this one strikes me as pretty authentic.
Season 1 is now available on DVD and repeats of this season typically air on the Travel Channel Monday nights at 10pm. Oh, and there's a special holiday episode with Queens of the Stone Age (!) wearing bad Christmas sweaters this Monday night at 10.