Monday, August 11, 2008

The TV Set: Chef Cool

For those hardy, remote jockeying souls still out there searching for a hero to save them from televised atrocities that can only happen during summer, Bruno from "Celebrity Circus" comes to mind, I give you Bourdain, Anthony Bourdain. His Travel Channel show, "No Reservations" (Mondays, 10pm), about food in (mostly) far away places is back, baby. That's right. No more baby borrowing for you. Am I the only one that finds "The Baby Borrowers" creepy? This undoubtedly qualifies me as a card carrying fuddy duddy, but I find it impossible to get over the fact that NBC has managed to get away with sticking teenage couples in a house with one another, cavalierly showing them getting in the same bed at night. We're a long way from the demure twin bedliness of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo. Where's the Christian right when you need them?

But I digress. Back to Bourdain who has dropped in on this badness, an unlikely Hancock-like champion with a fistful of new episodes for the perpetually re-runned, those who have had their dignity rassled away from them by a Gladiator, and those of us that have come to the conclusion that perhaps it'd be better if we didn't survive this Japanese game show. Better death than to be confronted with your glowering reflection in the morning, who, once so trusting now eyes you with wary suspicion and disappointment. Brushing one's teeth has become so…awkward.

Yes, "No Reservations" is exactly what is needed. Bourdain, rebel celebrity chef without a cause, is kind of like the Judd Nelson character in "The Breakfast Club" when compared to his fellow culinary boldfaced names. This of course makes Bobby Flay the All American Emilio Estevez character and Rachael Ray Molly Ringwald's popular girl Claire. He's simply not like the others. And he makes it clear he thinks the others, with their "Bam!" and "Yum-o", are pretty dopey. He's not there to make you feel more comfortable, or to offer a cooking lesson so that one day you can grow up to cook just like Tony! Most of all, he's not constantly trying to convince you of what good pals you and he are. He's got enough faith in you to trust that you've got friends; you're just looking for some good television.

Even if you're unfamiliar with Bourdain, from the onset it becomes clear that "No Reservations" is not your mother's cooking show, mostly because it isn't a "cooking" show at all. It eschews the cleanly confines of the customary pimped out television chef kitchen that boasts every modern convenience known to man in favor of the road less traveled. It is instead an hour-long travelogue celebrating cuisine narrated in the first person by Bourdain. It's a snarky (mmm…snark) narrative brimming with colorful brushstrokes of language to explain the backstories of the food, people and the land at hand. Happily, Bourdain is not so cool as to be above falling in love with a country he's profiling as he clearly did last season in Indonesia when he considered "going bamboo" as he put it, tempted to hang it up, go permanently off the grid and heed the siren call to which many expats have surrendered.

Thank goodness he didn't so that we may go on living vicariously through him as this long-legged blade of a man lopes across the continents. There he is, by the campfire with Argentine cowboys, engaging in what has become an expected practice of pickling himself with quite a few shots of the local, often homegrown, spirit. And now, looking less than thrilled in Romania—a word to beginners, the episodes when Bourdain is less than thrilled by a place are just as good a time, if not better than episodes when he's enchanted. It is important to note however that Bourdain is never an "ugly American". He's quite the opposite, grateful and humbled by the generosity and culinary skill of his hosts making him an unlikely good-will ambassador. He's a lover of streetfood and fearless in the face of dishes worthy of "Fear Factor". Still-beating cobra heart, anyone?

Needless to say, if you're thinking of tagging along with Anthony Bourdain, worrywart handwashers need not apply. That stuff's for squares.


  1. I have a weird crush/admiration/love for Tony. I want him/want to be him/want to go everywhere with him. Alas, if only I could reserve his heart. *blinks away a tear*