It may be unprecedented for one of the hippest shows on TV to be devoted to food and travel, but Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, the Travel Channel’s megahit, has a devoted following obsessed with the host’s “food and travel porn,” as he’s described it. Whether Bourdain is reporting from Cuba, Thailand, Japan or the Ozarks, he’s irreverent, irrepressible and irresistible. His travels take him from New York, where he ate cowboy rib eye with Bill Murray, to a private dinner in Nicaragua, where the menu included bull testicles. Bourdain is proudly anti–politically correct and opinionated. The New York Times called him an “acerbically funny raconteur and takedown artist who generates clouds of web traffic each time he eviscerates a bloated personality or calls out a restaurant for bogus tactics.” Acknowledging the colorful language that’s often bleeped on his show, The Boston Phoenix has said, “The things that come out of Anthony Bourdain’s mouth are frequently as bold as the things that go in.”
Bourdain, who was born in New York and raised in New Jersey, attended the Culinary Institute of America before running the kitchen at such Manhattan restaurants as One Fifth Avenue, Sullivan’s and Brasserie Les Halles, where he became known for his rustic French cooking. His life took a detour into what he describes as a harrowing cocaine and heroin addiction before he kicked drugs and began his career as a writer of best-selling books, including Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, about his exploits as a chef, which led, in 2005, to No Reservations. These days the Travel Channel sometimes seems it could be renamed the Anthony Bourdain Channel—he’s a ubiquitous presence, with his shows often airing more than 20 hours a week. On certain days it’s possible to sit in front of the television and watch Bourdain from breakfast to dinner. The latest: a new Travel Channel series called The Layover, which he describes as “faster, more democratic and more caffeinated than No Rez. But just as obnoxious.”
Besides producing, hosting and writing his shows, Bourdain is also an occasional judge on Top Chef. He has written novels—he’s at work on a new crime novel—has co-written a soon-to-be-published graphic novel and is a regular writer for the HBO series Treme. Bourdain, who is 55, is married to Ottavia Busia, whom he met on a blind date. Although he once said he’d be a “shit parent,” he dotes on his four-year-old daughter.
To interview Bourdain, we sent Contributing Editor David Sheff, who recently interviewed Congressman Barney Frank and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell for us, to New York City. “Bourdain lives up to his reputation,” Sheff reports. “He’s charming and amusing and never shy about sharing his opinions of famous chefs, aphrodisiacs, politics or the nation’s best barbecue. It’s the first interview I’ve done that caused me to laugh, inspired wanderlust and made me hungry.”