Anthony Michael Bourdain is an American chef, author, and television personality. He is a 1978 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of numerous professional kitchens, including many years as executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles.
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I am an author, food veteran and travel enthusiast with an appreciation for doing things the right way. Projects include No Reservations and The Layover, and Parts Unknown. Just wrapped the second season of The Balvenie web series Raw Craft, in which I get to witness incredible craftsmanship all over the country. Ask me anything.
Find the first episode of Raw Craft Season 2, with badass and blacksmith Elizabeth Brim, here:
What food trend do you want to see die quickly? And what would you like to see become a food trend?
I would like to see the pumpkin spice craze drowned in its own blood. Quickly. Juice--I don't understand the juice cleanse. I mean, if you've ever had a colonoscopy, the doctor gives you something that will cleanse you right quick, so I don't really understand juice cleanses. I believe celiac disease is a very serious ailment, and if you're diagnosed with it, I'm pleased that there are now gluten-free options, but these people who are treating gluten as, you know, an equivalent of Al Qaeda are worrying to me. So, I'm uneasy about that.
Also, overuse of the word "artisanal". You know, an artisanal potato chip? What does that mean other than it's an expensive potato chip? Oh, I'm also no big fan of the judgmental barista and beer nerds. I mean, I like a good craft, but don't make me feel bad about my beer choices. You know what kind of beer I like? I like cold beer.
I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food. I think it's the most undervalued, underappreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential. These are in many cases really complex, wonderful sauces; particularly from Oaxaca, for instance, that date back from before Europe. I'm very excited about the possibilities for that cuisine, and I think we should pay more attention to it, learn more about it, and value it more. This is frankly a racist assumption that Mexican food or Indian food should be cheap. That's not right.
Has anything ever happened while filming any of your shows that scared the crap out of you?
Yes! Where do I begin? Every day in the DRC--the Democratic Not-So-Democratic Republic of the Congo--there were many tense moments. Libya, post-Benghazi, was again, many concerning moments where we sort of had to take regular meetings among the crew and decide for ourselves whether we would make a run for the airport or continue shooting. Beirut, 2006, got a little dodgy.
And immediately after eating Nashville Hot Chicken, that was truly, truly terrifying. And if you're considering going to Nashville, by the way, please notice that Nashvillians themselves don't eat the extra-hot fried chicken. They know better. Unless you've got three or four days to spend in a bathroom, I really advise against that.
What are your comfort foods?
I have an unholy and guilty attraction to fast-food macaroni and cheese. During the morning I get these horrendous cravings for Popeye's mac and cheese, and, uh, I will often disguise myself to try to slip into Popeyes. Or in a pinch, I will even go to the Colonel. There, I admit it. And I'm always recognized.
I hate Twitter, because immediately they take a picture of me holding the evidence in my hand. It's like getting caught coming out of a porn shop with a video in your arms. Very embarrassing.
From all the places you have visited, what would be the place you would like to live after retirement?
It's a tough question. I'm used to think Vietnam for a long time but lately... I'm leaning very much toward Italy! I like it there! I like the food. All those carbs are dangerous but Italy's a pretty nice place.
I see you're drinking a $150 bottle of scotch. How is it?
It is very delicious. Very delicious.
What's your take on cooking competition shows like "Top Chef"?
Edit: should probably have included this ahead of the question: Big fan of your shows. My only complaint is that by the time I got to the good restaurants from "no reservations" they were already too popular! You saved my ass in Montreal, where I had little time, no cell service, and clothing not appropriate for that level of cold. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the restaurant, but I went to one of them about 3 times in as many days, and it didn't disappoint!
There are good ones, there are bad ones. I think Top Chef is probably the best of them. I like them. Warner loves Chopped, wants to be on Chopped. She also loves Master Chef Junior. So when I'm watching with a 9-year-old they're a lot of fun.
Look, I never thought of cooking as a competitive sport. It's entertainment, but I guess if you're looking for the best technical/professional cooking, Top Chef would probably be the high water mark. I have mixed emotions about it. I think a lot of these shows, on one hand, have been good for the industry. On the other hand, they've created an entire species of cook, who really doesn't want to work in a restaurant; they just want to be on TV. And that's always worrying.
How was lunch with Obama?
It was like really weirdly relaxed. He seemed very much at ease, like he was having fun. There were no secret service or staff in the room, just me, my camera people, some customers. Rarely have I seen someone enjoy drinking a beer from the bottle as much as the president. He's really good with chopsticks. Really because of the way he is, how relaxed and comfortable, none of us on the crew were nervous while we were shooting. It was only afterward that we all kind of looked and each other and said, "Did that just happen?" It was really fun! He was generous with his time, quick to answer, and he's funny. He spoke to me and I spoke to him, we're both fathers of girls. The president spent a lot of time in Indonesia as a young man. He's really good with chopsticks, which is always a plus in my mind.
Is there anything about you, your life's work, or your personality that you think didn't translate well or at all on television?
Yeah, I don't know that I translate well on television at all. I don't know, and to be honest, I kinda don't really take myself that seriously, so I don't really care. I mean, anytime you put a lens on somebody, it has a distorting and changing effect. But I never really worry about that. I'm very lucky in that I get paid to really be myself; I don't have a script. I decide where we go and what we do on the show. I've gotten away with being obnoxious on TV for 15 years now. I don't really see any reason to chance.
So yeah, I have no complaints. I'm not afraid to look like an idiot on TV; it happens a lot. We don't have hair or makeup, for instance. It would be interesting to show up on a show with like a Trumpian Cheeto tan. Actually, I should try that.
Loved your book Kitchen Confidential, but my children know you as a doctor on Yo Gabba Gabba. Can you share your experiences working on that show?
Well, when I've been on Yo Gabba Gabba, my daughter was very young and just loved the show, was obsessed with it. And I thought it would be really cool to go on. So when they reached out to me, I jumped on it. I think they read on Twitter that I was a fan, so they invited me to the on the show as Dr. Tony. I was very excited! In fact, star struck somewhat to meet DJ Lance and the rest of the gang. I had a lot of fun on the show.
But crazy enough when my daughter saw the show and saw me doting over Tootie--who as I recall, I was helping through an illness--she became really jealous and pissed off at me, that I was being so nice and attentive to Tootie. It did not have the immediate effect that I'd hoped for. She was much more impressed later in life when I was on The Simpsons, another show I did largely for my daughter's benefit. Okay, I'll admit it, I like it.
It was a lot of fun. Very talented, very creative show, Yo Gabba Gabba, with great music on it, and great musical guests. I'd go back on in a second. You know, my daughter doesn't watch anymore, she's 9. But I like that show. I still have those songs running around in my head, you know, "Don't, don't, don't bite your friends." These are words we can live by.
Hi Mr. Bourdain. What's the coolest shit you found?
Coolest shit I ever found anywhere? I dunno, I mean the most cool shit per square foot is probably in Tokyo. You know, if you're looking for cool shit, your statistical likelihood of finding some is gonna be in Tokyo.
Wow, what a tough question. Yeah, try Tokyo.
Hey Tony, you're on your last $20 EVER. Where do you go to eat and drink in NYC?
Twenty dollars?! I don't know. It might be a dirty water hot dog. You know? A bagel, with some butter, or no! A bialy. A toasted bialy with some butter, maybe at like Barney Greengrass, and then...what, do I die after spending this $20? Is that what happens? I mean, it's a pretty good value, maybe I'll have two bialys for $20.
Where have you eaten the best sandwich?
The sandwiches I crave most when I'm abroad are a pastrami on rye from Pastrami Queen, in New York. They do a sandwich at the restaurant at the Ace Hotel that is insanely delicious. It's this super crispy thin Sardinian style flat bread smeared with butter, chilis, and Bottarga, which is like salted tuna or mullet eggs. Doesn't sound so good but man it's good, especially with a cold beer. If that doesn't sound good to you, you're always safe with a great pastrami sandwich. We do it best in New York.
Did you get to keep your Bob Kramer knife from series 1 of Raw Craft? And do you still use it?
I did not get to keep the knife. I bid on it online; it was put up for auction. I bid $5,000, but I saw that the lowest bid at the time, or the current high bid was something like $22,000. So needless to say I did not get that knife.
I did, however, finally after a wait of longer than a year, I did get the opportunity to buy a Kramer knife. It is easily my most valued physical object that I own. It is a thing of beauty, and I'm just waiting to find food worthy of it, to use it.