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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Interview with Anthony Bourdain: "I Wonder Sometimes If I'm a Malevolent Force"

Posted By on Tue, Aug 17, 2010 at 11:12 AM

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A melancholy tone flits through Medium Raw. In the chapter "Meat," Bourdain wonders whether seemingly positive trends like chefs and diners alike insisting on "happier" meat and embracing organ meats and other traditional foodways have a downside. He writes, "Am I helping, once again, to kill the things I love?" This idea of killing the things you love recurs.

"I think if you fetishize certain simple good things long enough, loud enough, you become part of the process of diminishing suppply and increasing demand," Bourdain explains. "If you're fetishizing an organic peach, you're certainly helping to raise the price of it.

"By the same token, celebrating simple food that used to be the province of the poor as some sort of exciting thing for comfortable, well-off people, you're changing something that used to be a birthright.

"My job and my passion is to find and celebrate these little out of the way food stalls in remote parts of the world, yet by putting them on TV, I'm changing their very nature. You go back now, they've moved, they're twice as big.

"I wonder sometimes if I'm a malevolent force."

(In the episode of No Reservations that premiered the same day as this interview, Bourdain cheekily refuses to name a restaurant in Rome where he is blown away by the pasta, again citing his fear of killing what he loves.)

A similar strain of self-criticism is evident in Bourdain's relatively gentle treatment in Medium Raw of one of his favorite targets: Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and other Food Network stars. He reveals that he won't make fun of Ray after she sent him a fruit basket, and he is the butt of the joke in a story about running into Lee at an event.

In part, this is smart politics, as the parent company of the Food Network recently purchased the Travel Channel (though the only person Bourdain savages as fiercely as Alan Richman is Brooke Johnson, the Food Network executive who he accuses of dumbing down the network). In part, it is acceptance of how the food world operates now.

"Food personalities -- I put Rachael Ray and Paula Deen in this category -- I don't know that it matters that they cook. [Viewers] see someone they like, and they want to spend time with. I don't think anyone cares if Guy Fieri cooks. It makes people feel better about themselves and the world."

As for Bourdain's own show, the sixth season of No Reservations is currently airing, and he begins shooting the seventh season soon. Among the planned locations for the next season are the Congo, Haiti, Japan, Cambodia, China, Brazil and Nicaragua.

Bourdain is also slated to live in Vietnam with his wife and daughter for an entire year and write a book about the experience. Bourdain, laughing, cautions that this project is dependent on his No Reservations schedule: "If they ever cancel the damn show!"

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