The penultimate season of Parts Unknown is classic Anthony Bourdain

by Fiona Rae / 09 August, 2018

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Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

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Acclaimed chef Anthony Bourdain’s final foodie travel series comes to New Zealand telly this week.

Anthony Bourdain may never have actually cooked anything in any of his TV shows, but he knew the value of food as an expression of history and culture in every one of them.

The rock’n’roll chef, who died in June, began his television career with A Cook’s Tour in 2002, in which he would famously eat anything, including the beating heart of a cobra in Vietnam. He later said he wouldn’t do that again.

He soon began to focus on the intersection between food and culture, especially in Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, the Travel Channel series that began in 2005 and ran for nine seasons, and his most accomplished series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (Food TV, Sky 018, Friday, 9.30pm).

Bourdain made 11 seasons of the show; Food TV is screening season 10, in which he visits Singapore, the French Alps, Lagos, Pittsburgh, Sri Lanka, Puerto Rico, Seattle and Southern Italy.

Bourdain’s openness and humble attitude were the reasons we wanted to see him for 11 seasons more. There is no food too great or too small, from a chip butty in London to spicy laksa in Borneo. There is no place that is uninteresting, from Scotland to Ethiopia.

“Be open to experience, be willing to try new things, don’t have a rigid plan,” he said in a Fast Company online interview shortly before he died. “Accept random acts of hospitality without judgment or fear. But most of all, be humble, be grateful, be aware of the fact that you are probably the stupidest person in the room.”

This empathetic attitude did not mean that he was a pushover. He always maintained creative freedom, leaving the Travel Channel after a bust-up over an endorsement. He wanted to make the best possible TV show he could.

“I’d much rather not make TV at all, or make unsuccessful TV, than make competent television,” he told Fast Company. “I detest competent, workmanlike storytelling. The times that we do that, I’m very unhappy; I’d rather fail.”

The first episode on Friday is classic Bourdain: self-deprecating, enthusiastic, hungry. He’s in the French Alps with his friend Éric Ripert, drinking expensive wine and eating pan-seared veal at a ski lodge. Contrast this to the extreme poverty of Lagos or war-torn Sri Lanka.

“Before I started travelling, I thought that the human race could and would turn on itself at any moment, but on balance, the world is full of people doing the best they can.”

This article was first published in the August 4, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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