As No Reservations ends its nine-season run on the Travel Channel, host Anthony Bourdain reflects on his globe-trotting adventures, the challenge of making good television, airport nachos and the culinary scene in New York City.
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TONY: The final season of No Reservations kicks off in Austin, during SXSW. Why did you decide to start then and there?
Anthony Bourdain: Those of us on the show who tweet were invited to do a social-media panel, and we’re all music fans. It was really a chance to do a show unlike any we’ve done before, which gets harder every year. The episode is heavily music-based, with a lot of live performances.
TONY: You’ve done some pretty ballsy things on camera over the years. This time around, you swam with an 11-foot-long nurse shark in Australia. What was that like?
Anthony Bourdain: Well, they said it was safe! [Chef] José Andrés encouraged me to get my scuba certification recently, so I was vulnerable to the suggestion. I was looking for any opportunity to put on the gear.
TONY: At least it was in a tank and not the open ocean.
Anthony Bourdain: [Laughs] That just means there’s no place to run!
TONY: Touché! So what kind of antics don’t make it on air?
Anthony Bourdain: Most of the time, it’s jokes that nobody else would get, things we can just laugh hysterically about. For me, those are usually the golden moments. Plumbing is a popular source of humor.
TONY: No Reservations focuses on the ways travel, food and culture influence one another. What experience made the biggest impact on you?
Anthony Bourdain: Going to Southeast Asia for the first time and tasting that spectrum of flavors—that certainly changed my whole palate, the kind of foods I crave. A lot of the dishes I used to love became boring to me. [I think it’s] the shows that forced me to realize how wrong I am about things, or how little I know about things, that challenge my expectations. Saudi Arabia was an eye-opener, and certainly Beirut. Nicaragua, too. The tougher shows [are] where suddenly it’s not just about what people are eating, but what they’re not eating. Shows where I was confronted with my own spectacular ignorance—those are the ones that make the biggest impression on me and are the most pleasurable.
TONY: How can ordinary people find great under-the-radar spots?
Anthony Bourdain: A willingness to make mistakes is the most important. Sometimes the greatest meals on vacations are the ones you find when Plan A falls through. Stop concentrating on what the “best” restaurant in town is, and look for what the locals enjoy. Not what they think is the best, necessarily, but the place they have an emotional connection to, the go-to spot that makes them happy. Have conversations with people, particularly while drunk.
TONY: Why end the series in Brooklyn?
Anthony Bourdain: It’s a place that, I want to say without any sort of ironic snarkiness, I truly don’t know well. And it’s become increasingly embarrassing that somebody who supposedly knows food and chefs and who has been to so many places would be so ignorant about Brooklyn when there’s so much happening there. A number of food journalists were giving quotes about where the action is, culinarily speaking, and some of the comments were so pathetically out-of-date. They were still making the old “It’s too much trouble to go to Brooklyn” joke. It reflects so badly on anyone who claims to be serious about food. If you’re expressing limited interest in Brooklyn, you’re really showing your age.
TONY: So looking back over the 100-plus episodes you've done, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve put in your mouth?
Anthony Bourdain: I don’t even know what weird means anymore. As for the things that I’ve just consumed for the novelty factor, it’s something like the nacho grande plate at an airport. It’s me and my crew, our flight’s delayed, we’re bored or cranky, and somebody comes up with the idea for us to do something really foolhardy and order the nacho grande with everything on it—maybe the chicken wings, too—and see who gets sick first.
No Reservations: The Final Tour airs Mondays at 9pm on the Travel Channel.