For many, Anthony Bourdain's job hovers between professional golfer, rock star and National Geographic photographer: somewhere near the top of the best-f'ing-jobs-on-Earth list. On his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, Tony skips around the globe sampling cuisine and mingling with locals, giving viewers a one-hour taste of the featured culture. He's swallowed a beating cobra heart in Vietnam, chewed on an unwashed warthog rectum with the bushmen of Namibia, and shared raw seal with an Inuit family on a bloody kitchen floor in Quebec.
Bourdain stepped into the limelight in 2000, when his memoir, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, was hailed as a well-written, brutally honest peephole on the restaurant business. While describing his personal struggles and triumphs as a chef and former drug addict, Bourdain showed America who really cooks its food, throwing the stereotypical plump Italian chef -- with his curled handlebar mustache, his spotless white apron and toque matching his pearly white smile -- to the curb with the leaking garbage bags.
Now Bourdain's touring the country. He'll visit Heinz Hall on Mon., June 14, touting his new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.
By now, most of your fans know what drew you to cooking. What drew you to writing?
I was given an opportunity. I wrote a short piece for a free newspaper that ended up in The New Yorker. I had expected to get $100 and entertain a few people in the restaurant business in New York City, and it kept getting bumped -- week to week, month to month -- until I got sort of drunk and pissed off and sent the transcript to The New Yorker.
So I was like really surprised that it became sort of a scandal and I got a lot of attention, and I was off on a book deal. So I'm this guy that, when given the opportunity to tell a story, I will do so. But I was never a guy who was working on an unpublished manuscript, you know? It just kind of fell in my lap and I did the best I could with the opportunity.
Tell us about your new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. It sounds like a tearjerker.
I'm looking back at both how my life has changed since Kitchen Confidential -- which is to say: completely -- and also I look at the restaurant business that I was writing about. I mean, Kitchen Confidential was a career stint, and a lot of it happened in the '70s, '80s and '90s, so in Medium Raw I'm also looking back at how the business has changed since those times.
On your Travel Channel show, No Reservations, you trot the globe in search of good food and good people. Given that experience, do you cringe or delight at the world's rapid globalization?
If "globalization" means bogus fusion in a chain restaurant, then I'm not happy with it. But if "globalization" means lots of people from someplace else coming here and opening authentic restaurants: great. I just think it's silly to talk about globalization because we're globalized already; it's already happened. The Chinese hold the paper on our country, for God's sake.
To me, a future world that looks ethnically like Singapore -- where everybody is all kind of mixed up; where Indian, Malay and Chinese, and various intermarried permutations hang out together -- if the future looks like that, then it won't be so awful, you know what I'm saying? We'll be having attractive children and eating well.
Is there a certain culture you would like to see influence America more?
I'd like to see the Singapore-style hawker center; they do food courts right in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, or anywhere with a large number of Chinese. Even the chain food courts in Asia are frickin' good. If we had independently owned and operated hawker stands selling one dish of Chinese or Indian specialties -- that would be great. Add that to the scourge of American fast food.
Hypothetical: Promising to fix the world's ills in 30 minutes at the cost of an extra-value meal, the Palin/Rachael Ray ticket takes the presidency in 2012. You're a refugee -- where do you live out the rest of your years?
Probably Sardinia; that's where my wife grew up in northern Italy. I could live very well there, and very happily -- I love that whole lifestyle. I would also enjoy all of the rights and privileges of an Italian citizen by virtue of being married to one -- free medical care. So, you know, it would be a good place to become a doddering old man.
Speaking of health care, let's say Obama, in his Orwellian takeover, calls on you to be Food and Beverage Czar. You have complete control of America's diet -- what's your first order of business? Besides vegetarian death panels, of course.
I would decline. I just don't think I want to be a role model. I've been avoiding responsibility my whole life; I can barely take care of my own daughter's diet. But, in the completely ridiculous scenario that I accepted the job -- let's say I was so drunk that I accepted it -- I might consider a fat tax out of patriotic reasons. I just think something has to be done. I mean, let's face it: We're not smoking Osama out of his hole if we can't fit our fat asses in after him.
You have a food television show -- every time we see you you're eating -- yet you manage to stay slender. Any advice for America's big-boned citizens?
I don't snack, I don't drink sodas and, unless I'm starving in an airport at five o'clock in the morning, I don't eat American fast food. I will try to find any other option before I do that. But I don't want to be a snob about it, either; I understand that there are certain, very real economical and practical reasons people eat fast food. You know: two-income family, hard-working mom, and they bring their kids to eat McDonalds -- I get that.
I don't eat a big breakfast -- I don't eat a breakfast at all -- and I don't snack. I save real estate for the good stuff when possible.
Are you sick of being a celebrity yet?
Compared to what? This is not hard work. For 28 years I stood on my feet in hot, submarine-sized basements cooking, often for people I didn't like, often food I wasn't proud of. So I know what real work is. Compared to that, getting recognized in airports is not a burden. ...
I know what it's like to be desperately in debt, being in a place of feeling utter hopelessness, going to sleep at night with heart palpitations, worrying about what happens when the landlord decides to actually kick us out for not paying. Those memories are still fresh in my mind. Life is good. I am very, very, very, very aware every day how good it is.
Anthony Bourdain speaks 7:30 p.m. Mon., June 14. Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown. $38-85.50. 412-392-4900 or www.culturaldistrict.org