Like just about everyone else in the travel community, I have mad respect for Anthony Bourdain. There is no doubt his voice and intelligence have raised the bar in the world of travel shows. On No Reservations he is very honest about when he’s not feeling a certain destination and I appreciate that. He the un-ugliest of Americans: educated, grateful, game to try anything, polite to his hosts and a master at conversation. But above all, Anthony Bourdain is a producer.
I understand the realities of producing. When you’re shooting a show- be it Amazing Race, No Reservations or even a webisode for this blog, you have a schedule and budget constraints. Even when things go wrong, you don’t have the option to just throw out all the material you shot, even if it is not what you intended to shoot or if the meal you had there was only so-so.* You have to write off every meal and that means you need to generate content and write a post. It’s easier to do if you have something to rave about or complain about, but you need to find something to say.
If you read Bourdain’s blog, as I do, you know that he writes about material that doesn’t get used on the show. He’s admitted to being bummed when a segment shot in a dive bar get shelved because the show budget can’t pay the publishing rights for the music playing in the background. This is a reality of production. You have to make it work and come up with something. I’ve found that the combination of the magic of editing using a good turn of phrase by Bourdain can result in something that a wishful viewer like myself can project into being an endorsement of a restaurant featured on the show.
Several times I’ve gone out of my way to visit dining establishments featured on No Reservations. Twice, I’ve been felled by food poisoning. Other times I’ve simply been underwhelmed. At the very least, it’s fair to say that while I share many of the same views on travel, politics, and music as Bourdain, it is clear I lack his iron stomach and advanced palate.
I first learned about the Hawaiian hot dog factory Puka Dog while watching No Reservations, and went out of my way to visit them when I went to Oahu. Perhaps I just don’t get Polish sausage combined with mango mustard swimming in a bun. Truth be told, I found the resulting combination puke-worthy and couldn’t finish it. But there is also a chance that when Bourdain says “this makes no sense at all, I love it” he’s not talking about the bite of Puka Dog in his mouth, he’s talking about the concept or just trying to find something to say on camera.
While visiting a culture and learning about it through food may be the focal point of No Reservations, I’ve learned to ignore specific restaurants featured and look for different things to visit, things that are visually interesting or appeal to me in different ways.
* This also applies to travel guide books entries- once a joint is in a guide book, it’s hard to get out. There have been more than a few instances where I’ve found an often mentioned restaurant resting on laurels they earned a long time (and many chefs) ago.