It’s amazing how may people despise Anthony Bourdain. Whatever it may be–his giant ego, smug demeanor, and food snobbery–he seems to be one of the most polarizing television personalities working today. Foodies believe his culinary chops are overrated to say the least. Reality TV fans still can’t believe he helped vote off the promising young chef Dale on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and it’s safe to say Rachel Ray supporters (and there apparently are quite a few) fail to find any humor in Tony’s relentless ragging of the overly exuberant quick-meal vamp. Say what you will about the Anthony Bourdain persona, when it comes to travel shows go his series “No Reservations” is at the top of its game.
“No Reservations” remains one of the only reasons to tune into the Travel Channel. For travel enthusiasts and globe trekkers alike, Bourdain has not only the coolest job around but also provides viewers with a different take on some of the world’s most familiar and unfamiliar destinations. Through his fascination with world history, varying cultural characteristics, and above all the culinary fabric of the world, Bourdain provides a fairly eye opening window into all corners around the globe. With the series well into its fifth season Bourdain’s had his share of successes and failures. With Tony’s raging ego aside and from a pure armchair explorer point of view, the following showcases some of Tony’s best and worst moments across the globe.
1) Paris, France-It seems fitting that Bourdain chose to jumpstart “No Reservations” with a close and compassionate look at France, arguably the culinary Mecca of the world. Having years of classical French cooking training behind him Bourdain is perhaps a bit biased when it comes to the Parisian offerings presented in this episode. Still Bourdain argues that there has been a shroud of political and social negativity over France in recent years, which has made us forget just how wonderful France can be. By giving us a glimpse into the art of perfecting something as simple and pure as a baguette or embracing the hole in the wall neighborhood restaurants and cafes that give tourists a glimpse into real local cuisine, this episode is the perfect preface for the rest of the series. Bourdain’s message in a nutshell: when traveling one must put all preconceived notions aside and enjoy the many diverse cultures this world has to offer.
2) Vietnam-Bourdain calls Vietnam one of his favorite destinations. As a country with years of foreign influence in its culture and cuisine Vietnam still has a strong inner identity just waiting to be explored. Bourdain, along with a local friend and guide, tastes his way around the capital of Hanoi along with the picturesque Ha Long Bay. From the perfect bowl of Phó, a mysterious dish of porcupine to a shot of a locally made strong rice whiskey infused with fermented insects and animal carcasses, Vietnam provides viewers with all the gross out moments that audiences love while also showing the cultural importance of traditional cooking ingredients and techniques.
3) The Pacific Northwest-Bourdain has done a number of episodes on U.S. soil but none were as eye opening and unexpected as his tour through Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Bourdain believes that the Pacific Northwest is an area concentrated with creative culinary artists who, with a bountiful selection of fresh food and resources at their disposal, are able to work their magic among fellow masters. He dines on a rare Puget Sound seafood delicacy, enjoys the tasty but insanely wrong donuts at Portland’s wild Voodoo Donuts, and finishes the episode with a look into the Batali family’s acclaimed Italian salami and sausage store. Pair this episode with Tony’s adventures in Vancouver, Canada and you get a fascinating look at one of North America’s treasured regions.
4) Korea-Here’s one of many episodes devoted to one of the underrated, yet to be discovered regions in the world. Coaxed to Seoul by one of Bourdain’s production assistants, Nori, a Korean native, Tony and crew show a side of South Korea that most people don’t realize exists. From the bustling outdoor markets serving up all kinds of curious treats to a farm in the country that specializes in the historic Korean staple condiment, Kim Chee, Bourdain finds a new favorite destination.
5) Peru-Perhaps it’s the lure of Machu Picchu, quite possibly one of the most beautiful sights in the world or maybe it’s the mystery surrounding Peru’s ancient past. Whatever it is that draws Bourdain to this small Latin American country the payoff is worth it. From the snowcapped mountains, the steamy jungles and the bustling cities. Peru seems to have it all. The examination of traditional ceviché still remains one of “No Reservations” most mouth watering onscreen moments.
1) Romania-It’s a shame that the Romanian episode didn’t succeed in showing the true side of this ignored Eastern European country. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and the country’s unforgiving dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu Romania has been on the rise and is slowly becoming a tourist hotspot. Transylvania, the dominating Carpathian Mountains, the Iron Curtain time capsule capital of Bucharest, Romania should have made for an interesting show. Instead Bourdain, along with a heavily intoxicated Russian travel guide (also featured in the past Russia and Uzbekistan episodes) visit some of the more cliché and tourist hotspots of the country like Dracula’s Disneyesque castle attraction. Bourdain himself claims the episode went horribly wrong.
2) Las Vegas-It could be argued that Bourdain’s pseudo Gonzo tour through Las Vegas was supposed to be a tongue and cheek affair. Sent by some food magazines to cover some of Vegas’ world renowned restaurants, Bourdain and companion spend the majority of the episode showing how truly tacky the city of lights really is. While some cannot stomach watching Bourdain swallow tripe, testicles or other nasty bits it could be said that Tony scarfing down $.99 deep fried Twinkies and Oreos is an equally, if not more sordid spectacle.
3) Namibia-This episode is famous for Bourdain’s ultimate gross-out television moment. After already dining on an omelet cooked in dirt and ash, the local tribesmen hunt and kill a wild warthog and eventually prepare Bourdain a tasty helping of grilled un-cleaned warthog anus. Even Tony can’t finish the serving. Nasties aside, this episode lacked eye-opening sights and was only aired once on the U.S. airwaves.
4) Uruguay- One of the most recent episodes to air is also one of the least compelling to watch. This edition introduces Tony’s quiet brother to the show as they head to Uruguay to retrace a distant family history. Sure the Latin American country is given a proper run through but unlike past successful episodes in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, this small supposedly overlooked country remains just that for a reason. Oh and the brothers Bourdain come away empty handed in regards to retracing their family heritage.
5) Into the Fire NYC-This was a special episode devoted entirely to seeing if Tony still has what it takes to work the line at his own New York restaurant Les Halles. Put in front of the stove for the dreaded weekday double shift this episode only adds fuel to the fire poked by foodies who question Bourdain’s credentials. In the end we realize that the life of a TV travel host has taken the high-octane, in the zone cooking chops out of Tony’s blood.