The Last Word: Anthony Bourdain
There isn’t much Anthony Bourdain won’t do in the name of a good story. Travelling the world with an open mind and eager fork, the New York-born, New Jersey-bred chef/bestselling author/TV star/adventure aficionado has lived hard and eaten well during his trips around the world for shows like The Layover and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. In town to hang with Montreal’s culinary elite, we caught up with the badass Renaissance man to get a taste of what to expect from his new series on CNN, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, and how our fair city ranks on the international food scene.
You’re pretty multidisciplinary. What word best describes your profession, at this point: Chef? Adventurer? Raconteur…?
ANTHONY BOURDAIN: (laughs) Let’s go with “enthusiast”.
We’re guessing “Celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain” wouldn’t be a title you’d appreciate seeing on our cover, correct?
AB: No, no, definitely not. I don’t even know what I do anymore. I guess I’m an ex-cook who tells stories.
In A Cook’s Tour you mention reading and enjoying the Tintin books as a child. Do you think that at some base level they informed your future career traveling the globe and pursuing the wildest experiences possible?
AB: You know, that is the first time anyone has ever asked me that. I’ve never thought of it, but those books made me yearn for a life of travel that I never thought I’d have. Looking at it now, having loved those books as a child makes me appreciate what I get to do all the more now. I’m living the life of Tintin.
You’ve ingested some insane things in your lifetime. Was unwashed warthog rectum really worse than eating a live cobra, beating heart and all?
AB: Absolutely. Far worse. Far, far, far worse. It was horrifyingly bad. It was dirty and sandy and furry and in every way disgusting. I knew it would be disgusting; it was a matter of trying to be a good guest as best I could.
Is there one moment in your various travels you can point to where you experienced pure, unbridled fear?
AB: Not necessarily moments of pure terror, but I’ve had a few scares, which were usually driving-related. Driving on a highway in Vietnam can be terrifying. It’s more like a general sense of escalating uncertainty in places like Beirut in 2006, when we were caught there. We also just got back from Libya, but those places not so much. Traffic is much more frightening.
You’ve been to Montreal multiple times in recent years. What do you like best about the city?
AB: The attitude. There’s a defiant, self-aware, funny, contrarian, very robust culinary culture here that I connected with very early on in my first visit. It’s entirely due to [Pied de Cochon owner] Martin [Picard] and [Joe Beef owners] Fred [Morin] and Dave [McMillan] and [legendary chef] Normand [Laprise] that I’ve always experienced Montreal through knowing them. They’ve shaped the experience for me in a wonderful way.
Are you more of a poutine or smoked meat kind of guy?
AB: Definitely smoked meat. I had some here [at the Bell Centre]. Compared to Schwartz’s, one must make allowances for the fact that we’re at a stadium, but it’s pretty good!
On an epicurean level, how does the food scene here compare to what’s going on elsewhere in North America?
AB: It could be argued that what Martin is doing in particular at Cabane à Sucre makes it easily one of the most important – if not the most important – restaurants in North America right now.
As a New York native, we’re not surprised you came down firmly in favor of your hometown’s bagels over our own. What gives them the edge, in your view?
AB: It’s whatever you grow up with. The Montreal bagel is a wonderful thing; it just has almost no relation to what I grew up thinking a bagel is. It’s completely situational. It’s a completely respectable point of view to say that you like Montreal bagels better, but it’s really comparing tigers and elephants or apples and oranges. They’re two different beasts.
You were born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. Were you one of those New Jersey fans who jumped ship and cheered for all the New York teams or did you stay loyal to your roots?
AB: I was a Yankee fan from very early on. I was never really a football guy; it was all about the Yankees for me. That was as regional as I got. I had a brief period as a kid early on where I was a Packers fan, probably because they were winning at the time.
Was the hockey game you caught at the Bell Centre this year your first? And can we now count you among our celebrity fan base?
AB: I’m going to be a Montreal fan for life – you never forget your first! That was my first hockey game in my entire life. I had a great time, greatly aided by the fact that I was there with Martin, Fred, Dave and Normand – all these chefs who are really passionate Montreal Canadiens fans.
Did you play any sports as a kid? Ever been on the ice?
AB: I played soccer badly. I wrestled pretty well. But I was a hippie. I wasn’t really a sporty guy. I definitely never skated.
You have some strong opinions on music. If you were the house DJ, what would you endorse as anthems that should be played at sporting events?
AB: AC/DC is always a crowd pleaser. Anything by AC/DC would sound good in here.
You must choose between traveling the world yet eating only Kraft Dinner for one month, or remaining confined to your home yet being served anything you want, whenever you want it. What would it be?
AB: Oh, that’s tough. You know what? I could use a month at home. Just eating whatever I want and not leaving the couch for a month would be great!
Tune in to Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET on CNN. Enjoy firsthand accounts of Anthony’s adventures on his Twitter account.
This article, written by Shauna Denis, was published in CANADIENS magazine Vol. 27 No. 3.