Gourmet-on-the-go Bourdain savors ’The Layover’
Saturday, November 19, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) — You’re laid over in a city somewhere out there in the world with 24 hours to kill. Do you burrow into your hotel suite, fed by room service and movies-on-demand, until time to head back to the airport?
Not if you’re Anthony Bourdain, globe-trotting gastronome and on-the-fly bon vivant. With no time to spare, you gorge on local cuisine, savor local sights and maximize exposure to indigenous culture. Tomorrow on the plane you can catch up on your sleep!
That, in Bourdain’s words, is “the art of the layover,” the finer points of which he shares on “The Layover,” his new Travel Channel series premiering Monday at 9 p.m. EST.
On the debut hour, Bourdain lands in Singapore at 5 a.m., with his scheduled departure the next day at noon. The clock is ticking, and though Bourdain doesn’t exhibit the franticness of Kiefer Sutherland on “24” (nor is the fate of the world at stake), “There’s plenty to do,” says Bourdain. And he does plenty, demonstrating the gusto fans have already come to expect on his food-adventuring travel show, “No Reservations.”
On “The Layover,” Bourdain tells you which bus will get you from the airport to your hotel most efficiently. But under his tutelage, you’re in your room just long enough to drop your bags: There are things to see and food to eat.
“There’s all sorts of good (expletive) you can have for breakfast!” he declares as he sets out for a starter feast at a multi-stalled Hawker Center.
But besides his many recommendations, Bourdain, with delicious directness, offers warnings to any traveler who wants an authentic experience: “No one in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It’s a disgusting drink. You don’t want it. Don’t waste your time.”
Future episodes find Bourdain visiting New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Hong Kong, London, Rome, Montreal and Amsterdam. Bourdain, staying true to the show’s no-time-to-waste creed, actually performs each hit-and-run in the few hours indicated.
“The crew arrived two days before me in Singapore and started shooting B-roll,” he says, explaining the breakneck routine during a recent interview. “From the second I arrive they’re shooting me, every minute. Then I fly to Hong Kong, where another crew has been shooting B-roll, and we get going. We had leapfrogging crews, alternating shows as I went from place to place.
“We were looking to do another series fast, between seasons of ‘No Reservations,”’ he says, “and we had accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years, me and my crew, while traveling around. Even if we weren’t necessarily laid over, we have certainly found ourselves with a few hours between scenes, when the challenge is to go eat well and have a good time.”
The recommendations he makes are his own. There are no fees, promotional considerations or solicitations from venues hoping for a plug, he says.
“On this show we include places that anyone lucky enough to travel internationally could try — restaurants and hotels and things to see — that I endorse. Or that I think suck and should be avoided.”
In the latter category, he lumps the London Eye, the huge Ferris wheel that’s become a tourist favorite: “I’m telling you up front I’m not doing it, when I could be drinking Guinness in a real English pub.”
Over beer and tasty lamb burgers in a Manhattan bistro that Bourdain hand-picked, he bemoans any tourist who opts for what the mass of other tourists do, rather than investigate places frequented by locals.
Consider the time-strapped New York visitor who opts for the Statue of Liberty rather than bingeing at a world-class local deli such as Katz’s or Barney Greengrass: “You’ve made a really terrible error, maybe one you won’t regret for the rest of your life — but if you knew better, you would!”
It should be clear by now that food (and drink) is a driving force in how Bourdain, an unrepentant sensualist, greets the world. At 55, he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a decades-long veteran of professional kitchens, from dishwasher to chef. In 2000 he published a best-selling tell-all memoir of his experiences behind those swinging kitchen doors, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” which rocked the foodie world. Other food-centric books — not just nonfiction but even crime novels — followed.
In 2005, his rollicking culinary travelogue, “No Reservations,” premiered on Travel Channel. (The first episode: “Why the French Don’t Suck.”)
Rumpled and rangy at 6 feet and 4 inches, often deadpan and more often outspoken, Bourdain gained a reputation early on as a bad boy chef, an angry guy of the gourmet set.
“I’m sure I benefited from those descriptions, but I didn’t take it seriously in the beginning, and I certainly don’t now,” says Bourdain, who, in person, is a personable sort and no more edgy than a few million others in New York, which Bourdain, with his wife and 4 1/2-year-old daughter, calls home when not dining at the far corners of the world.
“I enjoy the travel,” he says, listing his job’s selling points, “and I like taking you on a trip, trying to make you feel about a place the way I feel about it.”
But he is not a grandstander, he insists.
“Do I get any satisfaction seeing myself on television? Zero. In a perfect world, my physical presence in front of the camera would be dispensable.”
He still cooks occasionally (he’ll be whipping up Thanksgiving dinner for the family) and values his years as a pro in the kitchen. But escaping its relentless demands for television has only made him more appreciative of what he left behind.
“Real work is back there,” he says, motioning toward this restaurant’s kitchen doors. “THAT’S ... work! I know how lucky I am!”
Travel Channel is owned by Scripps Networks.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org.