Photo by Travel Channel
No Reservations: An Evening With Anthony Bourdain
- Where: Tennessee Theatre, 604 S. Gay Street
- When: April 4
- Time: 8 p.m.
- Tickets: $30 and $40 tickets available at theatre box office on Clinch Avenue, 865-684-1200; Tickets Unlimited, 865-656-4444; or online. VIP tickets are sold out.
Anthony Bourdain, star of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations," is known for his foul mouth and irreverent attitude. But on the day of our interview his bad boy persona was absent.
In its place was Anthony Bourdain the dad. He had recently returned from Chile and was enjoying some father-daughter time, watching "Blue's Clues" with Ariane, who will be 2 in April.
He was calm and composed, even stopping in mid-sentence when a profanity began to cross his lips.
"As a parent I finally joined the worldwide cult; the majority of the world who knows what it's like to love a little child. It's life changing. …I regularly find myself doing things I would never do," he said.
Bourdain, who grew up in Leonia, N.J., described his childhood as a "typical suburban upbringing."
His father, the late Pierre Bourdain, worked for Columbia Records. His mother, Gladys, was a stay-at-home mom who made him roast beef and gravy with Yorkshire pudding every year on his birthday.
She later worked as a copy editor for the New York Times, from which she recently retired.
He gives his father credit for his love of travel, but said it was his parents' love of books and the teachers who made books interesting to him that sparked his imagination.
"I had an active imagination from the time I was very young. I enjoyed adventure stories, pirate ships, castaways and those kind of things," he said.
But he was not a happy kid.
"I was a problem child - angry, smart, very well read, articulate and something of a jailhouse lawyer in that regard. I used my unholy language skills to manipulate and get what I wanted," he said.
Despite a poor attitude, he graduated a year early from high school and attended Vassar College, where he stayed for two years.
"I was the wrong person to be going to college. I didn't appreciate what was being offered. I didn't flame out at Vassar. I don't think there was ever an ignition," he said.
His first job was as a bicycle messenger in Manhattan, N.Y., when he was 14, but the job he found most likeable was washing dishes at a restaurant.
"It was like running away with the circus. I found a subculture that I was comfortable with. That was the first time I felt any respect for myself or cared what others thought about me. I met people whose respect I wanted," he said.
He was so enamored with the restaurant industry that he went back to school and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. All the while illegal drugs had control of his life.
It got so bad that he realized if he didn't quit he would die.
"I don't buy a lot of the language of addiction. I see it as a character flaw, not an illness.
"I had become an embarrassing, whining junkie, a character from a bad movie, and I didn't like that person. I had enough self-esteem to want to do something about it," he said.
His life has been on the upswing since.
He served as executive chef at New York's Brasserie Les Halles for close to 10 years before being named chef-at-large.
He has written numerous books and travels extensively for the Travel Channel.
He never imagined his life would take the turn that it has but can't think of anything better than sharing the history and culinary culture of the world with television viewers.
"A chef once told me that the history of the world is on your plate. The food you eat in a particular place, time and culture is the end result of a long, often very bloody history of struggle. It seems obvious to me to tell the back story. That context is part of the meal, too," he said.
One of his most harrowing experiences since doing the show happened in Beirut, Lebanon.
War broke out between Israel and Lebanon while he and his crew were there, and they could not get out for eight days. Eventually, they were evacuated with thousands of other American citizens on the U.S.S. Nashville.
"It was basically a floating refugee camp. We slept on the flight deck. The marines and sailors were giving up their bunks to people. It made quite an impression on me," he said.
Plans have already been made for him to revisit Beirut.
"That is a great unfinished business of my life. We are planning to go back next season, and I'm hoping for a happier outcome," he said.
When he's at home he enjoys the flavors of New York City.
"A good pastrami sandwich, a good pizza, a good bagel. Those are all the foods that you can't get anywhere out of New York," he said.
But he doesn't miss the day-to-day operation of the restaurant business.
"Standing on my feet 14-15 hours a day with no holidays, no birthdays, no vacations much of the time. I'm not overly sentimental about that," he said.
He still enjoys cooking at home and admits to having Kraft cheese slices in his refrigerator, but all he needs in his pantry is good sea salt, good whole black pepper, butter and olive oil.
"The rest I will buy as needed," he said.
His appearance at the Tennessee Theatre will feature personal essays about his travels.
It's a subject he is passionate about.
"If I'm an advocate for anything, it's travel. If you are lucky enough to have a passport and a few bucks then you should see the world, and do it without fear and prejudice," he said.
It's something his daughter is already doing.
"When the show is at a family friendly location, then I look forward to bringing my wife (Ottavia Busia) and daughter.
"She (Ariane) already has a lot of frequent flyer miles," he said.
So how will he handle it when his daughter becomes a teenager and picks up dad's bad boy attitude?
"It's nothing less than what I deserve. I did it to my parents. I'm aware the day will come when she will roll her eyes at my approach. That is inevitable," he said.
Mary Constantine can be reached at 865-342-6428.
© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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