After eight seasons, Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations will enter its final stretch on Monday, September 3. Before he sets off for a new show on CNN, the veteran chef-critic-explorer tells Food & Wine what he's learned along the way.
What do you think is the most misunderstood food culture?
Traditional Southern. It is the source, the original breadbasket of American gastronomy. It's a truly, uniquely American cuisine. All of the original great cooks came out of the South and somehow we've convinced ourselves that the Southern cooking tradition is one thing which we've seen on TV. People like Sean Brock are exploring what it really is.
Is there a place that you had misconceptions about?
One of the joys of the show is just being completely wrong about places. Gun-country, red-state America is a constant surprise to me. I'm constantly encouraged by how good food can be in places that New Yorkers sneer at. In Livingston, Montana—basically every cowboy there with a gun on a rack in a pickup truck with a Palin sticker on the bumper—they know their morel mushrooms real well. They know how to cook trout. They know what the best part of an elk or an antelope is.
No Reservations is known for its cinematography. Where do some of your favorite scenes take place in the final season?
For the Emilia Romagna show, we were looking at early Douglas Sirk, or Hollywood-era Fritz Lang, and looking for almost unnatural candy-colored colors, super-bright Technicolor. We'd just done a black-and-white show in Rome a while back and we wanted to go the opposite way with this and make it super '50s Rock Hudson, Doris Day, unnaturally red reds and frighteningly blue blues.
What are some of the worst things travel shows do?
Lying. Constantly. They tell you something's good when it's not. It's really important if you're making a travel or a food show to not really give a shit whether you're on television next year. The things I'm proudest of on No Reservations are the things that were considered to be suicidally stupid. To do a food show in Rome, that most beautiful and colorful of cities, in black and white, it was a challenge and I think it ended up not just looking beautiful but people liked it and they weren't supposed to. The conventional wisdom is that television audiences are too stupid to sit still for an hour of black and white.
Any particularly bad outtakes you can reveal from No Reservations?
If it's funny and it's part of a good story and it's not hurting anybody other than me, then it's going in. I think there are plenty of examples over the years of me looking physically hideous, incredibly stupid, ignorant or generally like an asshole.
Have you taken your family back to places you've discovered while shooting?
We went to Tuscany to make a show and I went back for vacation the following year. I'm really looking forward to bringing my wife and daughter to Tokyo. Any high-end sushi experience there is mind-blowing. In a perfect world I'd take my wife and daughter to Sukiyabashi Jiro, but my expectation would be that Jiro wouldn't be too happy to see a five-year-old. I don't think I would disrespect him in that way.
What do you feed your five-year-old daughter?
Whatever she wants, basically. She's decided she likes raw oysters. And, you know, grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta with butter, pasta with a little ragù. She's a normal five-year-old girl, but one whose daddy has chef friends and whose mommy's Italian, so the likelihood that she'll find a good pecorino on the table or some white anchovies is probably higher than in most families. I'm not trying to raise a foodie kid—nothing could be more annoying. Today she had Lucky Charms for breakfast.