“Americans want kimchi,” Anthony Bourdain declares in his recent and extensive interview published by The New Yorker. “They want it on their hamburgers. It’s like when Americans started eating sushi-a huge tectonic shift.” The well-traveled television host and culinary explorer is banking on a future in fermented foods with his forthcoming Asian street food haven planned for New York City’s Pier 57. According to the interview, Bourdain hopes to attract fewer of his hipster devotees and more of the displaced Asian population looking for tastes of home. His attitude seems to be that if the foodies and curious “gringos” flock to it too, so be it. And perhaps they will, if, as Bourdain predicts, there is a shift in the American palate towards fermentation. “That funk. That corruption of flesh. That’s exactly the flavor zone that we’re all we’re all moving toward.”
Compiled from months of conversations and observations, the New Yorker interview recaps Bourdain’s transition from heroin junkie to chef to writer and television personality along with personal tribulations like his two divorces, both spoken about candidly by the man and the women themselves. It also touches on the role Bourdain has reluctantly found himself in—that of statesman. To that end, the CNN iteration of his travel-the-world-and-eat-stuff series has focused more on sociological and geopolitical topics. It’s an intentional move coming from a mandate that producer Chris Collins paraphrases as “Don’t tell me what you ate. Tell me who you ate with.” When the narrative isn’t being driven by outside forces, the shows often exhibit filmic influences, which come from Bourdain’s appreciation for that art form, one of his means of escape and travel, as he’s only been venturing out into the world since reaching middle-age.
That all comes from an authenticity that Bourdain has carried through all of his television series to date, including letting the reality of a shoot bleed into the narrative as it did with an episode in Beirut that put him in the middle of Hezbollah activity and another episode in Sicily that saw his host, a local fisherman, throwing frozen octopus into the water for Bourdain to “discover.” That’s how Bourdain has staved off becoming an exotic, gross out food exhibitionist, the philosophy behind which is exemplified in his attitude toward eating dog. Bourdain said he's never eaten dog but while sitting near a food stall selling roasted canine, the writer pressed him on the issue. “I’m not doing it just because it’s there anymore,” he insists. “Had I found myself as the unwitting guest of honor in a farmhouse on the Mekong Delta where a family, unbeknownst to me, has prepared their very best, and I’m the guest of honor, and all of the neighbors are watching… I’m going to eat the fucking dog.” Offending the host, he claims, is a greater offense than any Western sensibilities about which mammals constitute cuisine.
Fittingly, there’s also a mention of Bourdain’s influence on food culture. The Bourdain Effect, you might call it, is that low food is now high art. The humble and the elite are equally appreciated thanks in large part to the cool factor he’s brought to common dishes from across the globe. Indeed food writer Alan Richman, with whom Bourdain had a quasi-feud, concedes that the future is less so in the haute eateries of old and more squarely in Bourdain’s court. “I don’t know anybody who is more a man of the twenty-first century,” Richman says. If that’s true, get ready to see kimchi on everything.
Read the entire profile on Anthony Bourdain in The New Yorker.