Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Season 10: 'It's the Funniest, Filthiest, Most Off-Brand Thing We've Done to Date'
Season 10 of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown premieres on CNN this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Tune in this fall to watch Bourdain criss-cross the globe, starting in Singapore and traversing the French Alps, Puerto Rico, Lagos, Nigeria, Seattle, Sri Lanka, Pittsburgh, and Southern Italy. Here, the star chef and television personality sits down with longtime collaborator Laurie Woolever and tells us exactly what happened behind the scenes in every single location.
Sri Lanka: I’m a sucker for a well-preserved old colonial hotel, and while we were shooting in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, the crew and I stayed in the Galle Face, a fully-preserved relic, built in 1864, that takes its cocktail hour, and its cashew curry, seriously. When I was felled by a fast-moving but brutal stomach virus that also claimed several crew members, it was the perfect place to hole up and howl in gastrointestinal misery. Fortunately, I started to recover as we traveled north on a slow, sweltering train from Colombo. That distant, melancholy look on my face as I gaze out the window? It isn’t some pensive, put-on for TV posturing: it’s me wondering how, exactly, the crew managed to purchase a bland, soothing American-style pizza on the platform during a brief stop in a tiny town along the route to Jaffna, a fascinating, resilient city that was off-limits to outsiders for much of Sri Lanka’s long civil war.
Puerto Rico: Having, for the past few years, shown up at Puerto Rico’s stunning Dorado Beach for the Ritz-Carlton Culinary Getaway, and, on the flip side, being intrigued and disturbed by news of the island’s tragically bizarre financial situation, I was primed to bring the crew to the island for crisp suckling pig, blood sausage, fruity rum cocktails and other delights—and sobered considerably by the first-hand stories I heard of closing schools, disappearing pensions, and encroaching mega-development. No one had a hint of a solution to the colony’s enormous fiscal crisis, and it became abundantly clear that tourism, while an important sector, isn’t enough to sustain the island's economy. We shot this episode in April 2017, several months before Hurricane Maria lay waste to much of the island’s infrastructure and made the future that much more uncertain. My guts are wrenched, thinking about what lies ahead, and it’s bittersweet to know that we at least captured some of the island’s best food, faces and places before it was savaged by nature.
Lagos, Nigeria: Watching this episode feels like a shot of pure adrenaline. The hustle, ambition, and relative lawlessness at play in Nigeria give it a Wild West vibe, one that’s fascinating to witness but makes for specific challenges in shooting television. Who runs things on the street? It ain’t the cops, and it ain’t the government—it’s street gangs and “area boys,” in charge of fiercely-defended parcels of the city, and there were many negotiations, “street taxes” and naked bribes necessary to stay on track with our goal of making an honest episode. The contrasts in Lagos are stark: it’s all Champagne, yachts and jets for a few, while the rest live in poverty, and everyone seems to have at least three ways to make a buck. Spicy, beefy, hearty Nigerian street food is abundant and cheap, the various forms of popular and traditional music are nothing short of intoxicating, and while Nigeria is not for the novice traveler, it’s a fascinating, even inspiring place for those willing to wade in.
French Alps: In some locations, it’s unclear whether we’ll get a single solid meal from day to day. In the French Alps, with its absurd preponderance of colon-clogging cheeses, meats, wines and sweets, it was unclear whether there would be enough Lipitor to sustain our lives. The action trades on the considerable comedic, dramatic and sporting talents of one chef Eric Ripert, who paid me in caviar to prove I could successfully milk a cow, and it's easily the funniest, filthiest, most off-brand thing we’ve done to date. I honestly can't believe we got away with it. Your gentle notions of Ripert will be shattered like the bones, faces and organs of erstwhile stuntmen Jason Lees, Rob Constance and Marlon Suarez, my jiu jitsu compatriots from Renzo Gracie Academy, who gamely played along with the mayhem.
Singapore: While I am generally either bored to tears or scared shitless by places where the streets are too clean, everyone behaves well and the trains always run on time, I make a big exception when it comes to the city-state of Singapore. It could be the roaring heat and humidity, which renders the sharp edges of the shopping mall/nanny state a little fuzzy. It could be the wealth of legal vices that begin to balance out the illegality of chewing gum, littering and public dissent. Or it could be that I’m in love with so much of the food, that great democratizer, especially that which is served within the fragrant confines of the famed hawker centers, which the government would like to begin replicating by the dozen. Claypot chicken rice is among the most famous Singapore dishes, but to be honest, I find it a little lacking, and prefer the complex heat, sweetness, brine and chew of dishes like char kway teow, stir-fried flat rice noodles with clams, prawns, sausage and pork fat.
Pittsburgh: Nearly everything I ate and drank in Pittsburgh—lotta meat, lotta carbs, lotta beer—was solidly in my pleasure zone, and as a bonus, the sausage and pepper sandwich I enjoyed between rounds of bocce at an Italian-American social club did not cause the spectacular gastronomic distress I so often suffer when scoring that same irresistible sandwich on the streets of New York. Pittsburgh is one of those cities, like Detroit, whose industry built America, and whose next chapter is playing out fascinatingly, though not without growing pains, in the post-industrial era. There’s pro wrestling and demolition derbies, seriously satisfying restaurants, generations-old ethnic enclaves with deeply intact traditions, and a rising tide of tech money that doesn’t, as it turns out, lift all boats.
Seattle: Here’s another American city experiencing change on a rapid and massive scale, fueled by the paychecks and appetites of the tech boys and brogrammers crushing code at Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Expedia. Nathan Myhrvold, he of the Modernist Cuisine books and himself a retired Microsoft technologist, served us, somehow, the perfect bagel, 3,000 miles from New York. Artist and activist John Criscitello coined what has got to be the most apt, and dirtiest, portmanteau about gentrification known to man. And, unbeknownst to me, my normally beer-loving crew decided to stay stone cold sober for the duration of this shoot, perhaps to avoid the after-hours distractions afforded by some astonishingly lifelike virtual reality porn being developed in Seattle. Or perhaps they were saving themselves for an end-of-shoot bender, with party favors supplied by one of the ever-multiplying legal cannabis shops springing up like, uh, weeds, across the state of Washington, thanks to Initiative 502.
Southern Italy: Shooting and traveling with an Italian crew (in addition to our own core of New York-based producers, directors and camera operators) is always an adventure in international labor relations and beverage procurement. With a long history of invasion by Moors, Greeks and Normans, among others, and a sense of isolation from the more prosperous north, people in Puglia are wary, and see truth-telling as a risky strategy, which means that it takes a little extra time to figure out who’s really in charge of any given situation, and how things get done. Personally, I’m deliriously happy working in Italy. Veteran director (and multiple Emmy-winner!) Tom Vitale? Perhaps slightly less so. I lost count of the number of nervous breakdowns he had over the complicated logistics of this shoot; I’m not sure he’s yet recovered. I’m particularly proud of the interview with famously reticent director Francis Ford Coppola, who opened up over some red wine and a few pasta courses. We were all much inspired and aided by the presence of director and actress Asia Argento, whose vision for the locations and shooting style, and deep connections in the area, were essential to what is a deeply pleasurable, moving and funny episode.
Watch the Season 10 premiere of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.