“We should be opening up McDonald’s and KFCs along the Pakistan-Afghan border.”
An Evening with Anthony Bourdain
Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
At the Michigan
Tickets starting at $45
Nobody ever asked Anthony Bourdain to pitch a viable peace-in-the-Middle-East policy, but that would never stop him from expressing his views on the matter. Only half-joking, he believes that fast food is America’s “most destructive export” and should be used by the CIA to combat insurgents. As he puts it: “Fatten those fuckers up!”
Bourdain is outspoken and abrasive — he seems to believe bad tastes can make someone a bad person. Still, he’s often brilliant and he knows how to eat, travel and entertain. And tomorrow night at the Michigan Theater, his firestorm of anecdotes, opinions and insults is sure to elicit as many uncomfortable laughs as it does genuine ones.
When he’s not brainstorming Trojan-horse strategies for infecting remote war zones with diabetes, Bourdain spends most of his time filming “No Reservations,” the wildly popular Travel Channel show that follows him as he travels the world sampling local cuisine.
A longtime New York City chef, Bourdain was able to parlay the success of his book “Kitchen Confidential” into his own show, “A Cook’s Tour,” which ran from 2001 to 2002 on Food Network. In 2005 he jumped to the Travel Channel, taking his format and attitude with him.
Bourdain, who just returned from filming an episode in Ecuador, has a TV career that has taken him to dozens of countries across six continents. But only a decade ago, coming off “Kitchen Confidential,” he was thoroughly unconvinced of the plausibility of his small-screen prospects.
“Two fairly unimpressive guys walked in the door at my restaurant — I was still working at the time — and they said they wanted to make television,” Bourdain recalls.
“A week later they summoned me to a meeting at Food Network, which I did not think was going to go that well, frankly. I remember I didn’t even bother to shave for the meetings. I thought: ‘This ain’t gonna happen,’ ”
But Food Network saw something compelling in the brash (and scruffy) Bourdain and decided he’d be TV’s ideal culinary anti-hero. Having had rather limited international travel experience up to that point, the straightforward chef was ready to trot the globe. At the top of his desired-destinations list was Vietnam.
“I grew up reading about it … it was a place that I wanted to be. And, in fact, it turned out even better.”
He’s now been to Vietnam multiple times, and he can’t resist gushing about it. Still, he maintains a keen eye for historical perspective that’s illustrative of his ability to immerse himself in a far-off location.
“Total war is a business for them. They understand there’s no halfway war. You invade Vietnam, they stop farming and they start killing. As soon as the war’s over it’s ‘Have a drink. Nothing personal. This is business, this is what we do,’ ” Bourdain said, explaining why Americans are now received so hospitably in Vietnam.
“They like Americans. Even when they were shooting at us I think they liked us. They saw us big, goofy, open-hearted people who like dogs and children.”
Though his career may often seem like one extended all-expenses-paid vacation, Bourdain takes immense pride in his work’s mission. In one famous instance, the Marines evacuated him from Beiruit when the 2006 war in Lebanon broke out.
Of course, the experience left him with an insatiable resolve to return to the city — a duty he intends to fulfill for the upcoming season of “No Reservations.”
“We’re gonna try to finish the show we started. It’s the great unfinished business of my life that we didn’t get to show people how cool Beirut is,” he reasons.
Although a tight touring schedule will prevent Bourdain from appreciating mainstay Ann Arbor eateries like BTB and Le Dog, he recognizes another great cultural contribution of Ann Arbor: The Stooges.
Bourdain cites The Stooges’ Fun House as his favorite album, and if he and Iggy Pop have one thing in common, it’s definitely their lust for life.