"Anthony Bourdain has been indulging his wanderlust on “No Reservations” for several seasons now, bringing his insatiable curiosity about food, customs and people to far-flung locales and raising the profile of the average travelogue series several notches to a one-man cultural essay.
The key to Bourdain’s success is that he blends: There’s nothing he won’t eat, even if it’s squirrel potpie prepared in the Ozarks, and no one he won’t talk to, whether it’s Cuban baseball fans in Havana or Ecuadorean street food vendors. He seems happy and at home wherever he is.
In his new series, “The Layover,” debuting Monday night on the Travel Channel, Bourdain has taken a more practical approach to his fascination with other cultures. The 10-part series drops him and his crew in a different city each week for just 24 to 48 hours. Bourdain’s assignment is to advise viewers on how to avoid tourist traps and make the most of their time.
“I’ve never tried to do anything useful, so it’s a bit of a departure for me,” he says, sitting in the garden area outside his Upper East Side high-rise.
“We were looking to develop something in between seasons of ‘No Reservations’ that we could do fast,” he says. “We were also looking to work with these new cameras and lenses that we got. It was really a breakthrough. Panavision loaned us some lenses, which is something they don’t do. They allowed us to shoot at night and to shoot an entire show without any lighting whatsoever.”
The new equipment made it possible to film the entire first season in just six weeks. It’s quite an itinerary: “The Layover” visits LA, Miami, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Montreal and, of course, New York.
In the New York episode, which airs Dec. 4, Bourdain takes us for a classic cocktail at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle hotel but also out to Queens, where restaurateur M. Wells creates innovative foie gras dishes in a casual diner environment (the restaurant closed last summer but plans to reopen).
“Given the opportunity to eat at a place like El Bulli, I will,” he says. “But, generally, my interest is in what’s the most loved street food of a Roman or where do the Singaporeans like to go late at night when they’re drunk?”
The former he discovered was a Porcetta sandwich served in brown paper at tiny hole-in-the-walls with just a counter and street seating. The latter is explored in the show’s premiere episode.
“Singapore’s like a foodie theme park,” Bourdain declares in the opening voice-over.
After eating his way through a variety of street food and local specialties (“Three or four meals a day especially in the roaring heat of Singapore, takes its toll,” he says), Bourdain ends up at a late-night Italian/Japanese fusion spot, Kilo, along the Kallang River which serves dishes like prawn and chili pizza.
“We love things that are old and bringing them back to life but not modernizing them,” the co-owner explains on camera.
“Singapore is the perfect layover because it’s small. It’s a tiny city-state that’s as food crazy as any nation on Earth,” Bourdain says. “If you’re going to be stuck anywhere for a layover, Singapore would probably be my No. 1 choice.”
Just in the airport alone, you can get a massage, see a movie, and stroll through six lush gardens. “I almost look forward to that airport,” Bourdain says of the aviation wonderland.
By contrast, Bourdain says travelers must take care in Rome.
“You would think there’s nothing but good food in Rome,” says Bourdain, who married an Italian, Ottavia Busia, in 2007. “In fact, it’s probably more likely if you’re there on a layover that you’re going to have a bad meal. There are a lot of bad restaurants in Rome for tourists.” Don’t make the common mistake of ordering dishes like cotoletta Milanese (breaded veal cutlet).
“They call it Milanese for a reason: it’s from f--king Milan,” Bourdain quips. Instead, he recommends cacio e pepe, which he insists is “as Roman as it gets,” adding that Italians instinctually seek out seasonal ingredients. “They don’t need a t-shirt bragging that they’re locavores.”
Some of Bourdain’s other travel tips are surprisingly mundane: He urges people to be prepared for security (no belts, please!), and suggests packing with dual-purposes in mind.
“I’ll wear something like this,” he says of the down jacket he’s wearing, “that I can squish into a ball for a pillow.”
It’ll come in handy on the long flight to Tokyo and the Ishikawa province, where he’ll soon shoot a chef-driven episode of “No Reservations” (the eighth season will air beginning in March). The gleam in his eyes as he discusses it suggests he’s not planning on slowing down anytime soon.
“When it stops becoming fun, I’ll stop doing it,” he says."
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