We all love Anthony Bourdain he epitomizes coolness and his hip, cutting, and cynical takes on the food and restaurant world have elevated him to stardom. The Bourdain machine has been going strong for more than a decade. Parts Unknown is now in its 7th Season. And with 49 episodes in the can, more often than not they seem to fall flat. After after all this time, Bourdain who is at the crest of his success and power, appears to be uncomfortable in his own skin. He seems so alone and disconnected. Maybe even a little depressed.
We think the formula has lost some of its edginess although we’re pretty sure that Bourdain continues to get good ratings. Like super cool Agent 007 James Bond, Bourdain drops in solo on some exotic and far way places on a serious mission: Anthony must attract as many eyeballs as possible to his CNN franchise. (Bond’s mission, you know of course is to, eliminate villians).
Bourdain plays the part of the journalistic jet setter by dropping in to cities and countries that often have serious political and economic problems. He seeks out local journalists and food aficionados who give him their perspective on what is currently ailing in their neighborhoods. Anthony gets to chow in interesting places -often off the beaten path- or he is set up in private events staged for the camera in which local cuisine is highlighted and his local connects show off their cooking talent.
Bourdain is very good around the table and he clearly likes to “slum it’, in contrast to his hedonistic one percenter side, where he often pals around some of the worlds greatest chefs. When it comes to trying to present the political and economic issues Anthony is really a light weight. He barely scratches the surface of things and makes little effort to go deep into these discussions. This show has a conflict, which very simply is; food and politics makes for strange footage. Isn’t it damn depressing and boring to go with Bourdain to places that have some of the most intractable social and economic problems, lots of violence and mayhem, and then try to sit down and enjoy food and alcohol with people who are enmeshed in these horrors. Case and point is the episode where Anthony visits a conflict area in what was once Libya and you can sense the undercurrent especially around the areas where there were recent massacres. Yet as much as he tries to have a wonderful culinary experience such as eating delicious seafood in a local joint you can see that there really is little joy. Same for some of the other places he’s visited, that are at the boiling point,Oaxaca, Mexico, Bahia Brazil, and Istanbul where after last months coup things have definitely boiled over.
Despite his consistent cool and hipness, Bourdain is uncomfortable and detached in his “journalist” role. In some of these episodes he seems so alone and disconnected. The Foodboomblogger thinks Anthony is really in over his head with the political and economic part of this job. When he goes to his core, however, which to us seems to be his irreverent and acerbic expressions of the pleasures of food and fine cuisine, he really is himself. The episodes where he travels to France with chef luminary Daniel Boulud to be with Lyonais legend Paul Bocuse show Anthony at his best. Here he is not struggling to make a political journalistic statement. Here he is one fabulously successful “foodie” in another fabulously successful “foodie’s ” home court enjoying some of the most fantastic food imaginable. Isn’t that what it’s all about.