Saturday, February 18, 2017
The Traveling Statesman
New Yorker - "Journeyman: Anthony Bourdain's moveable feast"
By Patrick Radden Keefe
"Bourdain believes that the age of the fifteen-course tasting menu “is over.” He is an evangelist for street food, and Hanoi excels at open-air cooking. It can seem as if half the population were sitting around sidewalk cookfires, hunched over steaming bowls of phở. As a White House advance team planned the logistics for Obama’s visit, an advance team from Zero Point Zero, the company that produces the show, scoured the city for the perfect place to eat. They selected Bún chả Hương Liên, a narrow establishment across from a karaoke joint on a busy street in the Old Quarter. The restaurant’s specialty is bún chả: springy white noodles, smoky sausage, and charred pork belly served in a sweet and pungent broth."
"Halfway through the meal, we were joined by Stephen Werther, a bespectacled entrepreneur who is Bourdain’s partner in a new venture: a Manhattan market modelled on Singapore’s hawker centers, or open-air food courts. It is scheduled to open, sometime in the next few years, at Pier 57, a cavernous former shipping terminal on the West Side. If Bourdain’s show offers a vicarious taste of an intrepid culinary expedition, the market will provide an ersatz consumer experience of his show. The best street-food venders will be recruited from around the world and awarded visas—assuming that the United States is still issuing them—allowing New Yorkers to sample their octopus tostadas and their yakitori chicken hearts. Bourdain Market, as it will be known, is a preposterously ambitious venture; it will be three times the size of the original Eataly—Mario Batali’s super-emporium of Italian food in the Flatiron district. Werther was accompanied by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, a married couple who run Roman and Williams, a design firm that creates seductive contemporary spaces, such as the Ace Hotel in New York. They had agreed to work on the market. Their background is in Hollywood set design, an ideal match for Bourdain’s sensibility.
“Imagine a post-apocalyptic Grand Central Terminal, if it had been invaded by China,” Bourdain said.
“But underwater,” Standefer joked.
Bourdain elaborated that the market should bring to mind “Blade Runner”—high-end retail as grungy, polyglot dystopia. "
"As “Parts Unknown” has evolved, it has become less preoccupied with food and more concerned with the sociology and geopolitics of the places Bourdain visits. Lydia Tenaglia calls the show an “anthropological enterprise.” Increasingly, Chris Collins told me, the mandate is: “Don’t tell me what you ate. Tell me who you ate with.” Bourdain, in turn, has pushed for less footage of him eating and more “B roll” of daily life in the countries he visits. It has become a mantra for him, Collins said: “More ‘B,’ less me.”
Since visiting Beirut, Bourdain has gone on to Libya, Gaza, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeking to capture how people go about their daily lives amid violent conflict. To viewers who complain that the show has become too focussed on politics, Bourdain responds that food is politics: most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history. He also points out that most shows about food are premised on a level of abundance that is unfamiliar in many parts of the world."