Bourdain’s Newest Target a Real Clown

Bourdain’s Newest Target a Real Clown

published in the Chicago Sun-Times

He’s the guy you want to sit next to at a boring dinner party. Worldly. Witty. Wicked, in a no-harm-done kind of way. He’s a chef, a writer, a film aficionado. Anthony Bourdain is the nicest, most hard-drinking, caustic SOB you’d ever want to meet.

And yet he’s traded his trademark cigarettes for pureed prosciutto.

Bourdain stopped in Chicago last week near the end of a long tour signing his new book, “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach,” featuring gory and glorious photos and commentary from his Travel Channel show of the same name.

His is the only show on the Travel Channel preceded by a warning that the content is for mature audiences. And Bourdain earns it. He swears. Guests swear. There is some suggestive behavior, a whole lotta drinking and—according to his book—8,991 cigarettes smoked.

But for all the hard and wild living in which the celebrated chef indulges on screen—and off—there is a heart big enough to show genuine gratitude and respect to the ordinary and often poor people of the countries in which he explores.

That heart grew even more when Bourdain’s great big world shrank to the size of his first child, Ariane, born in April. And while he’s not about to sit out the crazy and colorful dance that is his life, having a wife and daughter has shaped his career decisions. Hawaii, Jamaica, London, Tuscany … they’re more low-key and family friendly trips sprinkled in the next season amid Laos, Toyko and others.

“I’m just trying to mix up the destinations so I can see my family now and then,” Bourdain said.

And while he’s not sure he’d encourage Ariane to follow in his sometimes wayward footsteps as a chef (“I’d be horrified on one hand and strangely proud on the other”), Bourdain is eager to expose her to the world. As long as that world does not include one certain red-haired, floppy-shoed purveyor of Happy Meals.

“Ronald McDonald has cooties,” and “It will make you awkward and unpopular in school” are just a few of the slings in his planned campaign against that kid mecca, the Golden Arches. “No blow is too low,” Bourdain says.

Hence the pureed prosciutto. “Her mother takes a very dim view of American food,” Bourdain says. His Italian wife, Ottavia Busia, instead serves baby food from Italy in flavors such as wild boar and rabbit. Like father, like daughter.

And now that he’s been admitted into the daddy circle, conversations with fellow chefs such as Mario Batali take on a different tone, Bourdain said. “Now, it’s all about baby smell, ain’t it great,” he smiles.

Though he’s now balancing an ever-growing demand for new shows with diaper duty and baby photos of the day, Bourdain still has some fresh irons in the fire.

Six-and-a-half years since he last worked the line at his New York City bistro Les Halles, he’s going to step into the kitchen some random day before Christmas and pull both lunch and dinner duty again for old time’s sake. “That was a really hard, punishing shift,” Bourdain said—even before, when the dining room was half its size. Friend and fellow chef Eric Ripert decided he was up for the challenge, too … so Bourdain gave that seafood master grill duty.

“We’ll either go down in flames or we’ll feel really good about ourselves,” Bourdain said with a chuckle.

He also is working with partners at Zero Point Zero Productions to produce another chef’s work for the Travel Channel. “Someone I’ve really, really wanted to work with for a long time,” is all he would say about it.

So just because Bourdain stopped smoking for his daughter, he hasn’t pulled back from the heat of a career on fire. In fact, having a family has maybe helped him strike just the right balance. In his new book he describes being in a funk, a dark place, in Malaysia as his first marriage ended and he struggled to reconcile his extraordinary experiences with ordinary life.

“I was wondering whether I could go back to anything resembling the kinds of friendships and relationships I’d had,” Bourdain said. “I started to feel so weird.”

It’s different now, though, he said. “Now, I’m more rooted. I know I’m going back to some place.”

Speaking of going back to places, he does have a book to write about living in Vietnam, his very favorite destination. This time, when he goes back to that place and the friends and family he’s created there, he’s taking his own family along.

Now that’s hot!

“I happen to love the Chicago dog above all others,” Anthony Bourdain declared shortly after we met.

Wait a minute—did he just say that? This from the guy who practically grew up on ballpark franks at Yankee Stadium, who made a special trip to a hot dog joint when his “No Reservations” show stopped in his beloved NYC?

Yes, fresh from a visit to Hot Doug’s, Bourdain is willing to dub the dogs from that Chicago institution better than New York’s. In particular, he’s a fan of their duck-fat fries. “That speaks of a twisted mind,” Bourdain said with delight.

In fact, Bourdain loves the whole red hot culture. If—no, when—“No Reservations” comes to Chicago (it’s inevitable, Bourdain says), he wants it to be the theme of his show. Bourdain also likes to insert the flavor of a movie into some of his shows. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” colors the Sin City episode, for example. So what flick would fit the Windy City?

“Michael Mann’s ‘Thief.’ I love the look of that film and the sound,” Bourdain says. “I don’t even have to think about it.”

So maybe the next time he visits, he gets a “Frankie ‘Five Angels’ Pentangeli” Italian sausage?