Food TV: The Layover Series Premiere

I don’t believe my appreciation of Anthony Bourdain is any surprise to regular readers of his blog. I love his show No Reservations, I love his autobiography Kitchen Confidential, I liked the Fox comedy based on said memoirs and I’ve enjoyed reading through his Les Halles Cookbook. So, of course, I was excited to realize today that his new Travel Channel show The Layover premiered tonight at 9:00PM. Unlike No Reservations, which is more like a travel show with food as the basis, The Layover is a food show based in places to travel to. But, to differentiate things even more, Bourdain only has a short amount of time to get around, which actually counts down as the episode carries on.

The first episode was based in Singapore, an interesting choice that showed off the new format well. Not only are there a variety of different kinds of cuisine in the country, it’s also relatively small, which lent itself well to the concept. The purpose of The Layover is to really show you where to go when you’re in a place and don’t have a ton of time. It has a much more travel guide feel to it than No Reservations as Bourdain not only lists additional places and dishes to check out, but also shares screen time with locals and ex-pats discussing their favorite places to eat and visit.

There are plenty of other little differences between The Layover and No Reservations–including showing multiple scenes at once on screen in various panels to show even more of the place, making it feel like you’re trying to cram in as much as possible–but at the end of the day, if you like Bourdain’s main show, you’ll like this one. I did. And, if you’re left not wanting to book tickets for Singapore immediately, you probably shouldn’t bother watching future episodes.

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Food Book News From Anthony Bourdain & Michael Ruhlman

Apologies to anyone who reads both this and my pop culture blog UnitedMonkee because I’m about to double dip a bit. As I mentioned over there in my link-blog post Casting Internets, there were a few bits of chef book news that I found pretty interesting. First up, Anthony Bourdain will be getting his own imprint through Ecco which itself is part of HarperCollins. I read about this over on The New York Observer who had the following quote from Bourdain:

We look forward to publishing an unusual mix of new authors, existing works, neglected or under-appreciated masterworks, and translations of people from elsewhere who we think are just too damned brilliant not to be available in English. We’re presently looking at an initial list composed of chefs, enthusiasts, fighters, musicians and dead essayists.

I’ve read and seen enough of Bourdain to understand that the man has a lot of influences both in and out of the cooking world that he will hopefully bring to better light. I’m curious to see what the three to five books per year he’ll have his name grace, at least as a logo. Meanwhile, in the world of books that are actually available at the moment comes Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty. I first experienced Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of Bourdain’s No Reservations, which instantly endured him to me (I have a kinship for that city because it’s where my mom was born). He’s been on a few other episodes and even popped up as a judge on Iron Chef America. I don’t know a lot about him other than he’s really into cooking, smoking, curing and preparing meat, which I appreciate. I just started checking out his website, just in time to see him writing about this new book that posits there are only 20 techniques you need to know to cook anything. He explains himself better in a post on his site. I like the sound of this book because it’s part recipes and part text book. I think I can use a few textbooks on the cooking class that is life (ooh, that was deep…).

Food Epiphany: Buy Local

The thing about epiphanies is that they can be flapping around you for quite a while before finally finding a place to land in your brain. When they do, though, they can be headslapping revelations. “Why didn’t I think of this before?!” Fireworks. Things are different now. Even if it’s a subject you’ve thought about it before, but just didn’t focus on it or really mulled over, there might be that one thing that really makes you take notice. I’ve been hearing about farmer’s markets, buying local and the slow food movement for a while now, but it wasn’t until I saw (my wife will laugh at this because I talk about him more than I probably should) Anthony Bourdain in Provence, France on an episode of No Reservations last night that the idea of buying local really landed in my brain. It was probably the 20th episode I’ve seen where he talked about using local ingredients that are in season, but I think it was the beauty of the area, the bright colors and calming aesthetic of the place that allowed some of the background chatter in my brain to calm down long enough for the idea to really take up real estate in my head.

For a long time, food was more social or utilitarian, something that filled my belly and gave family or friends the opportinity to catch up. There were good and even great meals in there, but overall, I didn’t really think much about the food I was eating. Even when I moved out on my own, the extent of my cooking revolved around tossing a piece of meat in a plastic bag with marinade and cooking it on the George Foreman. Since getting married, I’ve moved in and out of cooking on a regular basis, but in the last few years I’ve really jumped in. Grabbing a recipe and buying the ingredients from the store was never really anything I gave much thought to. Where else would I buy groceries than at the grocery store?

I’ve mentioned here and there that I try to make it out to the farmer’s market in nearby Cornwall, so I guess the whole local thing isn’t a completely new revelation. But, after watching that episode of No Reservations I realized how lucky I am to live in an area with so many farms. Depending on the season and my needs, I can get pretty much anything I’d want or need from eggs and milk to meat and veggies. Sure, I’ll probably have to go out of my way a little bit and maybe get a bigger cooler for transporting and even shift my schedule around to accommodate the dates of farmer’s markets (not to mention planning for winter way ahead of time), but I think it will be worth it.

To be clear, I’m not interested in buying local for moral reasons. I think the way beef and poultry is mass produced in this country probably isn’t the best or healthiest way to go, but it works for some people. I’m coming at this from more of a taste and health point of view. Food that hasn’t been frozen and just came off the vine/tree/whathaveyou is just plain fresher and tastes better. Then you get into things like animal feed and how that plays into how they taste when you cook them up, that’s a whole different level as well. In addition to all that, I like the idea of supporting local business people, especially farmers. My paternal great grandfather was a farmer, so I feel some kind of kinship there even though he passed away before I was born. Besides that, I also have a deep respect for anyone who works that hard with their hands.

I spent a good deal of last night looking around for farms and farmer’s markets in the area. I’ve got a few in mind that I’m going to check out. I’ll let you guys know how that goes. I’m also looking around for people making awesome cheeses and meats (dried, smoked, sausage). I feel like I’ve been listening to boy band music and digging that for years only occasionally hearing Led Zeppelin and liking it but not really jumping in. Now I’m knee deep in the catalog and branching out into all kinds of other things from Pink Floyd to Miles Davis. There’s a huge world of food out there that I’m excited about jumping into starting with the foods that around me. Now I just need to learn what’s in season and when!

New Favorite Show: Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations

Originally published on UnitedMonkee, 2/28/11

Over the past few months, I’ve found a real love for Travel Channel’s No Reservations, a show featuring renowned chef Anthony Bourdain traveling around the world, sampling local food and waxing poetic about his encounters. I don’t want to paint the wrong kind of picture here. Bourdain’s no hippie beatnik, but instead a man who looks past the glossy images we’re presented with of most foreign countries and instead experiences them himself through the most communal of endeavors: sharing a meal. The best episodes happen to be the ones where things don’t quite go as expected. There was one where the production crew found themselves in a country ripped apart by civil unrest or revolution (I can’t quite remember which or what country at the moment). Instead of eating his way through the area, Bourdain got to really experience what it was like to be in that kind of situation and he has such a way with words that those emotions are well conveyed to the audience.

Tonight’s season premiere found Bourdain traveling through Haiti, a country that has been devastated by both earthquakes and a corrupt government. But even with all the death and hunger and poverty, as Bourdain points out, the people still seem to be in somewhat good spirits, create new art and music and do their best to keep their clothes fresh and clean. He and his fellow travelers like Sean Penn along with native hosts point out that the media has a tendency to show only the awful things that have happened without 1) showing the full story and 2) doing any real good. It’s gotten so bad that the people of Haiti don’t want to be photographed, something that I haven’t seen on any of the previous episodes I’ve had the pleasure of watching. It’s a lot to take in, which is why I like the show so much. It teaches you without being too heavy handed and shows off the world in a different light than I’m used to seeing.

So good is that show, in fact, that you almost forget it’s about food, which makes it an apt choice for the Travel Channel over, say, The Food Network. Yes the food is important, but it’s more of a way to get into the lives of people instead of the main focus. But man, sometimes, No Reservations makes me HUNGRY. I mentioned that my favorite episodes tend to be the ones where things don’t go quite as planned, but that’s not entirely true. I also adore the ones where Tony, a generally cantankerous man, finds himself completely absorbed in the pleasure of enjoying food and drink with others. There was one where he was in I believe Brazil, and the episode ended with him just hanging out and enjoying some cocktails and kind of zoning out. It looked pretty fun.