Anthony Bourdain, author of “Kitchen Confidential” and “A Cook’s Tour,” and exec chef of Gotham’s Les Halles brasseries, heads out on his second televised worldwide search for culinary bliss and starts in the markets and ancient kitchens of Paris. Gruff-voiced, edgy, comical — Bourdain is as much an attraction as the finely limned information, an “Up all Night” for the foodie set.
The chef says he wants to make his epicurean adventure in a film noir style, a “Bob le flambeur”-like trip down cobblestone streets to eateries and bars that look dangerous and uninviting on the outside yet offer warm, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Well, he gets half his wish — the food and booze part –the look is strictly high-quality travelogue.
The Parisian adventure includes a stop at a bar with its own absinthe-producing still and a side trip to taste some of the illegal hooch from the early 20th century; a visit to two eateries that keep dishes simple and in line with centuries-old traditions; a bakery; and to the grand market that replaced the former outdoor bazaar of butchers and farmers, Les Halles. Scenes of the market will upset vegetarians and the squeamish, mainly because Bourdain has arrived in the heart of game season.
Show’s title suggests he is showing up unannounced, but most of his stops appear preplanned.
But whether Bourdain is standing among dead animals, eating head cheese, sharing wine and a sandwich with butchers at 7 a.m. or watching early risers buy bread, he harps on the common theme: Food is to be respected and celebrated. He turns on the humor as well, messing with his French teacher in New York and busting on “The Restaurant’s” Rocco DiSpirito; he sees himself as the anticelebrity chef, but were that true, he’d be struggling to get a show on the air. And who would want to broadcast something called “The Caustic Hedonist”?
Granted, Bourdain is preaching to the converted — most viewers will nod their heads as the host instructs Americans to slow down, savor a cup of coffee, a ham sandwich or a good meal. But the way he says it as the opening seg concludes, combined with the images of a sparsely populated Paris, brings a tear to the eye.
“No Reservations” makes its one misstep trying to incorporate some special effects after he consumes some absinthe and then returns to the hotel room where Oscar Wilde died. It’s cheesy and gets in the way of the storytelling.
He will venture to New Zealand, Iceland and, where else, New Jersey in the coming weeks.