It’s hard to think of something travel and food related that Tony Bourdain actually hasn’t done (or eaten), but he’s surprised us again with a new show that hits the ground running, delivering a delightful roller coaster of a ride through 24-47 hour visits to thrilling places around the world. Tony shared his thoughts with us on his inspiration for The Layover this week and as classic Bourdain fans would already know, we should expect the unexpected.
How Does The Layover Differ From No Reservations?
No Reservations is all about me, me, me and me having fun and me satisfying my curiosity about the world and less about whether or not anybody of the audience will actually be able to replicate the experience. So with this show, well, we're actually trying to be useful. We've unmasked a lot of information about places around the world over the course of eight years.
We've gotten pretty good about cutting right to the heart of the matter. You know, particularly local, unique to that location places that we've come to know and like or that in some way personally connected to or clued into over the course of many years making television and all of them in locations where you -- where a traveler might reasonably expected to find themselves hopefully at some point in their life.
It's been said that you came up with the idea for the show while you were out drinking with the crew one night. Was it while you were filming No Reservations?
Yes, it was -- you know, it would be more likely a procession. The idea came together slowly over time in a series of post -- you know, we'd finish the day shooting and we'd be sitting in some cocktail, terrible cocktail lounge in a hotel somewhere, getting our night cap before we'd stagger off to our rooms at which point we tend to sort throw ideas around. I mean, it's where we make a lot of our major decisions, a lot of our creative decisions as well on the show.
When you travel as a civilian do you deliberately plan layovers, so that you can have little side adventures like this?
I have, not often. But every once in a while I have. I mean, if I'm doing a speaking engagement in Australia, as has happened, or like a writer's festival or food and wine festival, I would stop off scheduling myself a couple days, a two-day layover in Singapore would be something I've done before. I see friends, catch up with friends and get some good food. I hate the thought of just, changing planes in Hong Kong and at least not running into town and grabbing some roast goose or something.
When it comes to No Reservations and The Layover, is there a difference in the challenges of putting together a show about an American city versus a particularly remote city?
To do The Layover, yes, it's a challenge because you're looking to do, an informative show without -- trying to avoid the usual suspects. So, yes, it's hard, particularly in LA. You know, so Korea town was a major focus, food trucks and as you know, there's nothing -- the difference between L.A. and so many places around the other major cities is it's not European at all. The heart and soul and spine of L.A. is not Europe, you know, which is a big difference from a lot of the other cities. And I guess I missed that. I hope that this show is a success in that I actually learn something.
Do you think it's ever a challenge to make foreign and really remote cities accessible to an American audience?
You know, I don't really care. I think with Layover, these are places that any international traveler wouldn’t be likely to find themselves. But, you know, the challenge is making like Saudi Arabia or Liberia more accessible in the sense. And I think the way you do that is you sit people down at a table or you show people sitting down at a table and you relate in some way the way that I do. I mean, we spend -- it takes us four hours to do a five-minute meal scene for No Reservations. That's the end result of a lot of time spent getting to know the family, playing with the kids, petting the dog and drinking the local moonshine.
It’s that kind of thing, bringing people into the, you know, the human dimension but relating to people over food, being open to the experience on camera that maybe, I hope, allows those places, those off the road place and cultures to be at least more emotionally accessible and understandable to American viewers who might not ever see themselves going to those places. At least I hope so.
Where do you write when you're on the road, and what is your process like?
I'm a yellow legal pad kind of guy. I'll write very, very quickly on yellow legal and it depends what. If I'm writing a book I'll take notes on the road and then do the actual writing when I'm home and I'll try to set aside some time at home. Voiceovers for the show, scripts for Treme, stuff like that I'll do on my laptop, while I'm on the playing train, backup car, hotel, you know, wherever.
In what ways has travel made you a better chef?
It hasn't. I mean, the short answer is it hasn't at all. I mean, it's taken me out of the kitchen and maybe it's made me -- I don't know. In some ways I maybe am a little more -- I mean, I think anytime you're able to see how other people live around the world, I like to think it makes you more compassionate and tolerant person, maybe. You know, maybe I'm a little tiny bit smarter, a little bit more optimistic actually about my fellow man. But as a cook, if anything, it's taken me away from cooking.
Perhaps the only way that I could, that if it's changed my cooking in a useful way it is seeing how much people make with very little around the world and how well -- how delicious so many cultures could make, you know, food that you wouldn't think of as being delicious again and again and again and seeing how hard people work for food and how generous they are even when they have careful about the respect with which I treat it.
Is there anything you miss about being in a restaurant kitchen on a regular basis?
I miss the first beer after being in the restaurant kitchen, that sense of triumph and camaraderie of having survived another busy night, the sense of certainty, the sense of closeness to the people you work with, of being part of this sort of cult. I miss that. But I mean, I had 28 years of it. Do I miss -- I don’t miss standing on my feet for 16 hours, not at my age. I would never open arestaurant. If I've learned anything in 28 years of being in the restaurant business it's that I never want to own a restaurant. That's, you know, that's a marriage.
Please name your top 3 airport bars in the world.
Top three airport bars, gosh. I'll give you some, you know, top three airports but, I mean, the bars, the last place I want to be drinking is an airport. I like Narita in Tokyo, Changi in Singapore and Frankfurt’s not bad.
Can you discuss any of the places you visited in the New York episode of The Layover?
Sure. You know, a sort of, I don't know, a really special place, quirky, special places to me that, you know, you haven't seen or may not have seen in the other travel shows but that are places that you can actually go that they're, you know, they're reproducible experiences that you, yourself could do. I mean, I'm passionate about the Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlisle Hotel because it's just something I think a lot of people who visit New York haven't seen and yet so many of us grew up at the Madeline Books. As a dad I feel, you know, this is something that particularly new parents would think is really cool, especially somebody who's read that book aloud to their kid. And then some sort of quirky restaurant favorites that are for the most part really affordable but a little bit off the beaten track and, again, kind of unique to New York.
Do you have a preference to writing or filming TV shows?
Hard to say. They're just so linked at this point. I mean, making the television shows, seeing allof these places gives me things to write about. So, I'm always writing in my head, so it's really hard to separate out. You know, it's all part of, a big, happy mess at this point.
What do think your die hard fans are going to think of this new show?
I don't know. It fills me with terror thinking about -- I have absolutely no idea. I learned a long time ago that it's really bad for me to think about how -- whether it's a book or a TV show, whatever I do, if I think about what people will think, what they might be expecting, that's not good for me. I just think all I can do is go out there and do the best job that I can, follow my instincts and hope for the best.
How is the experience of filming The Layover different from filming No Reservations?
To be absolutely honest, it's a lot harder. It's a lot harder. It's tough. On the entire crew. I mean, these guys were running backwards in just withering, withering 110 degree heat, 100% humidity in Singapore and Hong Kong, running backwards all day, holding cameras, almost no down time, you know, three, four, sometimes five meals a day, as opposed to maybe two on No Reservations, a much more reasonable, spread out, less compressed schedule. So it's tough and since I’m shooting them, often shooting them back toback, it's -- it was, it's a new gig for us. Plus, we were -- you know, we were learning as we went. So, yes, it was much harder this time around.
Is the crew as adventurous in their eating as your are?
Everybody on the crew more or less eats and is open to eating what I eat. And over time they've become -- well, you don't work on this show year after year and -- if you've got a fussy pallet. In fact, maybe the more enjoyable things about making these shows is that, we get to hang out after and maybe, have a casual meal together. And, yes, they are as adventurous as I am in their tastes.
When you're on the road, is it just plain fun for you?
It is still fun. It's still fun. It's still exciting. The minute it stops being fun I will stop doing it.
The Layover premiers on Monday, November 21st on Travel Channel at 9:00 pm