The ubiquitous globetrotting chef Anthony Bourdain, whose new cookbook Appetites is just out this week, sat down with NPR's Fresh Air yesterday to talk about everything from his drug-soaked youth to his rocky early days in the restaurant world, to how he lucked into publishing a magazine article that turned into the mega-bestselling Kitchen Confidential. He also revealed which jobs have given him the most satisfaction (spoiler alert: dishwasher). But in a surprisingly moving segment of the interview, he shed some light on what really happens when he hops around the globe tasting nearly everything in sight—and why the meals do more than just sate his food and travel hunger.
"Journalists drop into a situation, ask a question, and people sort of tighten up," Bourdain said to Fresh Air's Dave Davies (who was filling in for host Terry Gross). "Whereas if you sit down with people and just say, 'Hey what makes you happy? What do you like to eat?' They'll tell you extraordinary things, many of which have nothing to do with food."
Bourdain was in Beirut in 2006 shooting an episode of his former Travel Channel show No Reservations when war broke out in Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel, and since then he's eaten his way around strife-torn countries from Libya to Congo to Myanmar on his current CNN show Parts Unknown.
Dining with locals around the world can reveal the nuances and dimensions of people's lives and humanize them in a way that news reports about distant-sounding places rarely do, says Bourdain.
"I mean, who are these people we are talking about when we talk about Benghazi or Libya?" he said in the interview. "Is it not useful to see them with their kids, to see how their everyday lives are?"
So far this season, he's ranged everywhere from Hanoi, Vietnam, to Sichuan, China, and back stateside to Houston and Nashville. Meanwhile, here's a clip of Bourdain in Beirut last year, when he went back to visit Lebanese friends, make new ones (including a group of Harley enthusiasts) and eat his way around the food-obsessed city after his harrowing experience there nine years ago:
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