Sunday, August 10th marked the start of Stirring the Pot: Conversations with Culinary Celebrities, the East Hampton foodie version of Behind the Actor’s Studio. Playing the part of James Lipton is The New York Times Food Writer Florence Fabricant. Sponsored by Nespresso – the brand has a pop up shop in nearby Southampton, Stirring the Pot gives food fans a chance to get up close and personal with some of the food world’s most iconic characters. First up was Anthony Bourdain.
Bourdain rose to stardom when he penned the best seller Kitchen Confidential. The book itself is credited with turning chefs into rock stars. His sharp-tongued wisdom is peppered with some of the best restaurant recommendations in the world. Where would he eat for his last meal? “Jiro Ono’s Sukiybashi Jiro in Tokyo, Japan. It’s light, it’s fresh. It’s got great last meal potential.” Fabricant kept things local by suggesting famed Brooklyn pizzeria Di Fara as a great last meal option.
Bourdain was the host and star of No Reservations, the Travel Channel’s food focused explorer show from 2005 to 2012. Now he’s doing more of the same on Parts Unknown on CNN. The CNN connection is a good one, he says. “When we say we want to go to the Republic of the Congo, you know, they call and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got some contacts that can help.’ Food Network isn’t gonna be much help in the Congo.” Thanks to his television travels, Bourdain has eaten almost everywhere in the world. So it only made sense that FloFab started the conversation by asking where he was headed next. He’s got some pushpins in his wish map, like Yemen, but he was more excited to talk about where he had just been. Specifically Iran. “They were amazingly welcoming and excited to have Americans there.” He appreciated the passion and honesty of the Iranians and hopes to return to film there again. “Most of the middle class migrate up to the coast in summer and that’s where things like caviar is found in abundance. We decided to film elsewhere but I would love to go back and film on the coast.”
Some of his other favorite locales have been places like Southern Italy “where one village barely tolerates the next. But they are intensely passionate about their food.”
A hotel in Thailand ranked among one of his worst experiences. “The plumbing was a hole in the ground and there was blood and other remnants on the walls in the room. There were some of the sketchiest characters in the lobby. Hookers that looked like they could kick all our asses. It had one of those red signs with the line through it and a picture of an AK47. So no AK’s in the lobby, please.”
One place he isn’t looking forward to visiting anytime soon is Russia. “Simply because I can’t drink like that anymore. I can’t do 17 shots at dinner. It’s just not that easy anymore.”
Right now, Bourdain is interested in laying low. He bought a house in Montauk three years ago and has been spending the month of August there for the past three years. His social calendar is “completely in the hands of a seven year old.” His face lights up immensely when he talks about Ariane, his daughter with wife Ottavia Busia. “I put my life in her hands for the entire month. Every decision is hers. Pool? Burgers? Yard? Done. I’m not going to restaurants. I am not going to parties. You’re not coming to my house unless you have kids. It’s all about her.”
In terms of work, the bad boy chef turned author turned TV star has pretty much done it all. But it’s the job that started it all that was the hardest, by far. “Cooking is hard. It’s hard work. TV, I mean, that’s easy. Look at who gets to do it. Guy Fieri makes a living!”
When the talk turned to regrets, Bourdain says he has none. “Would I go back and tell a younger me not to do heroin? No. That guy would probably say, ‘Go back to the future, old man.’ No, I wouldn’t change a thing. I was just telling my mother, you know, mom, I have basically screwed up my life in every way possible. Made every mistake. And look! It’s really paying off!”
Bourdain will be a tough act to follow. Who better than Martha Stewart to give it a try? She’s up on August 17 with the closing conversation with Daniel Boulud on August 31.
The John Drew Theater in the Dina Merrill Pavilion at Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. For more information, visit guildhall.org.