Bourdain Wraps Up 'No Reservations'
[Editor's Note: In addition to the No Reservations season premiere on Monday at 9 p.m. ET, the Travel Channel is presenting a No Reservations marathon beginning at noon, ET.]
Travel Channel's No Reservations kicks off its ninth season this Labor Day, and host Anthony Bourdain keeps it down home with a visit to the SXSW (South by Southwest) festival in Austin, Texas — the annual week-long, citywide alt-gathering featuring non-stop rock shows, film premieres and conferences on interactive media.
This is the farewell season for No Reservations. In May, CNN announced that Bourdain will be joining that cable channel to helm an as-yet unannounced weekend show, and to provide network commentary. It's no suprise. Bourdain is one of the best at divining the authenticity of a place wherever he goes, and he’s been everywhere. He has a nose for the essential people, food and down-beat spots that help make up the metaphysical heart of a region. He revels in the simplicity and poetry of food trucks, cantinas and this time, in Austin, road-side barbecue joints.
And as a writer of books on travel and cooking, crime novels and blogs, Bourdain brings just the right mix of insight and middle-aged crackpot wit. Tasting barbecue that’s been on an oak wood fire for nine hours, he takes a savory, transcendent bite and says, "I think we've learned something today; only Texans and Jews understand brisket."
Food shows are infamous for their sort of food pornography, and No Reservations' Emmy-winning cinamatography crew maybe does better than the rest. The perfectly blackened barbecue and steamed crawfish fill the screen, and you can virtually taste the goodies as they go by.
There's also a lot of nighttime shooting on No Reservations. And it's often the better part when Bourdain and his guides are sitting in low-brow neon lit rooms having what looks to be the best, unceremonious fare a gonzo journalist could uncover.
In addition to touring the best barbecue venues, the Austin show goes to Lala's, a Christmas-themed bar, and El Taco Rio, a food truck outside a local laundromat.
SXSW has evolved into an annual gathering and hatchery for the new and alternative. (HBO’s Girls previewed there.) It’s a bit puzzling that the No Reservations trip eschews the rest and features only outings with musicians, particularly given Bourdain’s literary roots. But he also has a youth steeped in punk rock, so the choice to hang solely with musicians is a small point. You still get a great feel for the festival, which grows every year in national coverage and significance.
Most reports have Bourdain joining CNN to help boost ratings for the flagging news channel, (although it is still well in the black) and give it new life with shows that go beyond straight news and politics.
He’s the right guy for the job — an intrepid, sometimes foul-mouthed, road-hardened adventurer, about as far from a rock star studio chef as you can get. While No Reservations has always featured food, it has always been about much more; the vibe and realism of a place and the people and politics that are found there.
Given CNN’s network and capabilities, it’s conceivable that Bourdain’s brand of cultural anthropology can only be exceeded with the resources he’ll have at CNN.
For the epilogue of the Austin show, Bourdain finishes thinking about a slogan he read, voicing over a band churning it out in a bar with no stage. "The T-shirt says ‘Keep Austin Real.' And for sure, at first glance, Austin doesn’t look like the Texas from the movies, or the imagination. But then, people blather on about the real America all the time, don’t they? And what does that look like? You know what? It looks like this. This is the real America.”
It is the real America, and look to Bourdain to keep exploring it.