Anthony Bourdain is the reason why you take pictures of food. He is why you know and care about what exactly constitutes an authentic Banh Mi sandwich. He is also why the word “unctuous” rolls off just about anyone’s tongue when describing food that is particularly rich.
Well, fine, not exactly, but you can’t say enough about how much Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations has influenced the cultures surrounding food and travel mentalities over its recently ended seven year reign. Whether he was incinerating piles of cocaine in Panama, stuffing himself at a restaurant in Montreal with a foie gras focus, or floating down a river in Kerala, India, these rhapsodic images of Bourdain in his element have conjured awe and jealousy alike in his viewers, who have likely tried to emulate his bespoke mode of travel in their photos and diaries.
What makes the show is Bourdain’s ability to integrate his own personality—which can only be described as laid-back rock ‘n’ roll—with the wow factor of his exploits. When combined with expert filmmaking and resources, his humor and frankness—which may or may not lead him to cursing and vegetarian-, hipster-, television-producer-, or Food-Network-bashing—help to create a unique and highly stylized show that is never the same from episode to episode. Bourdain’s mind translates so seamlessly into the show that it feels like he created a travelogue for his own entertainment and then made it into an Emmy-Award-winning series just because he could.
In many ways, I wish there were more shows like this, but in many ways, I don’t. Any host on the Travel Channel’s budget can visit an exotic location, sample a few local delicacies, and smile into the camera with delight at having discovered what it means to be from Fill-in-the-Blank. But these hosts are interchangeable, and their takeaways from these foreign countries are often generic and scripted. Bourdain is by no means the first travel host to try to communicate what it means to appreciate a foreign culture beyond conventional tourist destinations. However, he differs from other hosts in that he does so without ever claiming to have figured it all out. He lets his perceptions and prejudices color his experiences in a way that’s relatable without being patronizing.
Besides, who other than Bourdain has that perfect combination of adventure, culinary expertise, and street cred—a combination that inspires viewers to be just as invested in the culinary mind of Ferran Adrià as they are in the history of the Ozarks? Who else looks just as cool eating crouched on a dank sidewalk in Vietnam as he does when sampling the best sushi in the world, or hanging out with Bill Murray? People aim to attain Bourdain’s level of cultural curiosity and edginess by seeking out the authentic and the adventurous, inspiring a whole generation of culturally and gastronomically centered blogs, Tumblrs, and Facebook albums.
It’s difficult to separate a paean to No Reservations from a paean to Anthony Bourdain, but it’s comforting to note that Bourdain is sticking around, even though his show isn’t. I look forward to his next endeavor, a CNN program called Parts Unknown, which he hopes will be a “bigger and better version of No Reservations.” But before that, I have a lot of re-watching to do.