Anthony Bourdain critiques other reality shows

Q&A: Foodie weighs in on 'Hell's Kitchen,' 'Top Chef,' others

Food and travel provocateur Anthony Bourdain is celebrating the 100th episode of his genre-busting Travel Channel series "No Reservations" on Monday. The host, chef and author critiques other cooking reality shows, tells THR which cities have the best (and worst) food and where he's going next.

THR: So which city has the best food?

Anthony Bourdain: Wow, tough question. Either Hong Kong, San Sebastian [Spain], Saigon -- those would all be strong candidates.

THR: How about best in the U.S.?

New York, of course. We have a good mix of high and low cuisine. We have large immigrant communities, so we have Mexico, Central and South America, all over Asia.

THR: And the worst?

Bucharest [Romania] and Tashkent [Uzbekistan] are not high on my list.

THR: On "No Reservations," when some nice family in the middle of nowhere is making you something that looks utterly horrific, and you go, "Umm, that's good," sometimes you have to be full of it, right?

Bourdain: I try to be as polite as possible. If it is terrible, I will be nice on camera, but you will hear me on the voice-over say, "OK, that really wasn't so wonderful." It may seem that I'm liking everything. Maybe that's part of a function of my general sense of feeling very lucky and grateful that I'm given the opportunity to do this.

THR: You've slammed Food Network and its talent. Have you ever heard anything back?

Bourdain: Rachael Ray sent me a fruit basket. And I had an uncomfortable meeting with Sandra Lee, where she pretty much had me for breakfast. But officially, no. It's not like we socialize together. They work their side of the street, I work mine.

THR: What do you think of the latest food competition show, Fox's "MasterChef"?

Bourdain: Dreadful. I saw one episode where they had the contestants try to identify the ingredients of chili. "I'm guessing there's onion in there" -- you know what I'm saying? "There might be beef too." I wish Gordon Ramsay well, but I think "Top Chef" remains the benchmark.

THR: When you see challenges on food competition shows, how much do they really test a chef?

Bourdain: I'm horrified at the low level of competitor in "Hell's Kitchen." None of these people could ever -- ever -- be up to the standards of a line cook at a real Gordon Ramsay restaurant. So the whole construct seems artificial to me. "Top Chef," on the other hand, what they ask these cooks to do is really difficult, and the quality of the contestants is very high.

THR: How about face-stuffing competitions, like Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food"?

Bourdain: It's a little morally [questionable]. I think Adam Richman of "Man vs. Food" is enormously likable and a compelling character who really makes that show interesting, but I fear for his life! I mean, the guy must really like T-shirts.

THR: No other reality show makes the process of its creation more transparent than "No Reservations." You're always making references to the producers, the network and the reasoning behind the content. What drives that?

Bourdain: Since the beginning, me and my partners were not interested in doing the same thing week after week. It's just a really important component of the whole process -- to find ways to keep it fresh and new and different. Then, also, there's really an instinctive loathing with the conventions of travel and food television. I hate watching a travel show where you have the host moaning about being lonely and frightened in the desert, but there's footprints in the sand from the camera person walking backwards in front of them.

THR: You're also pretty experimental, like doing an episode in black and white when you went to Rome. Do you ever argue with the network about the content?

Bourdain: There have been some discussions over profanity or subject matter that they were uncomfortable with. The black-and-white show highlights everything that's different and good about the people I work with. We expected a lot of negative reaction. And to their credit, they've been really supportive.

THR: Is there one place you really wanted to go that you haven't been?

Bourdain: We're hoping to do a show right off the Congo River retracing Joseph Conrad's trip up there in "Heart of Darkness." We're returning to Cambodia. Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua. Cuba is a place I've been trying to go every year, and it hasn't worked out.

Do you think you could do another 100 episodes?

I could do an entire season in China and still die ignorant. So, without question. I mean, it's a big world.
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