Anthony Bourdain — television host, author, book publisher, gadabout — is about to pad his resume with one more role: media investor. Roads & Kingdoms, the website that publishes features and travelogues on politics, culture, food, and drink, confirmed that Bourdain has joined the team as the site's chief investor and editor at large.
It's a first for Bourdain, a media darling, and represents a shift for Roads & Kingdoms which had heretofore been something of a bootstraps operation. As chief editor and publisher Matt Goulding noted in an email "it's a significant moment, a high-profile vote of confidence in slow journalism." Bourdain is giving more than just money to the small site: As editor at large, he'll be corralling writers for a new longform series. And the partnership works both ways: Roads & Kingdoms will be publishing books on Bourdain's Ecco imprint at HarperCollins.
Reached by phone from Barcelona, Goulding chatted with Eater about the past, present, and future of Roads & Kingdoms in light of the site's new investment and direction. After meeting while on a job in the Catalonian countryside in 2011, Goulding discovered Bourdain was an early fan of Roads & Kingdoms. Not long after, Goulding pitched a book idea to the CNN host over email. That book, Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture, "a deep dive into the eating culture of Japan, a guidebook of sorts for serious eaters" comes out this fall.
Through the book idea came the larger notion of Bourdain's investment in Roads & Kingdoms, the website. The two teams have been discussing the idea for about nine months. Goulding says, "digital has always been our focus. Roads & Kingdoms has overlapped in a lot of ways with what Tony has done in the book and TV world. [It's about] telling these stories, the intersection of food and travel and culture. The books are a way for us to extend R&K, a printed extension of R&K." Goulding hinted at possibility of other books after Rice Noodle Fish but wouldn't elaborate on a series.
Rice Noodle Fish was written by Goulding, edited by Roads & Kingdoms' co-editor/publisher Nathan Thornburgh, and designed in-house. Goulding confirmed, "It's a R&K project... It gets at the heart of what we do at R&K and what Tony does... the deepest parts of culture are at the end of a fork or bottom of a bowl."
"What we're doing is unpacking the guidebook experience," says Goulding. Along with the book, which will be presented as a set of long stories, there will be a digital companion with all of "the intel, where we ate, drank, all of the coolest corners."
Meanwhile, Bourdain will serve as Roads & Kingdoms' editor at large and investing partner. He'll be editing a new section of the longform side of the site called Dispatched, which launches today.
In addition to Dispatched, Roads & Kingdoms recently launched two new shorter form sections: Breakfast and 5 O'Clock Somewhere to share shorter snippets of a traveler's eating and drinking experiences while abroad. Bourdain will also weigh in on the direction of the site, and the R&K team plans to solicit his feedback on any big moves.
Bourdain's financial investment, the details of which have not been disclosed, will be used to grow Roads & Kingdoms "in as many ways as possible," according to Goulding. "Food is not something we talk about as 'food porn' or 'Star Chef profiles,' — we share a common ethos that food is the best lens through which to understand culture. The way Tony does that in his books and on TV is the way we do it online... there's a lot of overlap."
Goulding and the R&K team are obviously excited about the new partnership and investment. "Tony gives us hope that authenticity is a good business to be in. [He] said, no matter what happens from here on out, I don't believe you should compromise... expectations change, but we all want more of the same: deeper and better versions of what we do now and I think we'll be able to do that together."Eater Video: Anthony Bourdain waxes poetic about In-N-Out Burger