Season seven of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown premieres Sunday with a visit to the Phillippines. With dozens of episodes aired and hundreds of thousands of miles logged in practically every corner of the world, how does the chef-turned-author-turned-CNN host keep audiences enthralled hour after hour? In a new interview with travel site Skift, Bourdain talks about the keys to making successful TV, his favorite travel destinations, and the aftermath of propelling a restaurant to stardom by featuring it on his show.
On why other travel TV isn't more compelling: "You’ll notice at the end of every segment they always sum up what we just saw, then they tease out what we’re about to see after the commercial. Television in general is an environment where most of people who work in television live in a state of perpetual terror that they’re going to wake up and not be on television anymore. ... I think what Eddie Huang and Action Bronson [on Viceland] are doing is really refreshing for exactly that reason. They talk like they do in real life instead of 'When we come back it’s not just burger … it’s a burger with bacon!'"
On not making TV to please a particular demographic: "I make television the way I do to please myself and the people I work with. We push each other to be creatively satisfied and have a good time and be different than what we did last week. ... What audiences want is barbecue shows. I don’t want to do barbecue shows. Maybe one every five years."
On the best destination for food tourism: "I’d say probably Singapore. First of all, they’ve been very smart about understanding that their food culture is interesting and worth travelling for, and I think they’ve managed to preserve and protect, as best they can, other traditional food culture, while changing and taking into account modern requirements for health and safety, and traffic control, and that sort of thing."
On the pleasures of working with CNN: "I’ve never had a stupid conversation with CNN, ever. ... There’s been almost no push back. We’ve sent them some really difficult stuff. ... I just know that they said they were going to be really cool to work with, that they would help me in any way that I wanted to be helped. They would give me unparalleled freedom to go anywhere. They would not restrain me from telling the stories I wanted to tell. They have honored that commitment."
On travel destinations he still gets excited about: "Japan is always going to be exciting to me because I will never know Japan. As often as I’ve been there, and as passionate as I am about the culture and the food, I understand that I will never know enough."
On the impact of giving little-known restaurants or bars such major TV exposure: "It’s something that we wrestle with and we try to be really careful about. We’ve really tried to not do harm. More often than not, most of the time a place gets busy. The owner’s perfectly happy to expand their business and maybe open up another store. That’s happened many times, particularly in Southeast Asia. The customers who loves it the way it was are less happy about things. I try to find a balance. Television can be a destructive force."