Anthony Bourdain 'Parts Unknown': Show Tries to Save Food Industry Through Travel


For Anthony Bourdain, the extroverted chef, world traveler, and lover of food and drink, his new project as host of CNN’s weekly show, Parts Unknown aims to give an inside perspective of cooking, history and culture in exotic locales. Aside from being in a unique position to provide a local perspective, this show strives to bring together aspects of politics, culture and food on a weekly basis. Among the list of destinations include Colombia, Libya, Morocco and Peru. I’ve compiled a list that outlines three objectives for the show that Bourdain wants to achieve:

First, his new show allows him to put the emphasis on the preparation of traditional meals in exotic locales. This season, Parts Unknown planned visiting locations includes a diverse range of locales that may be more known for its ethnic strife and political conflicts than for its culture rich in history. Often we hear more about a nation in turmoil and ascribe certain characteristics to them. But in the process, we forget that the regional cuisine is neglected. Becoming schooled with the historical background of a region and separating the food and cultural aspects from the politics is helpful.

Second, Bourdain ’s departure from “that other, less good network” (or the Travel Channel to you) for reasons varying from broken contract agreements to product placement, has been well publicized.  Now is an opportune time for Bourdain to resuscitate CNN, as well as making good on his promise to be real and never sacrificing one’s ideals for chasing the almighty dollar.  For Bordain’s own thoughts on this subject, check out his Tumblr blog that he personally curates. So far, this strategy is working. Last week’s episode which covered LA’s Koreatown demonstrated a 30% increase of viewers (974,000) from its premiere week (747,000). 

Third, he hopes to advance the street food culinary style option that  celebrates the unstructured culinary foods to the mainstream masses by participating as a speaker in the First Street Food Congress, a quasi food-event/ forum where a diverse array of street foods are presented in Singapore, taking place next month.   Singapore is the perfect place for showcasing the food mecca of street-foods.  I’ve noticed that in western societies, other than hotdogs, there are few street foods that transcend social class. There exists a certain idea of what street food is and who consumes them.  Bourdain’s plan is to re-define everything that we know about street food.

Aside from the 3 objectives listed, Bourdain’s public feud with colleagues such as Paula Deen and famed chef Mario Batali for "selling out" is well known. The food industry in particular is constantly trying to reinvent itself to be ‘fresh’ and ‘new’. It’s almost like we forget what real food looks like. In part, this is the allure behind fast food.

Part of the appeal to Parts Unknown is the focus on the traditional method of meal preparation to feed our families and nourish our bodies. This is often portrayed as ‘old fashioned’ and incompatible with our ultra-fast modern society especially with fulfilling responsibilities such as families or school. But for many people around the world, there are few alternatives. With the technological advances, the gap between industrialized and wealthy nations grows larger and one axis of difference pertains to food.