We are now being treated to a plethora of food shows.They are proliferating across all channels. Some are better than others.Some are awful.You have the Reality type; chefs freaking out in the kitchen for a seriously doubtful 'dream' job. Casting: One gay, one lesbian, one foreigner, one latino, one retard. Parental approval suggested i.e. Strong language. Then you have the Travelogue type;some history, some geography, some eating, some drinking, something, hopefully, disgusting. The Serious Cook type; details about food ingredients, techniques of cooking, close close ups , low budget production. And finally the Amateur type; good cook, bad presentation, not enough lights, dirty pans. Regardless of the type of show, most are very successful.
Since cooking at home is becoming a distant memory in many houses these shows are quite riveting. I mean- fresh food! In gorgeous technicolour.! Plump tomatoes, golden syrup, brown country eggs, green kiwi fruit...all lit like Greta Garbo. Irresistable.
Let it be clear though that the main ingredient in all these programmes is undoubtedly the presenter. A food show needs someone at least slightly edible. Most men will agree that Nigella and Padma Laksmi fit the bill.And most women will agree that Vir Sanghvi does not. His weighty, pontificating and humourless style is not appetising. His statements, sometimes, in very bad taste.
Now take Anthony Bourdain. Very different story. I have no reservations in saying he is the ice cream on the cake of food programming.
For one thing he does not pretend to be an intellectual. Unpretentious, often downright uneducated about the country he visits, his reactions are honest, very human and frequently funny. He takes his food as it comes. And his people too. He is no gourmet in this series and doesn't pretend to be, though he knows what tastes good and what he likes. He is not , never ever, supercilious. His humour is self deprecatory which is attractive as against Vir Sanghvi's self congratulatory style. ( Read 'Rude Food' for a taste.)
Bourdain's shows in India were interesting in that they showed a different side to several well exposed places and people. Rajasthan revealed a take on Gaj Singh which was funny, dinner at a Royal wedding, a look at the home life of a chef and his wife (while no quarter was given to the annoying child), a visit to a soothsayer and a meal in his home where any preconceived notions about fortune tellers were quickly destroyed. A meal at a roadside dhaba where the presenter seemed quite at home, a hair raising ride on a bus, a drink of bhang. Nothing unusual about the choice of scenes. Kind of typical. Maharajas and palaces, poverty and population, traffic and drugs, fortune tellers, spice merchants and bargaining in the bazaar. What is unusual is Bourdain's attitude and interpretation. Not ordinary.
I once called Bourdain a culinary warrior for eating the untried , untested, unknown. Now its the "thing" to do, like " Lets eat what these foreigners eat. Ooh isn't it foul."
Only with Bourdain it is .."Hmm, not bad, not bad at all. I could actually develop a taste for this."
Opinionated, thank god, what a relief in this age of "lets be polite and sit on the fence and not challenge anyone's beliefs", not one to mince his words, Bourdain's comments are always interesting whether the viewer agrees or not.
No Reservations is a series worth watching.
P.S.The book is worth reading too.