by Malcolm Jolley
I tried to give Anthony Bourdain a hard time, but it’s impossible. I am too much of a fan, and the effort just to keep my gushing to a minimum in a recent conversation took all the food-journalism discipline I could muster. Bourdain was on the other end of a telephone line, fielding interviews for the premiere of The Layover in Canada on the Travel + Escape network, April 11. I asked him questions about the
show, and how it differs from his travelogues on No Reservations, which is going into its eighth hit season. But what I really wanted to know was when is Bourdain going to bring a film crew to my hometown, Toronto. “I mean come on,” I pleaded in a pathetic voice, “our nickname is Hogtown for goodness sake!”
Bourdain laughed and indicated he was laying ground work for a Toronto show, saying, “I think I will shoot in Toronto for season two. I have had great food in Toronto, but I am intrigued because every time I go to Montreal or Vancouver, they always say ‘Thank you for filming here and not Toronto’. They really seem to hate Toronto!”
I knew it! Oh well, if this is what it takes to get him here, I reasoned, then so be it. And while Bourdain expects a Toronto show to be something of a “corrective” on the Toronto-bashing he’s heard from chefs and “especially journalists” in the rest of Canada, Montreal is, in fact, the subject of one of The Layover’s episodes. Bourdain is effusive in his love for the city: “It’s my favourite city on Canada”. The episode features Bourdain being hosted by Martin Picard and the Joe Beef guys, Frederic Morin and David McMillan, and Bourdain says it’s good example of the concept behind the show: “I want to give you an insiders look at the city, so you know that after service all the chefs end up at Big in Japan.”
That insiders knowledge is the key to the show: for the first season Bourdain picked places he’d been before and where he had connections. In the Layover he digests his experiences into a set of recommendations meant for a single day. They are not always obvious, or taken out of mainstream guide books: “You don’t need me to tell you to visit the Louvre in Paris, everybody knows about the Louvre.”
I asked him how the concept of The Layover came about. He answered jokingly, “We decided to something, that for us, was really perverse: make a show that was informative and useful”. He explained that he and his production company took it on as a kind of challenge – to see if they could do a sped up version of No Reservations.
If the show Bourdain offers his fans a quick hit of what to see (and, of course, where to eat) in some of the world’s top destinations, then, I assumed, it must be a compression of days of filming? “No,” Bourdain emphatically countered , “Every show was shot in between 24 and 48 hours” in what he describes as a “terrifying process”.
“We shot in a cinema verite style, with 18 hour days,” he explained, “It was a punishing process for me, but even more for the crew” Bourdain claims you can see him and his team get progressively frazzled in each episode as the day goes on: “We get pretty f***ed.”
But pushing the Boundaries of food and travel writing and now television-making is just what Bourdain does best, and he freely admits to evoking his “huge film nerd” sensibilities in each “little movie” he makes about some of his favourite places in the world, borrowing from classic films. I hope he does come up to Toronto, I’d love to see his take on my home town. In the mean time, it’s fun to watch him enjoy the world and offer a chef’s secret or two. (See? I can’t help the gushing.)
The Layover premiers with Anthony Bourdain’s take on his hometown, New York City, Wednesday, April 11 at 10pm EDT on the Travel + Escape network. Click here for more information.
Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and the Executive Director of Good Food Media, a not-for-profit company supported by the good food and wine and beer community. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmjolley.