The second season of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown debuts Sunday on CNN (8e/7c) with the wanderlust-filled celebrity chef making his first trip to film in Israel, West Bank and Gaza. His other stops in the next eight episodes include Sicily, Detroit, Copenhagen, Spain and New Mexico. The Biz got him in one place long enough to provide a taste of what's coming up on his Emmy-nominated series.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you find that the co-existence of different religions and cultures in Jerusalem extends to food?
Anthony Bourdain: Like everything else in that part of the world it's a matter of much contention. Where does falafel come from? Who makes the best hummus? That's fighting words already... It's an easy place to feel ignorant about things. I'm not Israeli. I'm not Palestinian. It's harder to find more complicated issues. I think I manage to look ignorant and stupid with great frequency.
TV Guide Magazine: But it seems like you do that to get answers for the viewer.
Bourdain: I'm not afraid to look like an idiot. I went to great lengths on this episode in particular. I'm not there to provide any encouraging platitudes. I'm showing up with a camera. I'm asking a lot of very simple questions. I'm eating a lot of food and we'll see how it goes. I'm not Thomas Friedman. I'm not a Middle East scholar. I'm a guy who worked 30 years in a kitchen. I think there's value in showing up and asking people very simple questions about their lives.
TV Guide Magazine: People appear to be more comfortable talking over a meal.
Bourdain: I found that to be the case.
TV Guide Magazine: How was Detroit?
Bourdain: Awesome. It's a city I've always loved since I first visited it on book tour. I was looking to do a full show there. It's amazing looking. It's a city with a lot of heart.
TV Guide Magazine: It's really beautiful, isn't it?
Bourdain: Detroiters hate ruin porn and all the people who show up to take pictures of the ruins. And I get that. But on the other hand, it is beautiful. You cannot look away. We were there with Charlie LeDuff (journalist and author of the book Detroit: An American Autopsy). He was a fixer on that show.
TV Guide Magazine: Sicily should be a fastball down the middle for you.
Bourdain: It's never easy shooting in Sicily. It's an old part of the world. It's complicated.
TV Guide Magazine: What makes it difficult?
Bourdain: We shot in the idyllic village where Michael Corleone married Apollonia in The Godfather. It's absolutely beautiful. But this poor village is on The Godfather bus tour. So everybody in the village has to hear the Godfather theme music blaring out of every business 22 hours a day. Oh my God. It was bizarre. But it's a spectacular food culture. Even though I'm not Italian at all, it's something I feel very simpatico to. It's a place where I'm always happy. I was always very bitter about not being Italian actually. I married one, so that helps.
TV Guide Magazine: How does that bitterness manifest itself?
Bourdain: I tend to over romanticize Italy. To my wife, Tuscany looks like what New Jersey does to me. Whereas I'm all about "this a beautiful day — this looks like a great place to grow tomatoes." That doesn't sound like fun to an Italian.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there a big difference between doing a show for CNN after being at the Travel Channel?
Bourdain: CNN is happy to let us make the television we want to make the way we want to do it and where we want to do it. They've given me the freedom to go wherever I want in the world and help me shoot where I want to shoot. They've just backed us 100 percent. CNN International has been enormously helpful in getting us in and out of places where it would have been impossible to shoot with another network. [CNN President] Jeff Zucker stood behind the show from the first day he showed up. It's been the happiest professional relationship of my life.
TV Guide Magazine: Some people are surprised to hear profanity on a CNN show.
Bourdain: It's a grown up show for grown ups. It's nice to work for a network that would let us be as smart as we can be. Most networks assume the audience is stupid. The fact is, they aren't. There is clearly an audience out there for smart TV.
TV Guide Magazine: You pack a lot of meals and scenery into every show. Where do you get your fixers who get you where you need to go?
Bourdain: There is a professional class of people who do these things. Freelance journalists, stringers, filmmakers, food bloggers, chefs — the chef mafia has been very helpful. CNN of course is particularly good at this. If you want to shoot in a place like the Congo, chances are they've worked in that area before. If you don't have a good fixer with you in a place like the Congo, you're in serious trouble.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you have to carry around a lot of cash with you to make things happen on the schedule you have?
Bourdain: It depends on the country. There are places where you have to make rather different preparations than others.
TV Guide Magazine: I know you were not a fan of Paula Deen. But what did you think when everything collapsed around her so quickly after it was revealed that she used a racial slur?
Bourdain: I may have been a harsh critic of hers, to say the least. But I don't think there was anything attractive about what happened. The speed of the people who were kissing her ass and enabling her were suddenly running her over in the buff and gleefully tearing her apart — everything about it was sickening. It was very dispiriting.