Anthony Bourdain in Hawaii

  Anthony Bourdain
  Original photo by Neeta Lind.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Brilliant and sharply sardonic chef and author Anthony Bourdain is in Hawaii. He’s filming an episode of his fantastic Travel Channel series, “No Reservations.”

We’re huge Bourdain fans. Having never tasted his food, we’re more enamoured of his wit and unparalleled snark. (He had a show on the shiny happy Food Network, but it was not a pleasant partnership.) He is known by some to be the original “eating shocking things” guy, but his travels and writings are about so much more. He really tries to get at the essence of a place, of a people, through its food, and he stubbornly, passionately seeks things off the beaten paths. Anthony Bourdain doesn’t want to go to the hottest restaurants in town. He wants to go where the people who work at the hottest restaurant in town go after work. Street vendors are always a favorite. Holes in the wall, dives on the outskirts of town, attics and alleys and places that don’t have names.

The thing about Bourdain is, he can be swooningly reverent and enthusiastic about a destination, but he can also be mercilessly cruel. His “Iceland” episode is a vicious, hilarious, painful train wreck of disdain and dismay. Of course, we’re not alone in believing that Bourdain is at his best when he’s at his worst.

And now he’s in Hawaii. A place that we know to be rich with history, color, and cross-cultural culinary magic. But a place that most people know for loud shirts, girly drinks and cartoonish luau. (Versus genuine luau.) I can see Bourdain thriving and gushing about Hawaii. I can also see him giving Hawaii a serious thrashing that will take a decade to recover from.

Will he find his way out to the dusty plantation town of Waipahu to visit the unassuming but wonderful Highway Inn? Or will he end up on a hotel lawn surrounded by not-quite-Tahitian dancers in coconut bras?

Honestly, though, I’m not too afraid that he’ll hate Hawaii. Like I said, a bad Bourdain trip is a good one for everyone else. As long as his Hawaii episode is about what he discovers in the islands, for better or worse, I can take it. After all, millions of hapless visitors end up in tourist traps here, and if they feel swindled, I can’t blame ’em. What I’m really afraid of is this simple fact: the HVCB is involved. And its public relations firm. A firm that plans on “steering (producers) toward things that are positive.”

Heaven help us.

He’s gotten the red-carpet treatment from other cities, and I’ll tell you, it can seriously backfire. I would be thrilled if Bourdain does a show about how great Hawaii is. I would cringe, but still laugh, if his show is about how much Hawaii sucks. But if the Hawaii episode of “No Reservations” revolves around ham-fisted handlers and the fumbling of government bureaucrats and PR flacks, I’m going to cry.

One ray of hope? Hawaii Diner reports that Bourdain and crew hit Side Street Inn last night. The place may already have too good a reputation to qualify as an off the beaten path hole in the wall, but it’s certainly a culinary destination that fits Bourdain’s tastes. Apparently he and other local chefs lit up the place, and drunken revelry is a hallmark of a good Bourdain segment.

4 Responses

  1. Given his comments about vegetarianism (“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.” ) I’d love to hear his take on the Blossoming Lotus here on Kauai. I tended to agree with him until I started eating there.

  2. I love “No Reservations”, and I had totally forgotten that it was you and Jen that introduced me to it. Now I’m a big Anthony Bourdain fan.

    Speaking of which, I need to make sure the DVR is being nice and recording it. We’ve had nothing but trouble with it since Verizon updated their box’s firmware. Granted with the continual recording of kid shows and soap operas, it is a wonder the DVR has any recordings for me.

  1. February 26, 2008

    […] Back in December, I was thrilled and terrified to learn that “bad boy” chef and writer Anthony Bourdain was filming an episode of his globetrotting food show, “No Reservations,” here in the Aloha State. Thrilled because Bourdain is sharp, funny, and brutally honest. Terrified because there was a local PR agency involved. Mocking local “handlers” is a hallmark of Bourdain’s city tours, so I was worried he’d be steered toward mai tais and cheesy luaus rather than genuine holes-in-the-wall and “real” island eateries. […]

  2. June 9, 2015

    […] in 2007, I was both excited and worried about Bourdain’s first TV visit to the islands for “No Reservations.” Excited […]

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