Before the release of Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” in 2000, our perception of restaurant kitchens and of life on the line were very different.
As diners, we had a romanticized notion of what was happening beyond that mysterious swinging door near the men’s room: Well-groomed chefs in bright white chefs jackets, tall toques perched improbably atop their heads as they maneuver like ballerinas through the kitchen, talking intelligently about the food being prepared. Likely in French.
Bourdain’s book changed all of that, shedding light on the occasionally drug-addled, hectic and dysfunctional world of professional cooking.
The book was packed with revelations: Avoid ordering fish on a Monday. You really only need two knives in your kitchen. Order the seafood frittata for brunch at your own peril.
But the memoir’s long-term impact on food culture was more lasting and profound.
Bourdain made cooking cool.
In 2005, he brought that same bad boy persona and rock’n’roll ethos to the world of travel television, an utterly droll subgenre of reality television more apt in an issue of “National Geographic” than experiencing the culture and character of faraway place.
“No Reservations,” a show now in its seventh and final season, was born.
In the same innovative, hilarious and genuine way he changed the food world, Bourdain gave travel TV some badly needed attitude and edge.
We watched as he ate the rectum of a freshly killed warthog in Namibia and was manhandled by a brutish masseuse in Uzbekistan, all while cracking wise about Rachael Ray, Emeril, Sandra Lee and the rest of food television’s also-rans.
But beneath the wisecracking veneer and the muddy, bizarre narratives in which the episodes were sometimes packaged was a universal truth: Nothing is as important to the soul, character and culture of a place as its food.
In every episode, including one in South Carolina that featured a lunch at Gullah Grub on St. Helena Island, Bourdain explored the undeniable relationship between food and cultural identity, between community and cuisine.
We learned that local is almost always best and, when in a new place, you should ask the cabby, not the concierge, how to find the good stuff.
This week, in honor of the final season of “No Reservations,” a playlist featuring eight artists and bands who have made cameos on the show, often unabashedly stuffing their faces on camera.
Thanks for showing us the world, Tony. Oh, and for taking it to Sandra Lee. Anyone who encourages people to buy prechopped onions is worthy of our disdain.
• The Black Keys, “Ohio” — Proud natives of the Buckeye State Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney appeared in a recent episode about the
cuisine of ... Kansas City, Mo.
• The Ramones, “Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?” — Marky Ramone shared a meal with Tony at Chef Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro during Bourdain’s trip to Cleveland.
• Queens of the Stone Age, “Go With the Flow” — Who better to appear in first-ever “No Reservations” holiday special?
• Norah Jones, “Don’t Know Why” — Another ghost of “No Reservations” holiday specials’ past.
• Neon Indian, “Polish Girl” — Bourdain dined with Alan Palomo of Neon Indian during a recent episode in Austin, Texas.
• Sleigh Bells, “End of the Line” — Another band that made a cameo in the Austin episode, this time inviting Tony to hang out, drink avocado margaritas and dine on a whole hog smoked by the band’s tour manager.
• Alice Cooper, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” — Along with Ted Nugent, one of the more improbable musical cameos in “No Reservations.” Appeared in an episode on the food of the American Southwest.
• Lanie Lane, “Ain’t Hungry” — Tony, and his viewers, were treated to a performance by this artist during last week’s episode on the resurgence of the dining scene in Sydney, Australia.