YUM!: Bourdain’s lifestyle as a gleeful gourmand may be taking its toll on his health, but it’s fun for the rest of us.
On the premiere episode of the new season of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (Travel Channel, Mondays at 10 pm), the globetrotting chef, whose love for food is matched only by his love for booze and cigarettes, visits Singapore, where he meets Master Soon, practitioner of the ancient art of reflexology. Simply by kneading Bourdain’s feet, Master Soon diagnoses a litany of maladies. “You better be careful your kidney . . . some stone already . . . your cholesterol is 270 . . . little high . . . your large intestine . . . be careful with pass motion . . . you feel very hot . . . don’t drink too much alcohol. . . no spicy food. . . cool down. . . cool down.”
After the therapeutic foot massage, Bourdain says he feels great. What does he do next? He climbs “right back on the evil pony” of overindulgence, tucking into a huge bowl of fire-red bone soup, lustily sucking marrow from mutton bones, licking “scorching sweet-hot chili sauce” from his fingers, tipping back bottle after bottle of Tiger beer.
Bourdain’s lifestyle as a gleeful gourmand may be taking its toll on his health, but it’s entertaining for the rest of us. In a world plagued by gastronomical TV demagogues like Rachel Ray (“Evil,” Bourdain calls her) and Sandra Lee (“Frightening hellspawn”), it’s nice to watch a food show that’s preceded by a parental-discretion advisory and whose theme is performed by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Bourdain made a name for himself eight years ago with his sex-and-drugs culinary memoir Kitchen Confidential, and his excessive past is well-documented. But his lust for life translates into an addictive travelogue. He seems to have a special affinity for Singapore, “a perfect world” where food is fast, cheap, varied, and omnipresent. He haunts the iconic hawker centers of Singapore City — with their freshly prepared Chinese, Indian, and Malay cuisine, they’re the opposite of the cheapo chains that populate American food courts.
No Reservations is as much travel show as food show, and its strength lies in Bourdain’s smart voiceovers, his wry, sometimes profane sense of humor, and the jovial but respectful way he interacts with locals. This season, his adventures take him to, among other places, New Orleans, Berlin, Crete, Egypt, Transylvania, and Jamaica. Partaking of local delicacies — however unappetizing — he doesn’t fetishize the gross-out factor like his Travel Channel compatriot, Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern. But he does recognize his solemn duty to chow down on the seal eyeball, steer penis, or boar anus sometimes proffered by his hosts.
No such repasts in Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie (WGBH, Saturdays at 6:30 pm). If No Reservations can be a bit rough-and-tumble, Gourmet’s Diary is a light and refined paean to the art of fine cooking and fine eating.