Anthony Bourdain has been all over the world. He can wax poetic about the cuisine and the people of Iceland, the Philippines and Sardina, not to mention the outer boroughs of New York. But he keeps a special place in his heart for Philly.
At a reception after his stand-up show at the Academy of Music last Wednesday — part of his nationwide “The Hunger” tour — the chef-turned-TV star gave the local scene a generous shout.
“There is so much to eat and so much to do in Philadelphia,” Bourdain said. “There’s no city quite like it.”
He’s definitely seen the sights. When he was here in 2012 to shoot an episode of “The Layover,” he took in high art at The Barnes and ogled curiosities at the Mutter Museum. He also hit up a huge variety of restaurants and bars, including Paesano’s, Amis, Dirty Franks, Pho 75 and even the Pen and Pencil Club, where he did hot dog water shots with local restauranteurs Michael Solomonov and Marc Vetri (punishment for losing a high-stakes game of rock-paper-scissors).
At the post-show soiree on the Avenue of the Arts, a spread of sushi and Di Bruno Bros. cheese kept a group of about 150 primarily laid-back fans happy while he signed autographs and posed for photos. Bourdain, 60, was in good spirits. With good reason: He killed it on stage.
If you’re already a fan of Bourdain’s entertaining CNN vehicle “Parts Unknown,” now in its eighth season, know that he’s even more amusing live. On stage, he explained to a rapt audience how he calls the shots and makes all the decisions on his program. He also talked about food — but unlike many other celebrity chefs, Bourdain isn’t boring when speaking about the culinary arts.
For instance, on the rise of vegan cuisine in the US: “Three quarters of the world are involuntarily vegetarian,” he cracked as he wondered why everyone who has the means to doesn’t enjoy a good burger.
But Bourdain is not a no-holds-barred carnivore. Even though he’s necessarily adventurous on his show, he admitted that he has yet to try dog or cat.
“A third of the countries actually have dogs on the menu,” Bourdain said. “When I told a guy that I wasn’t going to have the dog, he said, ‘C’mon, it’s not city dog, it’s mountain dog.’”
Needless to say, there are no dog recipes in Appetites: A Cookbook, Bourdain’s first book in more than a decade. The tome features his personal favorites, things he makes at home for his 9-year-old daughter, and it’s proved a huge hit. Out less than a week (release date was Oct. 25), Appetites is already Amazon’s No. 4 best-seller, and holds the No. 1 spot in several categories, such as International Cookbooks and Culinary Memoirs.
It’s all quite impressive for a guy who made a dramatic career shift at mid-life moving from the back of the kitchen to the front of the camera.
“This kind of snuck up on me,” he said this week. “I went from talking at bookstores to corporate events to booking halls and now theaters. I’m doing what a lot of politicians do. But it’s even wilder.
“I’ve had a number of experiences, and I like to share them with people,” he continued. “I think people are smarter than we give them credit, and I also think they’re more profane than we would like to admit. Don’t underestimate anybody.”
Though his stand-up show includes riffs on all kinds of cultural phenomena, Bourdain never loses sight of his culinary roots — and he’s got a finger on the pulse of the food scene, wherever his travels take him. While he was in Philly this time, he recommended Solomonov’s ultra-popular Zahav (no hot dog water in sight).
“I had an amazing meal there,” Bourdain said. “There are so many great restaurants in Philadelphia. You can’t go hungry in Philadelphia.”