THE BRONX

I’ve lived in New York City since the mid ‘70s. 
I was, for all of that time, aware of the Bronx. It was up there—and over there— a vast, unexplored land you drove through to get to Yankee Stadium. I had been to Arthur Avenue. Visited friends from time to time. I’d driven the Cross Bronx Expressway—whose very name tells you its purpose: to cross you through the Bronx without actually visiting it. Once upon a time, it was considered funny if you were a Manhattanite, to claim you never crossed the bridges, never left the borough—that you didn’t “have a passport”. A famous New Yorker cover reflects this attitude, one that has changed enormously since. Now, you feel like a boob if you haven’t explored Queens, if you are unaware of the many and fast growing delights of Brooklyn. But the Bronx? They haven’t been receiving a lot of love. While it’s known very well and appreciated by its fiercely proud residents, many of us who live elsewhere  still, unforgivably, see it as a relatively unknown territory.

At risk of inspiring a trickle and then a gush of annoying foodies to invade pristine neighborhoods as yet untouched by hipster baristas, I thought I’d do my tiny part to correct this glaring omission. 

The Bronx, as it turns out, is a paradise of delicious food. A sprawl—like LA in the best possible sense—where lots and lots of people from somewhere else came—either recently, or a long time ago—and brought their food and their culture with them. We visited enclaves Honduran, old school Puerto Rican, Bangladeshi, Jamaican, Eastern European Jewish—and explored the shameful delights of White Castle. 

Along the way, I talked with Bronx cultural icons like Afrika Bambaata, Kool Herc, Melle Mel, Futura 2000 and Handsome Dick Manitoba—as well as the Master of Twitter, “Desus” (follow him: @desusnice). 

It’s a show about where we are, where we were—and where many of the things we love and take for granted come from. 

SHANGHAI

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Here we go again!  A shiny, new season of PARTS UNKNOWN. The end result of many months on the road, the fruits of the combined efforts of our hard working band of constantly in motion cinephiles. So many amazing landscapes have whipped past us on our way from here to there. So many great meals. So many appalling bathrooms.

As always, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what we can do differently, how far we can push it—what stories can we tell that we haven’t told before.  

You might notice that in the premier episode, set in Shanghai, that I am, from time to time, wearing a colored pocket square or foulard. This is not, as a matter of course, normal for me. But there is a method to my madness. These tiny notes of color are our first venture into actual production design—a calculated effort to give the episode a specific “look”.

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I have long been besotted with the works of Chinese director Wong Kar Wai—and his frequent cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. His films, “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express” in particular, are gorgeous meditations on longing and desire and missed connections. They are spectacularly shot—and a while back, I noticed how tiny elements of color in the foregrounds of the frames are often connected to similar colors in the background—giving scenes a lush, unified atmosphere that feels natural and un-designed. So we tried—as best and as cheaply as possible—to do that. You will notice scenes tied together by colors. Cameraman Mo Fallon and cameraman/editor Nick Brigden did, I think, truly epic work on this one. 

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I mention longing and desire. And in many ways, that’s what this episode is about. China is experiencing an explosive period of change and growth as millions of people are joining the middle class. Millions and millions of people who want and will soon demand the cars, TV screens, apartments, gasoline, access to information and mobility most of us take for granted.

China—Shanghai in particular—is a very different looking place every time I go. And I believe that the world as a whole, largely because of what’s happening in China, is going to be a very different looking place. If you live in New York (as I do)  and think you live in the most modern, sophisticated city in the world—or even at its center—Shanghai can come as a rude surprise. In spite of its nominally communist system, it is the most go-go, unfettered, money and status mad, materialistic place on earth. Its skyline alone is confirmation that money talks loudest. In no other city could you build the world’s largest, tallest and ominously curved phallus—stick it right up into the clouds like a giant “FUCK YOU!” to the world and not have trouble with the NIMBYs.  

After Shanghai, we have an erratic line up of weirdness comprised of shows like Paraguay, The Bronx, Jamaica, Vietnam, Tanzania, Iran and a show about heroin in Western Massachusetts and New England that will be an eye opener.

luckypeach:

Lucky Peach #12 is our SEASHORE issue. It is all about food from littoral realms—the spaces where land meets sea. We dive for abalone and gather seaweed off the California coast; we harvest honey in the Bangladeshi Sundarbans; we go behind the scenes at a shrimp farm in Indonesia, and spend a Sunday at the cockle sheds in Leigh-on-Sea. We learn lots about edible sea beasts, from clams to hagfish to sea squirts. Anthony Bourdain takes us on a stroll down a beach town’s memory lane; Robert Sietsema samples practically all the clams on Long Island; Stuart Dybek catches himself a perfect breakfast in the Florida keys. We share recipes from Vietnam and Portugal and the Oregon coast—we aren’t shellfish. Also in this issue: a special, detachable sixteen-page BEACH READS comic book to take on your seaside jaunts, featuring Jason Jägel, Tony Millionaire, and more. It’s summertime and the reading is easy. 
The Seashore issue hits newsstands on August 19th. Subscribe now to receive it as the first in your subscription!
Cover art by Robert Beatty

luckypeach:

Lucky Peach #12 is our SEASHORE issue. It is all about food from littoral realms—the spaces where land meets sea. We dive for abalone and gather seaweed off the California coast; we harvest honey in the Bangladeshi Sundarbans; we go behind the scenes at a shrimp farm in Indonesia, and spend a Sunday at the cockle sheds in Leigh-on-Sea. We learn lots about edible sea beasts, from clams to hagfish to sea squirts. Anthony Bourdain takes us on a stroll down a beach town’s memory lane; Robert Sietsema samples practically all the clams on Long Island; Stuart Dybek catches himself a perfect breakfast in the Florida keys. We share recipes from Vietnam and Portugal and the Oregon coast—we aren’t shellfish. Also in this issue: a special, detachable sixteen-page BEACH READS comic book to take on your seaside jaunts, featuring Jason Jägel, Tony Millionaire, and more. It’s summertime and the reading is easy. 

The Seashore issue hits newsstands on August 19th. Subscribe now to receive it as the first in your subscription!

Cover art by Robert Beatty

THE RETURN OF ZAMIR

Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?
 Who’s the cat that won’t cop out, when there’s danger all about?
 Right on.
 You see this cat Zamir is a bad mother-“

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He’s back.
With tanks massing by the Ukraine border, the region in turmoil, and the Russian bear once again flexing his muscle, there’s only one man for the job, a very special man, a man named Zamir.

In this episode of PARTS UNKNOWN, we take a look at Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Not Russia, the country of Tolstoy and Gogol, poetry and great sacrifice, forests of birch. Nor the Russia haunted by the Great War, Lenin and Stalin, terrors, gulags  and purges. The Cold War does not feature in this story—nor what immediately followed. We’re looking at Putin’s Russia, the country he’s made—is making, right there, in full view of the world. We look at who’s doing well—and who is not.

Putin appears to see himself as a manly man of the old school. By old school, I mean mid-period Stallone. He is fond of appearing in public with his shirt off while riding a horse or standing in front of a tank or holding a large gun. A Freudian might be inclined to quip ”sorry about your penis” but there is no hard information as relates to Mr. Putin’s length or girth in that department. For reasons of good diplomatic relations, the West has been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Extending the benefit of the doubt has been something of a reflex when it comes to Putin. When a loud critic of Putin’s was poisoned by a radioactive polonium (a wildly expensive and nearly impossible to obtain substance outside of restricted military circles) in the center of London, the attitude was very much, “WHO could possibly have done such a thing?” In the run up to the annexation of Crimea, there was similarly disingenuous hand wringing in the press and by public officials: “What, oh, what will Putin do next?” And, “Who could those pro-Russian insurgents be?” Though, the question probably should have been, “Was there ever ANY doubt?” Perhaps there are other priorities at work in the West’s apparent credulousness. About 50% of the oil used by Europe comes from Russia these days. And Vladimir Putin has demonstrated before that he will not hesitate to turn off the tap. 

Putin’s rule has been marked by official attitudes of xenophobia, homophobia and paranoia. He likes power and, as we’ve seen with the Sochi Olympics, is not shy about projecting it. Though a former officer in the Soviet intelligence services, he is certainly comfortable with 80’s style go-go capitalism. The people close to him tend to make a lot of money. He’s not afraid of doing what he sees as being in his interests—or the interests of his country—and the Hell with what anybody else thinks. He’s no pussy. He espouses, when convenient, anyway, traditional Christian values. Thinking about it, he could probably get elected to Congress in this country. Though his face is as taut and devoid of expression as a Real Housewife, it holds, based on past behaviors, little mystery, one would think. Yet here we are, only now, finding out who Vladimir Putin really is. 

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But who, who is Zamir Gotta? This man who has, at various times tried to sell me a Transylvanian fixer-upper, a decommissioned Russian submarine, taken me foraging for mushrooms with the former KGB counterintelligence officer who ‘ran’ Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, made me a public enemy in Romania? Sidekick, entrepreneur, literary agent, film producer, broker of deals, would-be vendor of military hardware, cult hero, friend—he is all of those things and more.

I met Zamir in St. Petersburg in the winter of 2002. He’d been hired as a fixer, the sort of type one needs—particularly in Russia—when trying to make television. Someone had to arrange permits, navigate the bureaucracy, deal with any “non-official” bodies who might have had their hands out or who might threaten to make things “difficult”. And Zamir, it turned out, had a startlingly wide and deep number of contacts: writers, dissidents, chefs, former officers of the KGB and FSB, beauty queens, and associates of what, for lack of a better term, one might call “mafiya”.

The last thing in the world we had planned for this very capable, international man of mystery was for him to become on-camera “talent” and my most enduring, best loved sidekick. But it was our first trip to Russia and things were not going well. A locally hired cameraman had wandered off, never to be heard from again. Chris Collins, the now lone cameraman/producer, was struggling for scenes. Planned sidekicks had either failed to materialize or proved themselves less than outgoing. I found myself in country where I didn’t speak the language, knew no one, had few realistic plans—and under the gun to provide an hour of television entertainment worthy of the Food Network’s undoubtedly high standards.

At the very last second, we threw a mic on Zamir, fed him some vodka, and sat him on a park bench. I then walked up to him while the camera rolled—and we winged it. The rest, as they say, is history. We have had many, many good times making television together over the years, in St. Petersberg, Moscow, Ukraine, Kansas City, Uzbekistan and Buffalo. Our infamous Romania show was not such a good time, however—a hideous, infamous, cruel goat rodeo of epic proportions. I blame Zamir. Or the vodka.

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Maybe I’m just trying to be polite, observe local customs. Or maybe we are just disgusting, horrible people, but whenever we get together, we seem to knock off at least a bottle of vodka in a sitting. I assure you, I don’t drink like this at home. As incredible as it may seem, I am not an alcoholic. I don’t even keep beer in my fridge. When I’m back in New York, rare is the time I even go out to a bar for a leisurely cocktail. But when Zamir is around? It’s like nuclear fission. Two elements who, when they get together, blow shit up. It’s why I do shows with Zamir so infrequently. Because after drinking vodka so steadily, and in such quantities, for a week or more, I need a few years off.

So enjoy this one. It’s rude. It’s boozy. Vladimir Putin won’t like it. And there won’t be another one like it for some time to come—or until my liver forgives me. 

BAD BEHAVIOR

“With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.” 
—Hunter S. Thompson 

What is the promise of Las Vegas? What are people looking for in this place in the desert? What are they selling that brings people across the oceans, the mountains, the parched wasteland?

Sure. You can see Celine Dion belting out your favorite movie anthem, eat food from Bobby or Emeril or Jimmy Buffet. There’s the Cirque de Soleil thing—or the Blue dudes. And there’s money. It’s always possible—however remotely—that you’ll leave Vegas with more money than you came with. 
But that’s not why you come here is it, you filthy pig?

You came here because Las Vegas promised, with a wink and a nudge, that “What Happens In Vegas Stays in Vegas.” That’s what Vegas has ALWAYS promised, implicitly—or explicitly, as when Nick Tosches asked his hotel manager if he could smoke in his room: “Buddy, you can kill your wife in this room,” was the response. That promise of Vegas confidentiality is not true by the way. Maybe when the mob ran things, when an act of indiscretion might lead directly to a hole in the desert. When Vegas was truly a Company town.

But today, I’m guessing, if Justin Bieber found himself (hypothetically) splashing around the fountain at the Bellagio with a platoon of hookers in various states of disarray, somebody would be instagramming that shit right quick. If he (hypothetically) made a late night call down to the concierge for a band saw, a 55 gallon drum of Astro-Glide, a bucket of Hot Wings and a tarpaulin, I doubt very much he could be assured of absolute discretion. 

But that’s what they’re selling with a catch phrase like that. Dark dreams.  They’re saying, “Come! Behave badly! In fact, Behave REALLY badly! We won’t tell!” Gamble money you probably should be using to pay off your loan! Stand ankle deep in water with your shirt off, a plastic cup filled with alcohol hanging from a lanyard round your neck! Eat all you like at our groaning buffets—have MORE—it’s okay! We won’t judge you! Enjoy the services of our fine prostitutes! Make bad decisions you won’t remember!  Please! Your boss will never know. Your wife will never know. Your hideous urges, repressed all the rest of the year, your most unlovely appetites, your secrets are safe with us.

We know, or we suspect how the winners live in Vegas, the terrible things they do behind the doors of their comped suites, the alleged benefits of being a valued customer, a whale gambler. And I thought I’d take a look at that—the kind of ultra luxury available only to those who can afford a private jet into Vegas, who think nothing of leaving a few million dollars on the tables after a night of gambling.

I knew I’d need a companion, a trusted friend, for perspective—someone well known to security staff and local law enforcement. Someone for whom The Evil That Men Do holds no mystery, a man well acquainted with both the high life of the Vegas Strip—and the dank odor of a holding cell. So I reached out to Ruhlman.

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The very nice people at Caesars Palace, well acquainted, no doubt, with Ruhlman’s reckless ways at the blackjack tables,  gave us a “villa” for a week.  If you don’t know what those are—don’t worry, I didn’t either. You can’t rent them. They don’t “exist” on the web site. When my wife paid me a surprise visit in the middle of the shoot, the front desk expressed total ignorance of even the existence of such structures. But they are there. Massive, colossal maximally luxurious homes, buried right under the noses of the unwitting masses. Multiple bedrooms, living areas, game room,  screening room, outdoor fire pits, pools, hot tubs, silent butlers who appear from nowhere to inquire if the gentlemen would like a cocktail, a snack, a couple of giant porterhouses.

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Ruhlman, of course, set right to work abusing his privileges. Fine bourbons began appearing regularly. I’d wake to find a trail of spilled beluga leading to the veranda, where a hungover Ruhlman was being simultaneously massaged and manicured, an aromatherapist wafting the oils of rare Himalayan flowers under his nose. Swaddled in newly acquired Hermes bath towels, he’d lounge around the house, calling out for oysters on the halfshell, spaghetti from Raos, blender drinks, steak tartare. I found a half eaten platter of Truffled Lark’s Tongues in Aspic next to the Jacuzzi, the remote control for the giant sized television floating in the dying bubbles on the surface. Under such circumstances, I had a hard time tearing him away for purposes of television. 

Who cleans all this shit up, I asked him? “Who is fully knowledgable of whatever it is you’re getting up to, Ruhlman? Who is in ‘the know’? And what do you plan to do to them when you’re done here? If they find out about this back in Cleveland, any plans of running for office are over.”

Noticing the steady stream of people slipping in and out of service entrances of the casinos, I began to wonder what it was like working in Vegas. What was it like dealing the cards, serving the meals, driving the town cars, pouring drinks—stripping the sheets, mopping up the spray  after all that bad behavior—in a town that invites bad behavior? What must it be like, day after day, night after night, year after year, witnessing close up the full sweep of human folly—man at his very worst?

What does that do to a person?

So, in addition to immersing myself fully in the delights of high thread count sheets, personal service from Guy Savoy, all the undeserved perks otherwise reserved for oligarchs, I thought I’d look at the Other Vegas. The Vegas people live in year round. The Vegas I’ve always loved.

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The Huntridge Tavern, The Double Down, The Peppermill, The Atomic. A nice plate of non-ironic meatballs and spaghetti in red sauce at Bootlegger. Some Northern Thai food at Lotus of Siam. Places where, over a beer or some food, you can get an honest answer to the question: “What’s it like to SEE all that you see?” and “Given what you’ve seen; how do you feel about the human race as a whole?”

Finally, I looked into the relatively new economic engine driving Vegas—one that, shockingly, often outpaces even the slot machines for revenue: I’m talking about the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene. I am not surprised that people spend millions of dollars betting on the turn of a few cards or the roll of a pair of dice. There is, at least, the possibility, of a return. But it stunned me to hear of the amounts spent nightly by customers at the larger clubs in Vegas. 5000 dollars simply to sit at a table by the dance floor in many cases. Bar tabs of 10, 20, 30—FIFTY thousand dollars. Oversize bottles of champagne bedazzled with glitter and sparklers sold for 50 and 100,000 dollars, to be sprayed over the heads of total strangers. Star DJ’s who get paid 250,000 dollars for a few hours work a night! (and earn out every penny by bringing in thousands and thousands of knuckleheads eager to spend crazy amounts of money for liquor they hardly touch, shared with people they often don’t know—and couldn’t hear or talk with even if they wanted to). It’s an economy that is fast outpacing gambling—and as only a DJ, a laptop and a sound system are required to pack the clubs, it’s also squeezing out Vegas’ traditional forms of entertainment. Why hire a marquee singer, a troupe of dancers, musicians, acrobats when one guy in a dark booth can generate more excitement and far more money? I wanted to know what kind of sick freaks would spend 25,000 dollars to spray champagne on strangers. I never really found out—but apparently, there are a lot of them.

I couldn’t ask such Big Questions of Ruhlman. When he wasn’t racking up room charges to CNN (he kept calling down, claiming to be Wolf Blitzer), I’d find him at the Gun Store, unloading belt after belt of high caliber projectiles at paper targets. That too, is kind of concerning.

Michael Ruhlman’s latest book: “EGG; A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient“ is available in fine bookstores everywhere. His most excellent previous works, “CHARCUTERIE”, “RUHLMAN’S TWENTY”, “RATIO”, “THE SOUL OF A CHEF” and others are also available in stores and from Amazon. 

47,807 plays

Original track by Himanshu Suri for Parts Unknown: Punjab.

IT BEGINS!!

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“He gave the impression that very many cities had rubbed him smooth.”
-Graham Greene

The pool at the Grand Hotel del Paraguay is, best as I can tell, unused. Maybe it’s the heat—and the humidity—which are considerable and relentless. Or the lack of a bar, or towels, or staff. But nobody else seems to come. I am alone, waist deep, mesmerized by the heat, torpor, and the thin, black hose that dances around the bottom like a serpent as it pumps fresh water into the deep end. There is a very large parrot in a cage nearby. Occasionally, he screeches at me. 

As I’m standing here, too tired to swim, too jet-lagged to sleep, I’m trying to put some thoughts together about Punjab—about the show I filmed months, many airports, many planes, many miles ago, my sun-baked brain, further addled, no doubt by many excellent Paraguayan beers last night, the Vietnamese pain medication I’ve been taking for my back and the anti-malarials I’ve been on since Tanzania (which I’m convinced are making me psychotic. Last night, I dreamed I was being chased by a chain saw wielding Joe Pesci through a convenience store. He was wearing a cocktail dress.) I try to shuffle through my memory file, the highlight reel, for images of India, the foothills of the Himalayas. The Golden Temple. Amritsar…The former hill station of Shimla…

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Bit by bit, it seeps back:  

First? The colors. In India— Punjab in particular, the thing you notice first, the thing that stays with you is the colors. They pop, they LEAP right out at you.  It’s like somebody, just before you got off the plane, changed the lenses in your head, turned up your color receptors from 7 to like…14. You completely understand why The Beatles would want to drop acid, come here—and stare at stuff. Because it’s beautiful and the colors…the colors, man, burn right through your eyeballs and into your brain. No Maharishi needed. 

Recognizing this, we made sure, when setting the various color balances for this show, to jack things up, make SURE that it will look for you like it looked for us. Electric. Trippy. And always beautiful. We will be forgiven, I hope, for (yet again), ripping off a favorite director in an early sequence. Call it an homage. 

I generally don’t care much what people take away from my shows. Of course, I hope people like what they see. I hope they are entertained—and interested. That they find the images beautiful or striking. It’s nice—very nice—when people notice the good technical work of the directors of photography and the editors and producers. But, I’m not much for attempting to inspire or “enlighten” or educate. That’s far, far from what I’m thinking about when I make sure my carry-on is free of liquids or gels, that my laptop is out of my bag and in the plastic tray, shoes and belt off. 

But with this episode, Punjab, it would make me very happy if a few more people out there got a clearer picture of the Sikh religion is. WHO Sikhs are and who they are not. A little about the central concepts and intent and principles of their faith. The degree to which we in the West (myself included) are ignorant of such things is pretty spectacular. 

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I’ve made much fun of vegetarians over the years and am said, frequently, to “hate” them. This is not true. I am dismissive and (okay) contemptuous of food that is made with ideology or a narrow world view as its first priority. I am made unhappy and even angry when a restaurant that claims to celebrate the vegetable in fact, utterly ignores the seasons, the conditions of ripeness that make vegetables interesting and wonderful in the first place—when such places, with determination and malice aforethought, MURDER vegetable after vegetable, sacrificing carrot after carrot, soybean after soybean to a sludgy, monochromatic, mush. 

NOT so in India.

In India, to eat vegetarian is usually a joyous and joyful thing. Bright colors, wildly varying textures, huge selections, thrilling blends of spices and assertive, delicious flavors. Accompanied always by wonderful, freshly made breads. I could happily go veg for a week—or even weeks at a time.
In India. 

Hope you enjoy the show. Our first of the new season.
And remember: EAT YOUR VEGETABLES! 

helencho:

On Wednesday, December 11th, join anthonybourdain in a conversation with Albert Maysles on food and the art of auteur filmmaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Introduction by Marcus Samuelsson.
Screening clips from Albert’s documentaries and Parts Unknown, including clip from the director’s cut of Tokyo episode!
Proceeds will benefit the Maysles Documentary Center, a not for profit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action. 
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit brown paper tickets here.

helencho:

On Wednesday, December 11th, join anthonybourdain in a conversation with Albert Maysles on food and the art of auteur filmmaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Introduction by Marcus Samuelsson.

Screening clips from Albert’s documentaries and Parts Unknown, including clip from the director’s cut of Tokyo episode!

Proceeds will benefit the Maysles Documentary Center, a not for profit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit brown paper tickets here.

KICK OUT THE JAMS

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This is it.

The last episode of our second season of PARTS UNKNOWN.
And I’m glad it’s set in Detroit. Because Detroit, for many Americans, is an abstraction—truly, if incredibly, a part unknown.

One only need look at some of our representatives who, a while back, were actually suggesting that it might be okay to let the beleaguered auto industry fend for itself, to leave Detroit to its fate to see how blithely willing much of America would be to point the gun straight at their own heads and pull the trigger.

Detroit isn’t just a national treasure. It IS America. And wherever you may live, you wouldn’t be there—and wouldn’t be who you are in the same way—without Detroit.

Detroiters hate what they call “ruin porn.” And it’s understandable the unease and even anger that must come with seeing tourists, gawkers, (and television crews) come to your city to pose giddily in front of abandoned factories, public buildings, the symbols of former empire.

I, too, I’m afraid, am guilty of wallowing in ruin porn, of making sure we pointed our cameras, lingered even, in the waist high grass, overgrown gardens, abandoned mansions, crumbling towers, denuded neighborhoods of what was once an all powerful metropolis, the engine of capitalism. 

But there was no turning away. It’s there—everywhere you look, right in your face, taking up skyline, dead center: the things that were left after Everything Went Terribly Wrong. These aren’t just empty buildings—they’re monuments. And we shot them, illuminated them like monuments, with, I hope, the same respect as the Parthenon, the Coliseum, the remains of a magnificent—if ancient—civilization.

As much as many of our Detroit fans might have wanted this show to be about what’s going right in their city, neither is it particularly about what went wrong.

We know what went wrong.

The fall of the automobile industry, the shrinkage of population, flight of the middle class, drugs… and some of the most spectacularly, unapologetically rapacious, incompetent and corrupt leadership imaginable.

But I love Detroit. I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in America—still. The same incompetence and neglect that led to its current state of affairs has, at least, left us with a cityscape that even now, taunts us with the memories of our once outsized dreams. Unlike most other cities who ran into trouble when steel or textiles or industry left town, Detroit didn’t (or couldn’t ) go on the usual idiot building spree, tearing down old buildings and paving over city center as “pedestrian malls”, ruining the city’s character and stripping its center in favor of the “shopping districts”, convention centers and faux “ye Olde Towne” hubs that so many places imagined would revive their fortunes and instead left their city centers empty, characterless and without heart—looking like everyplace else.

Detroit looks like nowhere else. Detroit looks like motherfuckin’ Detroit. As it should.

I’ll say it again. And again.

I love Detroit. I love Detroiters. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to live in a city so relentlessly fucked. You’ve got to be tough—and occasionally even devious. And Detroiters are funny, tough—and supreme improvisers. They are also among the best and most fun drinkers in the country.

A few years ago, for another series, we filmed a show called “The Rust Belt” but which we jokingly referred to as “The Fucked Up Cities Show. We spent time in Buffalo, Baltimore and Detroit. When the show aired, the responses from Baltimore and Buffalo were mostly outrage:

“Why didn’t you show our new symphony Hall?”
“That’s not the city I live in! Why didn’t you show the positive side? There are great craft breweries in the hipster district!”

Detroiters however, reacted differently.

“We’re WAY more fucked up than those punks,” many told me, with the straight on, confrontational, slightly injured pride that makes Detroiters so..well…awesome. “What are THEY whining about?”

Consensus seemed to be that Baltimore and Buffalo didn’t deserve to be on the same hour of television as their beloved— if deeply afflicted city—because their problems weren’t nearly as massive—and the strength, toughness and sense of humor required to stay loyal to Detroit was of another level entirely.

Looking back, if I were to compare Detroit’s mentality to any other city, I’d look to New Orleans. Both city’s hardcore, born and bred “ain’t never leaving” home teams refuse to even consider living anywhere else—no matter what happens. It takes a special breed.

So, this show is not about what went wrong. Or how bad things are. It’s about improvisers. About what it takes to dig in and stay. I hope, that even among ruins, audiences will see what I see: an extraordinarily beautiful city—unlike any other in America—still. It’s where so many of our uniquely American hopes and dreams were forged—the things that make us who we are: the automobile, the highway—the dream of mobility— for ALL Americans. Credit. Music. It’s where the American Dream was created. And it’s STILL the American Dream—if a different one that we are, all of us, together, sooner or later, going to have to figure out.

Detroit is shrinking.
And changing.
The artists and innovators, activists, and artisans who are coming in will no doubt, do much to transform the city—mostly in very positive ways.

But who will live in the Detroit of 25 years in the future?
It will still be beautiful. That’s for sure.
It will certainly be smaller.

But will all the tough bastards who stuck it out for so long—against ridiculous odds—who fought and continue to fight for their neighborhoods and their homes—will they still be there?

Those who watch this show, smugly thinking, “that could never happen to my city” are dreaming. Detroit’s problems are America’s problems.

One only need look at New York’s Lower East Side, or Meat District to see what’s possibly coming down the pike for Detroit when it inevitably “recovers”. What’s coming down the pike for all of us.

Empty lots and burned out buildings are bad. But are cupcake shops, galleries and artisanal baristas necessarily better?
Maybe, probably, but maybe not.
And we better ask ourselves if that’s what we want.

Oh. And before I forget. Every time I visit Detroit, somebody asks me if I’ve had a good Coney yet.

Apparently, I never had a great one.

I finally got one.

I understand now.

FULL METAL INA (My Summer Vacation)

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It’s that time again. Time to slip out early in the morning and deflate the pool floaties. “Mr. Crockie”, the crocodile, looks up at me accusingly as he shrivels on the chaise lounge. Two air mattresses wait for similar treatment behind him. I gather up the super-soakers, the water pistols, plastic sharks, two purple rubber octopi, the goggles, plastic treasure chest and shuttle them into the garage. It’s a rental property, so I’m not sure if I’ll see them again. 

Overcome with sadness, I actually wave goodbye to Mr. Crockie. 

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Later, I’ll take my wife and daughter down to the beach for a last look. We’ll wait until its after 5—so there will be parking spots and no crowds— only a few locals surf casting. Which will, of course, only make it look more beautiful and more sad, that magnificent grey and dark green Atlantic surf breaking in the early evening light that cinematographers call “golden hour”, the smell of salt air, a particularly briny variety unique to the Northeast—accompanied, perhaps, by the vestigial scent of steamer clams opening in a pot somewhere, lobsters dying under pressure, drawn butter, distant deep fryers, corn on the cob. Or will I only imagine that part?… The light will have taken on that extra level of clarity that says Autumn. As if someone has just slapped on a higher quality lens and made everything crisper, brought everything into focus.

It’s the death of summer. 

This was my second “real” vacation of the last decade. Many of you will no doubt be thinking, “Uh…wait a minute, asshole—your whole life is a vacation!”

Fair enough.

For A COOKS TOUR, then NO RESERVATIONS and now PARTS UNKNOWN, I’ve been in near constant motion for most of the past 13 years. I go to some pretty cool, pretty interesting places. This year, I went to Israel, Spain, Japan, South Africa, Sicily, Denmark— and Detroit. I go wherever I want.

But since the birth of my daughter, I’d never, until last year, had a real family vacation. By “real family vacation”, I mean “normal”—like on TV, like in movies, or like it was when I my family would take me “down the shore” in Jersey. A vacation like I was raised to think you were supposed to have— back in the day when home ownership and a week near a beach was not an unrealistic thing for a single income middle class family to hope for. When it seemed the whole neighborhood would load their station wagons with children and comic books, Coppertone and cabana wear and head to Barnegat Light or Seaside Heights.

So vacation for me is idealized, admittedly over-romanticized, total immersion into fatherhood, into the suburban/vacation dream, backyard barbecues, entertaining at home—what some troubled observers have referred to as my “going Full Ina.”

After years on the margins—followed by years traveling— now that I’m  finally an actual Dad, and finally able to actually take some time off— I admit, I do, occasionally, go overboard with the enthusiasm.

My first few days of vacation, I submit anyone in my orbit to a brutal and relentless program of nostalgic touchstones from my dimly remembered youth. There’s a frenetic quality to my hospitality— a desperation, a manic rush to do it all:

“Wake UP!! Daddy’s making pancakes!!” a typical day might begin. I will then pile way too many (“plain? Blueberry? Chocolate chip?”)— in front of still bleary eyed family and guests, sighing painfully when they don’t administer both syrup and thoughtfully pre-softened butter the way I’d like them to. This will be almost immediately followed by urgent, military style preparation for an expedition to the beach. By the time the assembled have been marched into the car, sandwiches will have already been assembled, cut on the diagonal, wrapped first in plastic wrap then put in carefully labeled sandwich bags. (Bags will be labeled by both contents of sandwich and designated eater). Various fruits, beverages, napkins and wipes will have been pre-positioned in the cooler bag— along with the cold packs and disposal bag. Umbrellas, beach chairs, plastic pails and shovels will have been put in car the night before. Towels at ready. I am, after 30 years in the restaurant business, nothing if not organized.

Later, after multiple trips to stores and farm stands—where I shop like an Italian grandmother on amphetamines, alternately squeezing fruit, elbowing indecisive customers in the produce aisle and giving unwanted cooking advice to total strangers (“You definitely don’t want to marinate that. I don’t give a shit what your ‘chef’ says.” ), I will carefully rotate stock in the refrigerator, I will poach off some chicken breasts and replenish the chicken salad for tomorrow, start deep prep like vinaigrette, dicing vegetables for ratatouille. More often than not, my menu (which I obsessively decided on last week as part of a seven day cycle ) is something  simple—an over the top “greatest hits of my childhood” menu—or “ “golden moments Anthology”. If you are lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to be my guest during the month of August, you can rest assured that you will eat the fucking freshly sliced, impeccably sourced local heirloom tomato salad. You better notice the artful way I have separated the yellow tomato slices from the green and various hues of red. That I have alternated between opposing, contrasting colors as I spiraled slices, domino-like around the service platter. Notice please that each slice is the identical thickness. That I have drizzled the tomatoes at only the very last minute with a very fine olive oil—and that the balsamico that I applied like thick syrup is from the town of Modena, where the old man who sold it to me drained it from his personal batteria.

The steamers will have been carefully purged, of course, to remove as much sand and grit as possible. But there will be conveniently located bowls of broth near your seat, for the dipping and washing process so important to the correct enjoyment of your clams. Drawn and clarified butter will also be nearby. Should you require any help or instruction as to the proper technique for removing your steamer from the shell, slipping the dark stocking-like membrane off its foot, or the dipping sequence, please let me know. Because if you fuck it up, I will be glaring at you with barely concealed hate.

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The lobsters will arrive with shells thoughtfully cracked ahead of time. You will find that your claws separate easily—having been deftly and professionally levered just…so— by a heavy knife. The tails will have been halved and segregated from claws, fanned out at the Southern end of the platter—claws to the North. A few heads will provide impressive garnish at the center of the platter, their antennae twirling heavenwards –but not all of them. Because only my wife, God bless her, is cool enough to dig everything out of the heads.

The corn will arrive, still steaming, freshly salted, and drenched evenly with ungodly amounts of whole butter. Holders will be nearby. Please don’t stab yourself—as I will be displeased to interrupt my duties as maniac obsessive host in order to ferry you to the nearby hospital.

At such time as the main courses are finished, and the wine has been consumed, discarded shells, lobster guts, napkins and other effluent will be quickly rolled up in the convenient newspaper tablecloth.

Rest assured that your cheese course—and there will be a fucking cheese course and yes, you will fucking eat it—has been sitting out for some time so as to be ready to be served at Optimum temperature.
Dessert? You’re on your own. What do I look like? A fucking pastry chef? 

It’s pretty much like this everyday. On those days when we have no guests, I’m tempted to wander the streets, looking for someone to kidnap –to whom I can subject to my cycle menu. I’m like a psychotic version of Ina Garten. But if Jeffrey isn’t “sooo happy I made meatloaf”,  I’ll bury him in a shallow grave.

Tomorrow will be hamburgers! And Hot dogs! Not to worry! There will be the right, the perfect potato buns. Relish. American cheese. Said cheese slices will have been pre-separated and replaced, kitty corner, in a neat stack, for easy-grab action once I’m at the grill. There will be ketchup, of course, and two types of mustard. I prefer Dijon style—but as a man who respects tradition, I will also provide yellow, ballpark style mustard.

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Ordinarily, I would berate guests who put ketchup on my hot dogs, or mess up my burgers with a mix of mustard, ketchup  and mayonnaise—but because it’s summer, and I’m all about mellow—I will let it pass.

The homemade potato salad, made by me—from freshly boiled fingerling potatoes– their skins slipped off while still hot, folded with mayonnaise, a touch of red wine vinegar, freshly cracked pepper, salt and herb from the garden will be most excellent.

In my insane efforts to make up for a largely misspent life, and my guilt at being away so often and for so long,  I will have overcompensated by perhaps overproducing. Simply put—there will be more food than any reasonable person could be expected to eat. You will, however, be expected to eat it.

You will be happy at my house. We will all be happy together.
And normal. Absolutely normal.

Anyway…that’s all over now. Now it’s back to the city, unpack the bags, pack the bags. Go from normal to the farthest from normal anyone can go. Sometime Friday, I’ll be caked with leftover studio make-up, sitting  alone in my hotel room above Sunset Boulevard, eating room service spaghetti Bolognese, or In’N’Out Burger. 

And—oh, yeah…on Sunday night of the 15th, I’ll be watching the season premier of PARTS UNKNOWN. We shot it in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. I’m particularly proud of this one—as it’s sure to piss off just about everybody. 

Parts Unknown

Before I set out to travel this world, 12 years ago, I used to believe that the human race as a whole was basically a few steps above wolves.

That given the slightest change in circumstances, we would all, sooner or later, tear each other to shreds. That we were, at root, self-interested, cowardly, envious and potentially dangerous in groups. I have since come to believe — after many meals with many different people in many, many different places — that though there is no shortage of people who would do us harm, we are essentially good.

That the world is, in fact, filled with mostly good and decent people who are simply doing the best they can. Everybody, it turns out, is proud of their food (when they have it). They enjoy sharing it with others (if they can). They love their children. They like a good joke. Sitting at the table has allowed me a privileged perspective and access that others, looking principally for “the story,” do not, I believe, always get.

People feel free, with a goofy American guy who has expressed interest only in their food and what they do for fun, to tell stories about themselves — to let their guard down, to be and to reveal, on occasion, their truest selves.

I am not a journalist. I am not a foreign correspondent. I am, at best, an essayist and enthusiast. An amateur. I hope to show you what people are like at the table, at home, in their businesses, at play. And when and if, later, you read about or see the places I’ve been on the news, you’ll have a better idea of who, exactly, lives there.

"Parts Unknown" is supposed to be about food, culture and travel — as seen through the prism of food. We will learn along with you. When we look at familiar locations, we hope to look at them from a lesser-known perspective, examine aspects unfamiliar to most.

People, wherever they live, are not statistics. They are not abstractions. Bad things happen to good people all the time. When they do, hopefully, you’ll have a better idea who, and what, on a human scale, is involved.

I’m not saying that sitting down with people and sharing a plate is the answer to world peace. Not by a long shot. But it can’t hurt. 

Anthony Bourdain
Hotel El Minzah, Tangier

A continuous dribble of stuff we're thinking about and think you should know about.
-Tony