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Posted on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

New reality TV show 'The Layover' offers a glimpse into Anthony Bourdain's real world

By Jessica Levine


Anthony Bourdain filming "The Layover" in Singapore’s red-light district.

Photo courtesy of Travel Channel

Writing about Anthony Bourdain’s new Travel Channel show, "The Layover," Mike Hale of The New York Times posed an interesting observation.

"(Bourdain's) attention to the prosaic, something other hosts gloss over in their desire to focus, simply, cheaply and shallowly, on the weird or wonderful attributes of their destinations, is part of Mr. Bourdain's larger television persona: smart, profane and sarcastic but, most important, real. Authenticity is the holy grail of reality TV, and he seems to project it effortlessly. Is it really real? Who knows."

I'll answer Mr. Hale's question with another: Shouldn't we care?

Authenticity is surely the inspiration behind reality television. From Julia Child's "The French Chef" to Bravo’s "Top Chef," directors, writers and hosts alike strive to capture stove accidents, kvetching chefs, judges' tables and beautifully-plated dishes in real time. That said, what if the actual face of contemporary cooking is non-genuine, or, as Hale would say, cheap and shallow?

We shouldn't settle for that.

Luckily, Bourdain's latest effort captures what is real. Unlike recent seasons of his Emmy-winning program, “No Reservations,” where we find our snarky, vulgar host fawning over his chef pals and their gastronomic miracles, "Layover" lands Tony back on earth, literally and figuratively.

The program’s style is familiar — straddling a scooter, stuffed in the back of a death cab, Bourdain takes viewers on frenetic 24- to 48-hour tours of global megacities home to airport hubs. He does not shy away from the "Layover's" adherence to travel show formula; in a recent blog post, he wrote, "The crew and I got drunk one night and said, 'Hey, let's make Samantha Brown's (a former Travel Channel host) show! Only….different…and good!'"

Ouch. So far, what we see is different… and mostly good. The entire hour sprints to the stress-inducing ticks of a split-flap clock which can make the viewing experience a bit jumpy. Bourdain also sticks to two things: His curmudgeonliness and his love of food. Whereas Samantha Brown’s signature was saccharine perkiness, it was enough to question her depth. In one memorable episode of "Passport to China," Brown gleefully sashayed through Tiananmen Square, an unfortunate juxtaposition beneath the austere glare of Chairman Mao.

If you're looking for something meatier to jam your tenterhooks into, Bourdain's material is a comparatively more substantial.


Anthony Bourdain in New York during an episode of “The Layover.”

Photo courtesy of Travel Channel.

He has written that food has power, that it can inspire, shock, delight and impress. Bourdain even describes his first oyster as Julia Child did about her first plate of sole in beurre blanc, as transformative, as significant, as a means of measure for all future, tasty things. Nowhere is it better to have such a seminal experience, he says, than in Singapore, which fittingly is the city he visits in "Layover's" first episode.

In a 2006 interview, Bourdain said, "(Singaporeans) like their food and take it very seriously. You can always find a good argument on where to get the best food in Singapore and Malaysia, and those kinds of strong opinions are always a good sign. Where people are opinionated about food, they tend to cook well."

Accordingly, where people are opinionated about food, they too tend to eat well. Like a feverish dream, Bourdain raced from iconic hawker centers (immaculate outdoor food stalls regulated by running water and refrigeration) to a swank rooftop bar to a Turkish tea cafe in the name of good eats on the clock.

Upon finishing a quick breakfast of steamed rice cakes covered in preserved pickles and fried lard, a combination that reputedly tastes like chocolate, he shrugged. His enthusiasm was plain, giddy, and yes — authentic. "Awesome," he said.

"Layover's" second episode found Bourdain in New York: His home, his rules, his food.

"Date night at the Bourdain's is here; Takashi on Hudson Street in the West Village is my favorite new restaurant in New York," he says impishly. "I'm telling you, there's nothing more romantic than sitting over a hot grill, looking longingly into each other's eyes and grilling little slivers of meat."

The reason behind Bourdain’s success on the Travel Channel is simple — his programs embody a quality overlooked and underestimated by producers of oxymoronic "reality TV." Authenticity is infectious; his characters and the stories told aren't prefabricated, scripted or prompted.

No, Bourdain’s effusiveness is genuine. In a world constantly moving, tweeting and flexing, honesty in media is invaluable and, like Bourdain once said about Yakiniku beef noodles, it’s something we could use a little more of in our lives.

It’s your turn to be a handler. If Bourdain had a layover in our area, where would you take him?

Jessica Levine profiles the culture, history and personalities of Washtenaw County restaurants for Contact her at or via Twitter.



Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

I loved Bourdain's "No reservations". I hope the new show is as good or better! He's the modern day Jack Kerouac.

Ron Granger

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 3 p.m.

If this were authentic Bourdain, they wouldn't call it Layover. They'd call it Hangover.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.



Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

What a neat story... I have always liked "No Reservations" for it's gritty and sometimes "lightly" editted appeal. I'm looking forward to this new one. As one that doesn't have much time or interest for TV I'm glad you folk's did an expose' on this. Thanks! As far as takin' him on tour... I'd first take him to the old neighborhood "Southwest" to visit the smaller cantina's, then I think a stop at Asian City here in the new neighborhood would be fun.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 8:47 p.m.

To the Greyhound station.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

Why is this advertisement or whatever it is here at all? This blog seems a bit confused about itself.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

I'd say it's about culture and living eh? It is a nice refresher from all the crime and punishment we are subjected to every day...all day

Jessica Webster

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 8:15 p.m.

I'd take him home. No...not like that. He's cute, but he's not my type. I'd love to run over to the Produce Station, grab some ingredients, and prepare a meal with Tony. How fun would that be?


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 11:17 a.m.

If Bourdain had a day in Ann Arbor, I'd definitely take him to Beezy's in Ypsi. The food is fabulous, the staff friendly and one-of-a-kind, and shows a side of Washtenaw County most don't think of.