Once upon a time, before Bravo was the Top Chef channel and the Food Network was dominated by reality shows, before the world was beset by celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain was the unlikely face of a genre, the hard living, heroine skinny, Marlboro smoking, potty-mouthed ambassador of all things food. The year was 2001, and the show, A Cook’s Tour, was a revolution in TV form.
I count myself among Bourdian’s earliest fans. My copy of his 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, circulated through so many hands by the 11th grade that it literally fell to pieces (my English teacher bought me a new one after a friend of his dealt the original its lethal blow). To my mind, the man who wrote from the dark corners of the “culinary underbelly” and simultaneously brought exotic and dangerous world cuisine to the Food Network could do no wrong.
Then came the fame, expressed as a long list of guest appearances, a litany of mistakes from Miami Ink to Top Chef, and the dubious title of Celebrity Chef appended to his increasingly cringe-inducing name. Bourdain’s Travel Channel series No Reservations has all the old backdrops from Cook’s Tour, but none of the magic. Fame has softened the chef, robbed him of his urgency, and introduced an unfortunate paunch into his otherwise chiseled and towering physique. Overexposure, and with it, reality, had set in, and the reality is that Bourdain is a better personality than he is either a writer or a cook.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to see this trailer for Bourdain’s newest venture, an animated web series called Anthony Bourdain’s Alternate Universe, which debuts on the Travel Channel website this Monday. It seemed…fresh. Urgent. Weird.
In fact, early trailers for Alternate Universe remind me of nothing so much as the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Whether it will be purely weird, ala Squidbillies, or weird and wonderful like Venture Bros. remains to be seen. But if jellied brains and robots can’t rekindle your love of a) travel and b) food, I guess nothing will.