It’s funny how things happen. I’m not a big TV viewer, but there are certain shows I will stop what I’m doing to watch. One consistent eye-catcher is No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel. For those who aren’t down, it follows a trash-talking New York chef who travels the world seeking out the best in local street food and regional specialties. That’s right, street food, a taste and experience, which, to me, defines a culture and makes it unique. It’s not simply about what you’re eating, but where, and how it was prepared that elevates a simple meal into a sublime event. Bourdain’s been there and tried that with the best of them, documented by many hours of entertaining and informative TV–featuring, of course, plenty of food porn.
Beneath the wise-ass, urbanite hipster, Bourdain, a veteran of Manhattan’s restaurant world and more recently author and TV star, actually strikes you as the type of guy you could share a beer and some bites with. He’s no pretentious foodie, but eats anything from the high brow to stuff that’s been swimming in a vat of who-knows-how-old grease. He dives headfirst into new experiences with a self-deprecating humor, and never holds his tongue. But he always manages to show some modicum of respect while sharing some witty, often poignant insights into other cultures. An anti-tourist, his take on things, more often than not, captures the essential essence of a particular place and its food. As an avid eater and traveler myself, I think Bourdain and No Reservations are doing a community service.
You can imagine how incredible it was, then, to have the opportunity to be Tony Bourdain’s guide during his recent trip to Sri Lanka, a job which not only required my presence on camera, but also putting together the entire episode and deciding where we would go and, more importantly, what we would eat. During the first week of December 2008, I took Tony and a crew of four to many of my favorite eating spots in Colombo, as well as to the seaside towns of Hikkaduwa and Chilaw. We sampled from the wide array of Sri Lankan cuisine, and after a bit of a bumpy start, owing to jetlag and illness, Tony and company came to really enjoy each meal better than the one before it. For me the whole experience ranked as surreal, but fun and exciting too. It was an honor and a pleasure to introduce Tony to the food of my homeland, and a responsibility that I took to heart as well. Since not much is known about Sri Lanka, and even less about her cuisine, the show promises to be a real treat.
It was August 2007 when I first mentioned my idea for a No Reservations: Sri Lanka episode to my friends Bill Adler and his wife Chef Sara Moulton (formerly of the Food Network and currently with PBS). I had just returned from a year in Sri Lanka after immersing myself in food and researching and writing, Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking. After self-publishing the book on the site Blurb.com, I spent several months in Brazil working on another project, and time passed. When I returned from that trip, Sara Moulton put me in contact with Tony Bourdain, who told me that a Sri Lanka show was in the works, and he would pass on my information to his producers. It could not have been more than a couple of months later in September 2008, when one of the show’s producers contacted me and invited me on the trip, which was scheduled for December. He asked me for a list of food and segment ideas, and after 2 months of almost daily phone and email contact, we honed my raw ideas into a solid treatment that we surprisingly adhered to during the course of the six-day shoot.
The next several blog entries discuss the making of No Reservations: Sri Lanka, which is scheduled to air on the Travel Channel in March 2009. Special thanks to my friends Bill Adler and Sara Moulton, my family in Sri Lanka (especially Sam) for helping with a lot of the locations and logistics, and also Tony Bourdain and the Zero Point Zero Production Squad (Jared, Tom, Jerry and Todd) for helping to make an idea into reality, and for consistently producing good television.