How is No Reservations different from your earlier shows?
It is a series of stand-alone essays,much like A Cook’s Tour, but longer,better,with a much bigger budget and less network control –meaning I get to go wherever I want and do pretty much what I want.Though food is an entry point to each subject, it is not a show primarily about food.
Each show usually begins with a proposition or a “mission”and at the end, that proposition has either been confirmed or hilariously (often embarrassingly) disproved. It’s a pretty bi-polar show in that they are not all happy,upbeat and positive in tone.
If I had a lousy time in Iceland,for instance, I’d say so. If things went terribly wrong in the making of the show in Sicily, I’d acknowledge that on camera.There are happy shows (China and Japan),sentimental ones (Malaysia), reflective (Peru),funny (New Jersey), bitter (Sicily),snarky (Iceland),deranged and hallucinatory (Las Vegas),heartfelt (Paris) and scary (New Zealand). It’s a subjective,vicarious ride through a place and time as seen through my admittedly jaundiced eyes.
What were some memorable sticky situations during its filming?
I rolled a 453kg ATV over myself a few times down a dune in New Zealand – a very close call. I also jumped off a 45-metre cliff into the ocean
of indeterminate depth on an island in Sicily, and jumped out of an airplane 20,000 feet above the Nevada desert with the Flying Elvis skydiving team.
I drank hallucinatory jungle brew with a shaman in the Amazon,and nearly froze to death with reindeer herders in Lapland and again with Inuits in northern Quebec.The worst was a traditional “massage”in Uzbekistan. I begged for death during that scene; it was the most prolonged and extreme pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m sure it’s a violation of the Geneva Convention.
You’ve been all around the globe. What still amazes or shocks you when you travel?
I’m constantly amazed by how nice nearly everyone is to me and how many chefs everywhere have read that damn book (editor’s note:Kitchen Confidential). And I was shocked at how bad the beloved putrified shark dish in Iceland was.At this point, little else about human behaviour or indigenous diets shocks me.
What do you always look forward to when you come back to Asia?
Nasi lemak, chicken rice ,good roast duck, good sushi, Chinese hospitality…happy memories.
What do you think the chefs in the West can learn from their counterparts in Asia?
How to cook everything.How to make something good out of nearly everything or find out what was good about it all along. In the heart of every great chef, there’s a Chinese guy. Asians, particularly in China, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam,are food crazy! That passion is revitalising for any chef.
Most people don’t care much for airplane food. What airlines offer some of the best or worst you’ve tried?
Singapore Airlines has edible food.They make a real effort.That’s an airline I actually look forward to flying, suffering – as I do – the deprivations of uniformly lousy American carriers much of the time. I dream of the day that American,United and the other US carriers finally go bankrupt and close, and their routes are taken over by Singapore and Cathay. The world, or at least my world, would be a better place.
Generally though,I don’t eat on planes. I take a sleeping pill and try and sleep through as much of the flight as possible.
You live – and will always live – in New York City. If you had to pick another city or country to be its ambassador, which one would it be and why?
I’m a terminal New Yorker. I can’t change my basic nature even though these days I spend only about four nights a month in my own bed. As far as being an ambassador, I doubt it would be a good idea for me to be an ambassador for anybody. I can’t be that diplomatic. It could lead to trouble.
Where do you escape to when you need to get away from it all?
I try and spend a month a year on an island in the Caribbean: writing,drinking beer, lying on the beach, reading and basically avoiding shoes.
You said: “Food, after all, is the purest expression of a country, of a culture, a region and a personality.” What food or dish would you pick to represent yourself and why?
Roasted veal bone marrow. It’s hard on the outside,softer on the inside, generally tasty but could, through overuse,lead to a heart attack.
Fame has probably opened the door to many possibilities for you. What other projects are you eyeing in the near future? Ever thought of turning to acting or singing?
Singing? I’d rather mop the floors of a peep show.Never. I sang exactly once in my life – in a karaoke room in Taipei – and my ears burn with shame at the memory.
And acting? Hell, I think the worst thing about my show is that I’m in it.
In a perfect world, it would be all what I see –without me ever being on camera.(Shudder)
You turn 50 this year. What’s your birthday wish?
To keep doing what I’m doing. To maybe find a little peace of mind.