A year ago, the White House contacted Anthony Bourdain's production company. They wanted President Barack Obama to join the famed chef and world-wide traveler on his Emmy-winning CNN docu-series "Parts Unknown."
While Bourdain turns down many requests from famous folks who want to tag along, he couldn't say no to the commander in chief. His staff and the White House figured out a foreign city that worked for both of them: Hanoi in Vietnam this past May.
Bourdain got to pick the restaurant - Bún chả Hương Liên - and ordered a $6 bun Cha dinner featuring grilled pork and noodles for both of them. Bourdain paid.
"I purposely chose something uniquely Hanoi instead of something national like pho or spring rolls," said Bourdain in an interview today to promote the eighth season debut of his show, which comes on Sunday at 9 p.m. "The locals were stunned that the president would eat this humble, working class, deeply loved favorite."
Bourdain said he did very little prep work for the 30-minute meal/interview, which felt surprisingly intimate and casual given the circumstances. "I'm not a foreign policy expert," Bourdain said. "I'm not a journalist. I spoke with him as a father and someone who loves Southeast Asia. I was wondering if things will work out okay for my daughter. I'm worried! We talked about food. It was two dads just eating out."
And he knew Obama was not worried about re-election because when asked whether he put ketchup or mustard on a hot dog, he didn't hesitate as a former Chicagoan: mustard! "If he were running for office, he would have said, 'I respect everyone's choice of condiment on their hot dog.' But any Chicagoan knows it's never okay to put ketchup on a hot dog. That's what he said right away!"
He has been taping 18 episodes a year for CNN since 2013, with seasons split between spring and fall. His season 7 finale in June was pre-empted by the Orlando club shootings so that episode out of Buenos Aires will air in late November.
Bourdain loves working with CNN and accepts that breaking news comes first. "I don't mind at all," he said. "I'm very happy the way things have worked out at CNN. They have allowed me to go places and do things I wouldn't have been allowed to do on any other network. They have not messed with what we do. I've never gotten a phone call suggesting anything or someone saying, 'Wouldn't it be great if...?' "
He was thrilled the show earlier this month received its third consecutive Emmy recently for best informational series or special. "A lot of people work really hard on this show," he said. "I know it's nice to see my producers and camera guys and sound and post production - vital, fundamental parts of this enterprise -have our work acknowledged. I know it makes my people feel good. They've worked 16 hour days in boiling heat in the Congo and driven around in a car full of hand grenades in Libya."
Many on his crew go back to his days at his Travel Channel show "No Reservations." "I want everyone to be creatively satisfied and feel good about what they do," he said.
Of his seven other episodes besides Hanoi, he is excited for people to see the Nashville episode where he'll eat some hot chicken and hear some great music, the one where he explores a part of Brazil called Minas Gerais and the more diverse parts of Houston. "We didn't really shoot with any Anglo-Saxon people at all in Houston," he said. "It will enrage some of the good ol' boys and inspire others."
He also enjoys shooting promos with Anderson Cooper, who may be worldly in his upbringing and travels but not so much when it comes to his palette. "I love tormenting him," Bourdain said. "He's a good guy. He's smart. He's funny. He has a good sense of humor. But his experience with food other than Wonder Bread is shocking. Everything I feed him is something he'd never heard of. 'Dude! That's cheese!' He's led a very very sheltered life as far as food is concerned."
"Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown," 9 p.m. Sundays, CNN, starting September 25, 2016
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