I am an unabashed fan of Anthony Bourdain television. I’ve pretty much watched every episode of every series Anthony Bourdain has been responsible for. Strangely enough, it never occurred to me to write anything about them… until now. This is largely because in this episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain spends almost the entirety of this episode torturing his good friend, Eric Ripert.
For those who are unfamiliar with Ripert, Eric Ripert is the executive chef and part owner of Le Bernardin. Le Bernardin is a three Michelin starred restaurant in New York City that specializes in seafood. Accordingly, Eric Ripert is one of the most well known and respected French chefs in New York City, in North America, and in the western world. How wonderful is it then that we get to see him suffer for forty five minutes from spiciness and alcohol poisoning? And Bourdain does torture the hell out of Rupert in this episode to hilarious effect. They have a real bromance brewing and it’s really fun watching them make off color jokes and constantly make fun of each other.
Parts Unknown episodes generally try to give the flavor of a place with a heavy emphasis on food. Some episodes try to show the opposing views of an issue relevant to that location. That obviously does not happen here. There’s no general freedom to publicly criticize the government in China. Instead we just get some humorous scenes that show off some of the food in Sichuan. This was still really entertaining, even though I would have liked some commentary on the politics of the country and the opinion’s of Chinese citizens. On the other hand, there’s no point in asking for opinions if it means putting Chinese citizens at risk of “disappearing” or getting sent to jail. Especially if it’s just for a some travel and leisure show on CNN.
Anyways, it’s a fun episode and really educational. I’ve had a lot of authentic, Chinese style Chinese food (in contrast to American style Chinese food, e.g. Chinese takeout), and I’ve never been good at verbalizing the differences between Chinese and American food. This show definitely helped in expressing that difference. Most Americans I know who’ve tried authentic, traditional Chinese food generally find it disgusting because the goals of western cuisine and Chinese cuisine are different. Where Americans like the texture of battered, fried, fatty food to what many in this world would consider a disgusting degree, Chinese people like gelatinous, liquidy, chewy, and meaty food to a degree that many in this world would consider disgusting. This is why so many beloved Chinese dishes consist of sauce covered organs or other chewy parts of the animals (like pig ears, chicken feet, intestines, etc.).
It’s realizations likes this that make this show so interesting. There are few shows that are as successful at accurately conveying foreign places in a digestible, hour long program for American audiences. It’s just fun to learn about new places and see things that you would not see unless you purchased a plane ticket, flew over for a while, and knew someone who actually knew the nuances of the area and was willing to show you around. Thanks to Parts Unknown, I get to experience something similar with substantially less hassle.