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Anthony Bourdain's Trip to Baltimore

By July 28, 2009

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Did anyone see Anthony Bourdain's segment from Baltimore last night on his show, No Reservations?

While I wouldn't call myself an avid fan of Bourdain's, I do respect him and enjoy his show (and his writing). Sometimes I feel like he struggles to keep his ego in check, but for the most part I relate to and applaud his wanderlust and eagerness to experience varying cultures and cuisines. Having read a preview of the show by Sun blogger David Zurawik yesterday, I feared the worst. But after watching last night's episode, curiously entitled "The Rust Belt," while I agree with much of what Zurawik has to say about Bourdain's take on our fair city, I tend to give him a bit more credit.

Predictably, Bourdain approached the episode by disparaging Baltimore, and the other "Rust Belt" cities he was to visit, Buffalo and Detroit. He continually called Baltimore f***ed up, and mentioned its crack problem several times. That's all well and good, but painting any city with that broad a brush is simplistic at best. A fan of the brilliant TV series, The Wire, it seems much of what Bourdain thinks about Baltimore stems from the show and a few months he spent working here in the '80s.

After a few more digs and jabs, Bourdain visits Chaps Pit Beef with Jay Landsman, an actor on The Wire, and Mo's Seafood with Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, also a Wire actor. He rounds out his culinary visit with a trip to The Roost for lake trout, collard greens, and mac and cheese (all of which looked delicious). Bourdain's take on Baltimore seemed to evolve, and by the end he was acknowledging its friendly people, unique food, and thriving arts scene, while not glossing over its problems.

The city comes off looking like, well, Baltimore, warts and all. There were no shots of the shiny Inner Harbor or Fort McHenry, but haven't we seen that enough? I also was pleased to see Bourdain munching on something other than a crab cake (no one loves crab cakes more than me, but there are a ton of great restaurants and dishes around here that deserve to emerge from the crab cake shadow). It would have helped if the weather wasn't dreary and overcast (it's as if the producers waited for the worst weather so the visuals would fit their storyline), but so be it.

If you missed it, the episode reairs Thursday at 11 p.m. on the Travel Channel.

Photo: Anthony Bourdain might not be a fan of Baltimore, but he seems to respect it. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Comments
July 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm
(1) JMG says:

I was going to post up something on our blog, but this seems to be the place to comment on last night’s terrible sh-fest that Bourdain sprayed across our tv screens.
First, I would like to say that I’m never watching the show again. My grrl used to love this show but not anymore.
That being said, I would like to address a few things about last night’s ep. that I think a few commenter’s here are missing.
This was not about the “great social divide” This was about a New York man who was here in the 80s and had a horrible time and this was his get back. B-more has a THRIVING black culinary community that includes establishments like Darker that Blue (on Greenmount), the soul food joint on 25th and Calvert (GR8 if you haven’t been there!) and Milton’s BBQ on charles, not to mention Lexington Market and Tyrone’s Chicken. As a matter of fact, I would have WELCOMED a show specifically on black culinary culture. Imagine hitting up a family reunion in Druid Hill park in the summer! Or an after church dinner on a spring Sunday.
Instead, we get the Travel Channel version of some kind of erstaz Frontline episode. This is not acceptable. The Travel Channel should be ashamed of itself for this segment. I was under the impression that TC was created to entice people to travel.
If they want to to make a social statement, do something on woman trafficking, opium abuse or Tong based crime in all of those exotic cities they send their porn face professional eaters to cover.
Bourdian is so full of sh**. He did a disservice to this city by turning his back on our black, Jewish, Polish, German, Latino, Italian culinary culture as a whole.
Commentors will say, “well 19 people were shot on Saturday” and I say watch PBS or CNN. It’s TERRIBLE that crime stats in certain neighborhoods are high, but that is not indicative of the entire city and certainly not appropriate for a show or network that’s supposed to encourage travel. If 19 people were shot on a fine English sunday, in Moss Side, would you think twice about visiting London? I think not. And the Travel Channel would certainly not focus on it.
n short, FU Bourdain! You’ve lost a bunch of viewers and quite a few fans. Do you care? Probably not, but in a time when viewers are being sought after like nuggets of airwave gold, this show has caused a few more eyes to turn away from the channel as a whole.

July 28, 2009 at 7:20 pm
(2) baltimore says:

Thanks for sharing your comments JMG.

-Mike

July 30, 2009 at 5:13 pm
(3) SRS says:

He could have been more optimistic and talked about areas like Fells Point, Little Italy, Inner Harbor, Canton, and Federal Hill. The different markets and independent restaurants around Baltimore are nice too. Baltimore is rough town with high crime and murder rates. I thought the show was negative, but fitting. It could have been worse. He did not say anything about the corrupt mayor or the “block”.

Are you really going to compare London (pop 7,556,900) to Baltimore (pop 636,919) with 19 shootings?

February 26, 2010 at 6:35 am
(4) James Elliman says:

Moss Side is actually in Manchester, a city 200 miles North of London, so the comparison doesn’t quite equate.

However, I see the point your making.

j

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