Anthony Bourdain: Giving Up Cigarettes "Has in No Way Improved My Life"

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Anthony Bourdain | Photo Credits: Travel Channel
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No Reservations host Anthony Bourdain doesn't give a crap about a lot of things. He doesn't care about Nielsen ratings, for one, and he also isn't concerned what people think of his perpetual state of drunkenness on the show.

Which makes it even more surprising that one thing he does give a crap about is social media. "I think it's completely redefined the way we watch television," he says. "I think it's another step in a long process of the way people watch TV, the way people interact with their favorite shows."

Bourdain and his production team decided to take the idea of "fan interaction" seriously for the eighth season of No Reservations (premiering Monday, April 9 at 9/8c). When a massive fan base in Finland launched a campaign begging Bourdain to film in their country, he actually made it happen. "If we have a few hundred thousand fans over there that seem to have a sense of humor, and they really want me to come and they're working hard to make that happen, that's something we're going to respond to," he says.

We talked to Bourdain about his feelings on social TV, the upcoming season of the show, and of course... his disdain for Paula Deen. Plus: Did he actually quit smoking for good? After the network created a Twitter and Facebook account for No Reservations, you insisted on taking it over. Why?
Anthony Bourdain: We jokingly say we took them over very early because we didn't want them to suck. It was a defensive measure. I didn't want it to be one of those "Hey, everybody! Be sure to tune in!" sort of things. I'm a control freak. If you're going to slap my name on something, I would like to control it.

The @NoReservations Twitter feed seems very authentically you. Are you always the one tweeting?
Bourdain: Yes. It's personally important to me. I would be embarrassed if it wasn't me. For the same reason I don't want anybody out there saying that I endorse cheap pots and pans, I don't want anybody out there using my name and in some way representing their work as mine. I just won't have it. It would be lethal to me to get the sense that you're talking to a machine.

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Do you think celebrities who aren't engaging with fans the way you do are doing themselves (or their shows) a disservice?
Bourdain: Let's face it. There are a lot of people out there who ain't that bright, who couldn't write for sh--. It is sort of like writing haiku. There is a skill set involved, and you see among chefs or actors, some are really good at it — others, not so much. Some people have something to say. Others don't.

Who are your favorite people to follow?
Don Cheadle (@IamDonCheadle) is an awesome tweeter. Anthony De Rosa of Reuters (@antderosa), Chef José Andrés (@chefjoseandres), and parody accounts like @DrunkHulk and @AngryBFlay. Everybody at The Guardian. And [writer] Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis). His late-night movie criticism is funny and strange.

You and your team were constantly posting on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr with updates, photos and videos while on location for the eighth season of the show. Did you go in with some sort of social media strategy?
Bourdain: No. We were drunk most of the time. We could never have a coherent media strategy. It is completely and entirely spur of the moment and reactive, depending on where we were and what we were doing.

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In what other ways did you use social outlets?
When we're thinking of going to some place that we have in mind, we reach out through social media looking for food bloggers as part of the research process.

Where do you see the future of this whole social TV movement going?
Bourdain: There will be thousands of channels in the future — if there aren't already. It's part of the fragmentation, and I think there's an expectation, to some extent, that if you can't interact directly with the people you see on TV, you should at least get some sense of who you're talking to through their social media channels.

(In the spirit of "social engagement," we asked for fan questions via Twitter and Facebook.)

Tonya Clark Marinaro, via Facebook: Why are you so mean to Paula Deen?

Bourdain: I'm not picking on an old lady here. This notion that she's this nice grandmother? She's a $30 million-a-year corporation. I'm not being mean about diabetes, which is an epidemic in this country. I just found it in bad taste. When your brand is all [about] guilt-free consumption to excess, and then you turn around and close a $6 million deal with an expensive "black box" warning diabetes medication, it's not something I would do. To expect that she should be free of criticism for that kind of thing is a little disingenuous. And to bring Jesus into it is frankly a little offensive. "I was waiting for Jesus to tell me when I could make this deal. I was waiting for the Lord to tell me what to do," or whatever her last comment was. Why did you wait three years? It's just... you know.

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@WesDone, via Twitter: Is there anything you won't eat?
Bourdain: I do my very best to avoid shark fin.

@AnitaM86, via Twitter: Which show do you enjoy more? No Reservations or The Layover? Favorite episode on each?
Bourdain: I enjoy making No Reservations more. It's more personal. It doesn't have the burden of being informative like The Layover. The Layover, as you can see in some of the drunker episodes... it's a lot of food and a lot of liquor to compress in 48 hours, and I pay a physical price for that. I'm very proud of the Rome episode of No Reservations because it violated all the conventional wisdom about making television. You're never ever supposed to do a food or travel show in black and white. As a purely creative enterprise, I'm really proud of it because it was such a stupid, foolish creative labor of love. For The Layover, maybe San Francisco. Although I was truly embarrassingly drunk on that show.

Toni Torlak, via Facebook: Did you really quit smoking? And did it change the way your food tasted?
I really did quit smoking and it has in no way improved my life -- or my palate unfortunately.

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@siobhanoc1, via Twitter: Does he remember filming Layover Amsterdam?
Network policy does not allow you to get stoned... but all I can tell you is that if you've ever felt that strange, weird, tweaking paranoia where you think everybody's looking at you, and then you look up, and in fact, everybody is looking at you, that's not a good place to be.

@DonCheech, via Twitter: What made you go in that direction for the Christmas special?
Bourdain: The holiday special is a dark, dysfunctional very insidery tradition. There are a lot of things that wouldn't be appropriate in regular episodes of No Reservations, but it's really for our fans — people who know the crew and are familiar with our sense of humor. People who would like to see me cooking octopus with Christopher Walken, or a drunk and deranged Samantha Brown shooting me in the knee cap. I think we're getting better and more offensive. And they're often the same thing.

Sara Hershcopf, via Facebook: What can people look forward to in the upcoming season?
Bourdain: I think Mozambique and Penang have some of the best photography we've ever done. Mozambique is going to be a big surprise as far as how good the food can be in a really impoverished country with a history of terrible violence and deprivation until pretty recently.

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations premieres Monday, April 9 at 9/8c on the Travel Channel.