BourdaIn on the side of the road in Las Vegas

Bourdain on time at the agreed on pick-up spot. Photo by iphone.

Bourdain is waiting at the appointed rendezvous in the Nevada dessert. I’m in a 1970 Olds Cutlass “acquired” for me by a Vegas associate. I didn’t ask questions. Bourdain against the arid landscape is a sight that fills me with a mixture of excitement and fear (but not loathing). He and the intrepid Zero Point Zero production team have brought me here to help Tony explore different sides of this morass of humanity—more precisely, those who serve that morass. But Bourdain has a penchant for getting me into trouble. Carol Blymire texted that she has bail money ready, say the word. Remember, I had to make a quick getaway in the “No Reservations” Las Vegas episode, for those who missed that one.

But Tony’s here to explore different sides of Vegas, ones less often covered. I type this from one of the major hotel’s villas, so large we’ve just discovered Colonel Mustard in the observatory holding a lead pipe. A place so secretive that when I tried to order room service, they didn’t know where the villa was or how to get the BLT to me. All the while it looks over the central swimming pool. I’m clearly in the land of the .01 percent.

Bourdain’s show on CNN, “Parts Unknown,” is an increasingly ambitious and thrilling travel show, anchored by the food of a culture, and addressing serious issues of that locale. If you haven’t seen the African episodes, my favorites, I highly recommend buying on iTunes or where you can find them. Listening to the Libyan rebel describe how he would locate, via Google maps, the coordinates of the buildings from which the Libyan military was picking off civilians, then tweet those coordinates so that NATO forces would see the tweets and bomb the precise spot, within view of the man sending out those tweets—gives you a true sense of the power of so much easily shared global information. The Congo episode, South Africa, and, more recently, the controversial Tokyo underbelly episode are all worth your time.

And during some downtime in the villa, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Tony about the issues I care about so much, food and its production, distribution, and consumption, and what it means to this country. Questions such as what is a chef’s responsibility to sustainable and local food purchases, and how we can ask people, especially people struggling financially, to not buy the cheapest food for some ultimately intangible result?

More of this to come when I’ve had time to make sense of my notes. But now gotta run—it’s time for some Texas Hold ‘Em.

More to come, that is, if I don’t cross The Man and find myself digging a hole in the desert. It’s a mighty big desert out there.

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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19 Wonderful responses to “In Las Vegas with Bourdain”

  • allen

    His cooking on the river boat in the Congo episode is like my kitchen on a regular basis.
    I like the episode on No Reservations, when you eat mystery chili, and you ask ” is there cinnamon in this? “

  • YC

    “mixture of excitement and fear…”
    I read that as “excrement and fear.” Foreboding?

  • joeinvegas

    I read about him being in town in the local paper, but didn’t know you would be along or I’d track you down (yes, stalker). Hope you had a good time. And you rated a villa? wow, rich friends (or big gamblers)

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    So far this year and last are the best episodes encompassing particular histories, past and present, on CNN for quite a long time. I equate it with the history channel in its content both for geographical and historical content as well as the food of the people.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    Since we are on a Bourdain discussion I would like, as a Montrealer and a Canadian, to say my piece on #ChefsForSeals. The subject of the method in killing Seals deals primarily with baby seals and the way they are slain. This has been a bone of contention in the Canadian Government scene for the last 40 or so years. Although I do remember my Bubby having a magnificent Seal Fur Coat when it was the early 60’s, (she bought in the late 50’s) Canada banned the sale of Seal Fur Coats almost at that same time.

    From that point on Seals were not killed for reasons of owning a fur coat.

    As for eating Seal; I have never known of any one person or any one restaurant (outside of one in Montreal I have recently learned) that ever served Seal. I suppose though, that the residents of the Arctic do eat Seal and do so by legal ways. After all they don’t have access to many other proteins. I doubt they kill their Seals illegally; however that doesn’t and never will stop a black market. To suggest that everyone who kills Seals in the method known as hitting over the head, is just plain ignorant. That is the sole reason why Canada banned Seal hunting in this most inhumane method.

    However and perhaps there are seals are being sold and killed this way, but only in the black market and therefore to now place this in the hands of Chefs is a hoot. Those educated fully on the subject, would know the Northwest Territories consider it an industry as any other ‘fishing industry’. It is legalized and documented and is never sold on the black market to those who treat it with the same respect as a Chef might a Porterhouse steak. It is a prime cut of meat for them and is cooked with respect to the Seal as any farmer would a cow.

    In 2013 to have American Chefs create this as a united front against Canada and its Seal Industry, is so funny and sad to us, because, you need to be Canadian and have lived a life where this subject comes up every 10 years or so to fully ascertain what the problems are. As Canadians we know all about Seals and don’t have any disagreement with what the Government has decided for their fate. Some of the Chefs signing petitions weren’t even born when this was an issue. I would suggest to those Chefs to reach out to the National Film Board of Canada and do their own research on this problem which we Canadians have know exists for decades, before they follow each in a row, not unlike Seals by the way, the Humane Society of the United States. As if Canada can’t govern its own.

    So thank you Mr. Bourdain and Mr. Ruhlman for letting me post.

  • former butcher

    Can’t wait for the book that you will inevitably write about this collaboration….as I think I once suggested for a subtitle…Hugo Meets Baudelaire In Vegas…..hope you took copious notes and photos.

  • Patti Lytle

    Bourdain looks lost and lonely and in the middle of nowhere. I think he needs another dessert.

  • Rene

    Methinks you mean “sight” not “site”
    While the dessert is clearly the site of the adventure, the image of your companion in said dessert would be a sight, n’est pas?

  • lrs62

    I’m still trying to figure out what was controversial about the Tokyo episode…

    • Natalie Luffer Sztern

      Well let’s say this – I’m not into bondage but I have been dreaming of being tied up in knots (of course my entire day is like that but somehow not so sensual)…it kinda dealt with a faction of life that isn’t what one usually thinks of when they think Tokyo, or any other city

      However it was the most erotic I thought and not such a bad thing

  • KarenCf

    So, I realize this sort of comment brings out all sort of blowback, but what amazes me is that there are virtually no women on his show. For awhile I was obsessed with this and tracked the number of minutes a woman was on screen, even in crowd shots, and it never topped 5 minutes. And experts in whatever subject he is studying? 0 women ever. What surprises me, is that this not remarked upon….by anyone. In all the dissections I have read about this latest show of his, no one has mentioned this. Do a mental experiment- if the next show was 50% female- how would it change for you?

    • Jamie Avera

      I’m not sure how many of his shows you have watched, but I think you have overstated the situation immensely. Just go back to the Israel episode. Shanghai. Penang. Sri Lanka. Vietnam. Women everywhere.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      Jamie correct, but I can see how this impression could be had . Then again, I believe their was a woman in the Tokyo show if I’m not mistaken. And we played poker with a woman pro and her husband at Caesars.

  • John K.

    Get him back to Cleveland. Skip skyway and surfing. Focus on the local food production….. and more rock & roll…..