It should be clear by now that food (and drink) is a driving force in how Bourdain, an unrepentant sensualist, greets the world. At 55, he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a decades-long veteran of professional kitchens, from dishwasher to chef. In 2000 he published a best-selling tell-all memoir of his experiences behind those swinging kitchen doors, "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," which rocked the foodie world. Other food-centric books — not just nonfiction but even crime novels — followed.
In 2005, his rollicking culinary travelogue, "No Reservations," premiered on Travel Channel. (The first episode: "Why the French Don't Suck.")
Rumpled and rangy at 6 feet and 4 inches, often deadpan and more often outspoken, Bourdain gained a reputation early on as a bad boy chef, an angry guy of the gourmet set.
"I'm sure I benefited from those descriptions, but I didn't take it seriously in the beginning, and I certainly don't now," says Bourdain, who, in person, is a personable sort and no more edgy than a few million others in New York, which Bourdain, with his wife and 4½-year-old daughter, calls home when not dining at the far corners of the world.
"I enjoy the travel," he says, listing his job's selling points, "and I like taking you on a trip, trying to make you feel about a place the way I feel about it."
But he is not a grandstander, he insists.
"Do I get any satisfaction seeing myself on television? Zero. In a perfect world, my physical presence in front of the camera would be dispensable."
He still cooks occasionally (he'll be whipping up Thanksgiving dinner for the family) and values his years as a pro in the kitchen. But escaping its relentless demands for television has only made him more appreciative of what he left behind.
"Real work is back there," he says, motioning toward this restaurant's kitchen doors. "THAT'S ... work! I know how lucky I am!"
Travel Channel is owned by Scripps Networks.