LEBANON: TV chef Anthony Bourdain needs 'No Reservations' in Beirut
And so four years after he and his crew evacuated Lebanon by boat in the midst of the 2006 war between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah, they have returned to film a new episode, and to confront some painful memories in the process.
"The most urgent reason I’m here is because I have lived with a deep sense of dissatisfaction that I never got to show people how amazing this place is," Bourdain told Babylon & Beyond during a break from shooting his Travel Channel show 'No Reservations' in Beirut.
In person, Bourdain is definitely more chef than celebrity: He is frank, quick and talks about his crew with as much affection as chefs talk about anything. In fact, Bourdain said the only reason it has taken four years to return to Beirut is that he wanted as many of the original crew as possible with him.
"It was something we all went through together," he said.
The 2006 war broke out just days after Bourdain and his team arrived in Beirut, forcing them to move to a hilltop hotel just north of the capital where they watched as parts of the city were flattened by Israeli bombing. Stranded, Bourdain and the crew turned the cameras on themselves as they attempted to cope with their growing sense of frustration and helplessness.
The episode that ended up airing about Bourdain's time in Beirut during the war earned him an Emmy nomination and a devoted fan-base in Lebanon, but Bourdain says it was almost scrapped completely.
"We all shook hands on the beach as we were leaving and swore we would never make a show out of what we’d seen," he explained. "I didn’t feel I had the gravitas to tackle such a serious subject ... I make a snarky show about food and travel."
For many, the lack of ambition is precisely what made the celebrated episode so poignant; as Bourdain is the first to admit, his shows are personal essays, not journalism.
"We don’t do a comprehensive, or even a fair and balanced overview," he said.
The new episode will feature many of the locales Bourdain was unable to film in 2006, in addition to some familiar places and personalities from the original show, including former Time Out Beirut editor Ramsay Short.
"It's been a moving experience," said Short, who is currently based in London and working on a play about the war.
"The last time I saw Anthony, the bombs were being dropped on the airport and it was the beginning of a nightmare, so this has been cathartic in a way."
For Bourdain, shooting in Beirut is about finishing what he started, and doing what he does best -- a snarky show about food and travel.
"If I do a show and people say 'Wow, Beirut, the food looks delicious, what a cool place,' that’s all I can hope for," he said.
– Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Celebrity chef, author and host of "No Reservations" Anthony Bourdain returns to Beirut to film a new episode. Credit: Getty Images