Executive Producer Takes A Look Back
By: Chris Collins, Executive Producer
The Where It All Began episode of No Reservations is made up almost entirely of footage from the unreleased documentary “Out of the Pan into the Fire.” Ten years ago, just after “Kitchen Confidential” was published, a photographer named Dmitri Kasterine had the foresight to walk into Brassiere Les Halles with a video camera and start shooting Tony Bourdain in his environs. He beat Lydia and me to the punch by roughly ten months and personally that made the material, which we had never seen before, all the more compelling. His film gave us an early glimpse at the guy who we would go on to spend the next decade of our lives with making television and forming a very strong relationship.
In prepping for the edit of this particular episode I watched “Out of the Pan into the Fire” at least 15 times or more – assessing which scenes to keep and which to cut and where we could add new Tony interview material to support and inform the old footage. Additionally, I had numerous conversations with Dmitri about preserving the integrity of the documentary he’d shot. So by time we got around to edit the No Reservations episode – I was pretty well versed in the footage and surprisingly, really sad.
Something didn’t feel right. Sure Tony had aged over the past decade, which caused me to pay closer attention to the creases in my own face and a hairline retreating northward. But it wasn’t my sense of getting older that was pushing my head underwater. It was something that Tony was saying – or not saying – during an interview toward the end of the documentary where he was reflecting on his first foray into making TV, A Cook’s Tour. Something about his tone and demeanor in that interview was really gnawing at me…
A little context… when Lydia and I headed out the door on December 6, 2000 to start shooting the series A Cook’s Tour we’d been married for less than a week and had spent maybe 3 hours total with Tony. We knew very little about who this guy really was and what his life was like before “the book”. I hadn’t even read Kitchen Confidential (still haven’t – everyone tells me it is quite good). So to say that we were all kind of strangers to each other would not be wrong. That initial Cook’s Tour filming lasted for 5 weeks straight, starting in Japan then immediately on to Vietnam and finally Cambodia. Like most first shoots it was a bit bumpy. We were feeling each other out and trying to determine what the hell we were doing. Add in the psycho anti-malarial pills we were gobbling and well…it was all rather strained. That said, by the time we tore into our final location Cambodia and made the wonderfully irresponsible riverboat trip to Pailin, an outlaw town on the border of Thailand, the odd chemistry between us was working. We had found a rhythm and a reason and we were on our way. No one was going to stop us.
Eventually we would go on to make 33 episodes of a great travel series predicated on a no-holds-barred agenda that would eventually morph into No Reservations. The two series would help shape and define the second part of Tony’s life and our respective careers. To say that those first five weeks of A Cook’s Tour was a seminal turning point in both of our lives would not be an understatement.
So this brings me back to the interview segment at the end of the old documentary, “Out of the Pan into the Fire.” Tony had just returned from the aforementioned 5-week shoot a few days before and in the interview he begins to reflect on the experience.
Surprisingly, he seemed somehow gutted… less sure about who he was — no joy, just bewildered. This was not the balls-out, gonzo guy who a week before in Battanbong, Cambodia had left our dumpy hotel (don’t get me started on the bathroom) in the middle of the night to get another “beer” with some Bulgarian mercenaries — a night that began with too many beers (Lydia and I were there for that part) and would end with Tony taking a blinding motorcycle ride, blowing through a military check point, and having an AK-47 shoved in his face as he lay on the ground. Seriously, what was going on here in this interview? Where did “Johnny danger” go? Who was this tanned yet forlorn imposter? There was no Bourdainian wit, no holy sh*t heart-of-darkness bravado, just palpable sadness and longing. Sadness and longing… My god we’d just shared 5 incredible weeks working, drinking, and eating our way across Asia on someone else’s nickel. Is it possible that our first date wasn’t as great as I’d thought?
I was prepared to call him out on it when we shot the new interview material. But as that interview progressed and I asked question after question about other parts of the documentary – I began to understand. What I heard and maybe had known all along was this – here was a guy who, without any calculation or premeditation, found himself on an unexpected and amazing ride that altered his life completely. His very definition of himself was irrevocably changed that day we headed out the door to travel the world for the first time. He was, understandably, disoriented.
And it is now, sitting here trying to end this blog, that the answer dawns on me-the emotion I’ve selfishly been looking for from Tony he had, in fact, already articulated many years ago while we were in the Borneo jungle shooting No Reservations; Upon leaving that location he captured the whole experience perfectly in the following words: Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts. It even breaks your heart–in beautiful ways. But that’s okay. The journey changes you. It should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, in your heart and on your body. You take something with you–hopefully you leave something good behind. And then he asks himself: Is it possible to feel enriched and hollowed out at the same time?
Enough said. Thanks Tony.