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Review: "Bourdain in Beirut"
Tuesday, August 22, 2006 | posted by Mike

I can’t think of a food show in which the food itself has played such a small role. But I guess that is what happens when you’re filming a television show about traveling the world and a war breaks out.

Actually, food does play an important part in “Bourdain in Beirut,” which aired last night on the Travel Channel. Food serves as chef Anthony Bourdain’s introduction to the people and culture of Beirut, it becomes a reassuring presence while the crew is holed up in the hotel, and the tuna-noodle casserole completes the picture as the sign that they have made it out and are on their way home.

But make no mistake that everything is secondary to the star’s concern for what happened to the people and place that he was just getting to know.

The real strength of the show is that Anthony Bourdain essentially plays three “characters.” There is the Bourdain that is featured in the footage shot in Beirut, where he explores the city, comes to the realization about what is happening and then agonizes as he tries to get out. The chef is also featured in a talking-head interview that appears to have been conducted right after the ordeal. The shock of the situation has worn off and he is able to fully articulate his anger over what happened. Finally, there is the Bourdain that recorded the voice-over narration, probably some time after the events and with the benefit of perspective on the situation. All three are presented throughout the program, and each complements the other with the visceral, emotional and intellectual point of view that the others lack.

We saw quite a bit about this conflict on the news, but never were we presented with such a personal account of what was happening. Bourdain pulls no punches, with pointed and particular criticism for the President and embassy. But he also praises those who demonstrated strength and selflessness, including the crew’s Lebanese driver (who stood by them even as his family was in danger) and the Marines who were more than just rescuers.

This is an emotional show. And the emotions we see are raw, but they are focused and perfectly articulated, just as you would expect from someone who makes his living explaining the nuances of food.



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