Anthony Bourdain was a man of many talents, lauded by one generation for his work in the kitchen and by another for his written prose and media appearances. Bourdain became a television staple with his show, No Reservations. Lovers of the show didn’t think it could get any better, then they were gifted with Parts Unknown.
Parts Unknown launched in 2013 and shared the amazing untold stories of places around the globe. It had a way of sparking curiosity, inciting happiness, and instilling a sense of humanity that was sometimes lacking in other shows and oftentimes lacking in the world around us. It even inspired and moved the most jaded traveler there ever was, a self-proclaimed title that Bourdain wore with pride.
Though it will take a turn from the structure it followed in the past, CNN will air the final season of Parts Unknown this fall, comprised of seven episodes. The future of the show or any spin-offs is unclear, but we can’t imagine it would ever be the same without Bourdain at the helm encouraging all of us to reach outside of our comfort zones just a little further to make these unknown parts a little more known.
With the loss of Bourdain still fresh in our minds and our focus on what he left us with, here’s a look at twenty-five behind the scenes facts from Parts Unknown, including how it started and how it will end.
25 The Idea For The Show Started In Lebanon
When Bourdain was filming an episode of No Reservations in Lebanon in 2006, he was deeply moved by the country. Though his focus on that show was strictly food, he couldn’t get over the stories of the people he was meeting and their will to survive in conflict.
According to Mashed, he wanted others to be similarly touched and travel there to learn about the history, eat the food, see the beauty, and experience the current state of affairs. It was on this trip that his idea for Parts Unknown, a storytelling series, was founded.
24 It Took Ten Days To Film Each Episode
If you’ve watched an episode of Parts Unknown, you know that Bourdain doesn’t often stay in just one spot. When filming in Madagascar, according to Food Republic, the whole team traveled a total of nearly fifty hours via plane, train, and car after arriving to complete shots in various areas.
Add in all the people that need to be met, food to be eaten, a few hours of sleep, and a scheduled flight home and you’ve got ten days of nearly nonstop filming for just one episode.
23 Bourdain And His Crew Prided Themselves On Being Good Guests
From various animal parts to extreme spice, Bourdain ate a variety of delicacies on Parts Unknown that might have made others cringe. When asked if he actually enjoyed eating all that exotic food, Bourdain responded: “not always”. Why do it then?
In short, he wanted to be respectful and appreciative. According to Mashed, this was one of the main reasons behind how the crew was able to capture such personal footage. Eating what you’re given and taking an interest in the culture goes a long way with people and they start to open up.
22 The Point Of The Show Was For Other People To Talk
Bourdain told People magazine that he was always striving to be quiet when filming and just let other people around him talk. In his opinion, he belonged in the voiceover of an episode and that was it.
He believed nobody was tuning in to listen to him ramble on, they wanted to hear the stories of the individuals in the villages and cities being visited. When possible, he had his team edit out his part of the questioning during an interview and leave just the response.
21 There Wasn't Time For Sick Days
On average, the Parts Unknown crew spent about 250 days per year on the road, in the air, and on location with Bourdain. With that kind of packed schedule, you can imagine it’s hard to fit in naturally occurring things like being sick or recovering from jet lag.
Jeff Allen, Parts Unknown producer, told Food Republic that the crew rarely had time to take days off during trips. They had to film right through ailments like stomach distress or side effects of certain medications taken to prevent diseases like malaria in some countries.
20 There Was No Script
Zach Zamboni, a veteran cinematographer and longtime Bourdain confidant, told Variety that the crew went into every trip with the intention to get lost in one way or another. Often, that meant losing their preconceived notions and having a willingness to get lost in themselves, lost in the feelings, and lost in the culture.
There was no script. People operated only under a general guiding direction and everyone was given creative agency to do what they felt was right.
19 Bourdain Truly Loved All Living Things
When allegations emerged against Parts Unknown in 2015 related to animal cruelty, Bourdain was especially hurt. He did not enjoy watching the death of an animal or anything related to mistreatment of an animal. He was horrified that people thought he did.
According to Mashed, he felt that people should know where their food was coming from and make a decision on how to live their lives accordingly, which is why he wouldn’t stop showing certain meal preparation scenes. Parts Unknown at its core, after all, was a food show.
18 Bourdain Often Decided Where To Go Based On Films
There just wasn’t time enough each season to go everywhere Bourdain wanted to go. The general self-oversight he and his crew were given over their show meant that almost nothing was out of reach.
He kept a running list of potential locations cultivated from places he had heard about and places he saw portrayed in films. He was happy to go to popular locations, but required that the piece be shot from a different perspective.
In preparation for each season, producers sat down with Bourdain to narrow his list so that the season would have diverse episodes.
17 Bourdain Knew Some Fans Would Dislike Particular Episodes, But He Did Them Anyway
Anthony Bourdain was not in the business of winning people over, though he was adored by many despite his often blunt tone.
In an interview with Forbes he stated that he didn’t pick locations because he thought his audience would like them. Rather, he expected that someone enjoying an episode one week might thoroughly dislike the next one. It was this sense of variety that was fulfilling to Bourdain, a variety that he felt would be missing if he based his decisions on viewership ratings.
16 The Names Of Some Filming Locations Were Not Made Public To Keep The Spot Private To Locals
Parts Unknown was filled with stops off the beaten path that nobody had ever heard of. That was the beauty of the show. That said, Bourdain knew that his preferred style could also be detrimental to small, insular communities.
By naming a cafe, restaurant, or other local hangout and sharing that with millions of people around the world, he knew the dynamic of that place would change. With an interest in preserving these gems for only the locals or very savvy tourists, he made sure to leave a level of mystery around some of the spots he visited.
15 Bourdain And The Crew Fasted Off Camera So They Would Be Hungry On Set
According to People magazine, every minute of Bourdain’s day was scheduled by a producer, including meal times. This meant that painstaking reviews of the schedule had to be done to ensure that meals weren’t set too close to each other in the day.
It also meant a particular attention to detail needed to be paid so that meals weren't spaced too far apart. Bourdain and his crew often skipped out on dietary offerings unless they were on set so as not to ruin their appetites while the camera was rolling, but going too long without food could also have consequences.
14 Planning For Any Given Episode Could Take Months Or Even Years
No matter how the show would have been written, a certain level of research into locations would have been necessary. However, the unscripted nature of the show meant that everyone really needed to have done their research as anything could happen.
Everyone traveling needed a firm understanding of any ongoing conflicts in the region between local groups, issues around gender and identity, and crime rates. If a meeting with a prominent official was sought during the trip, the logistics could be even more difficult and the planning phase even longer.
13 Bourdain Helped Free A Man Jailed In Iran
While filming Parts Unknown in Iran in 2014, Bourdain interviewed journalist Jason Rezaian. Just a few weeks later, Bourdain was notified that Rezaian and his wife had been arrested and were being detained.
In the two years that followed, Mashed states that Bourdain made countless pleas and continued to advocate for Rezaian’s release as he remained held on espionage charges. Not only was Rezaian eventually released, a move he credits Bourdain for at least in part, he and Bourdain developed an everlasting bond as friends through the ordeal.
12 The Show Was Criticized By Some In The Food And Beverage Industry
For everything the show was, there was also a lot it wasn’t.
It was certainly not a show dedicated to the intricacies of wine and beer or fine dining, a fact Bourdain made quite clear. If you notice, he never ordered a craft drink. He just saddled up to the bar for something simple and cold. He felt that a bar should be a place for gathering together and having a good time, not remarking on tasting notes.
He also refused to go to Switzerland, according to Reader’s Digest, drawing criticism from those that felt the cuisine there was certainly worth an episode.
11 Bourdain Was Once Duped During An Episode
As previously stated, the show was unscripted and there were never any outright expectations for any episode. So, when Bourdain was taken out on a boat in Sicily, he didn’t expect that the fishermen he was with would necessarily catch anything. This left him very surprised when they started reeling in what seemed like the catch of the year.
Come to find out, as reported by Forbes, the entire thing had been staged. Bourdain was beside himself that anyone would make a mockery out of him or the show.
10 Selecting The Right Local Fixer Was Often The Biggest Obstacle
According to Fast Company, Bourdain cited finding a local fixer as one of the biggest obstacles for a successful episode. He was always looking for someone that knew the local area (preferably as well as they claimed to know the area), who could offer a unique experience, and was willing to have a little fun.
He recalled an issue with the fixer in Romania that turned into more of a publicity stunt than anything else when the fixer only made connections with managers at popular destinations in the trendiest part of town.
9 It Never Felt Like A Job For Bourdain Or The Crew
Bourdain kept a small group of people by his side. Many of them had been working together since 2002 when Bourdain first launched a career in television on The Food Network show, A Cook’s Tour.
There were just five full time staff that consistently traveled, though others were added on location as necessary. With such a close-knit group, their travels together felt like a welcome adventure, not a job they had to do.
Bourdain himself told Forbes that the minute it wasn’t fun anymore he would quit, but he didn’t think that would happen.
8 CNN Didn't Always Know Where Or With Whom Parts Unknown Would Shoot
When Bourdain made the switch from The Travel Channel to CNN, he was given a larger budget and more autonomy to run his own show. Bourdain took this to the max and this meant that sometimes CNN - Bourdain’s employer - actually didn’t know what he was up to.
This was especially true when he sat down with the 44th President of the United States and kept the meeting completely secret until it aired. According to First We Feast, the secrecy was a requirement from the White House but it wasn’t out of character for him to be equally secretive at other times.
7 There Were Real Safety Concerns During Some Shoots
The one place Bourdain didn’t make it to due to safety concerns was northern Afghanistan. However, in an interview with Forbes, Bourdain revealed just how scary things became while filming Parts Unknown in Libya.
According to his portrayal, they had been told everything was fine but then they were awoken in the night by armed guards telling them to pack their bags. They ended up not having to leave, but spent the rest of the trip filming only in five to ten minute segments so as not to draw too much attention to themselves and rode around with a local law enforcement group.
6 Nobody Was Allowed To Play Billy Joel Songs While Traveling Or On Set
There weren’t a lot of rules on Parts Unknown, but there was one that nobody dared break.
According to Thrillist, Bourdain was not shy about his dislike of Billy Joel’s music and banned it from his presence. Interestingly, he actually liked Billy Joel as a person, just not his music.
Reaching as far back to his time as a chef, Bourdain considered the enjoyment of songs like “Uptown Girl” or “New York State of Mind” or anything of the like to be a fireable offense.