His Arrival Was Inevitable
By David S. Lewis
It was inevitable that Anthony Bourdain would turn up in Livingston, given the town’s peculiar notoriety, a place name that somehow rolls from the tongues of cognoscenti from Buffalo to Bangkok. For those in doubt, this is no exaggeration. Well, maybe the Bangkok part is,
though I seem to recall a guy in Phuket with a satay stand reminiscing about good times at the Murray Bar. And so Bourdain’s visit seems not only appropriate but overdue. The Travel Channel star, host of the hit food and travel show No Reservations, has touched down in just about every other funky, off beat locale across the globe, so why not Livingston, Montana?
|Bourdain at the Old SaloonEmigrant, Montana|
Bourdain spent a good 7 days in and around town in late May while headquartered at the Murray Hotel, having also visited and filmed
near Big Timber and at the Old Saloon in Emigrant. Details initially seemed hard to come by given agreements signed by participants in which they vowed not to divulge information about the upcoming show, scheduled to air in late August or early September.
The broadcast date is uncertain, though, possibly as late as early next year. We did manage though to pierce the veil and even catch up with Bourdain himself, a Jersey native, and a guy whose aura of celebrity quickly disappears due to his casual and easy nature. Bourdain is not only a world traveler, author, and famous chef, he’s a regular guy who seems to appreciate life and all that makes it worth living, especially people (though Rachel Ray fails to earn his respect, as Bourdain fans surely know). Hanging out on our streets and in our bars, tasting the varieties of food available here, traditional and nouveau, conversing with anyone who cared to approach him, he brought
to Montana the part of New Jersey we really don’t mind-easygoing charm, boyishness, and a kind manner.
|Bourdain with renowned chef SugiartiEmigrant, Montana|
If that sounds a bit like the news media reporting on Barack Obama, forgive me-my wife and I happen to be No Reservations fans, and so you may find a touch of advocacy journalism laced through this piece. A chef and world traveler herself, she got me hooked on the show about a year ago. In that time Bourdain has taken us all over the globe-his exploits in Indonesia come to mind, a place he could have called home after having gone bamboo as an expatriate, as he put it, in the footsteps of drop outs from western civilization before him.
Indonesia is my wife’s home, and so she and Tony had something to talk about when they met. “I love your country,” he told her. He also
let it be known (we caught up with him at the Old Saloon in Emigrant) that he’s fond of Montana. “I love it here,” he said to a local at the saloon. “I’ve got friends here.”
I had been warned about the attempts to keep a lid on details about the show, agreements that nothing be revealed about Bourdain’s
adventures until after the show airs, and the Travel Channel remained incommunicado as we requested information. So I had assumed meeting Tony and talking would turn into a hassle, but no such thing occurred. Turns out I had it all wrong, and Tony’s not a celebrity after all, just a guy from New Jersey who appre-ciates good food, beer, and people.
Due to my absence from local bars of late, where journalists learn much of what they report, I didn’t hear No Reservations was filming in Livingston until May 22, after Bourdain had been in town a few days. Fate must have drawn me into the Old Saloon in Emigrant that
Friday evening, when I overheard the news, then learned of Bourdain’s filming the day before at the Murray Bar in Livingston and 2nd Street Bistro, where he dined. Friday night he turned up at the Livingston Bar & Grill for Happy Hour, then dined with staff.
Earlier in the week he spent time at Pinky’s Cafe and filmed at the Livingston Depot. In that Bourdain’s gig involves food and culture, he spent Saturday at the Lower Deer Creek Ranch near Big Timber, a Jersey boy dabbling in cowboy life, and then was off to the Old Saloon on Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day when we drove down to meet him. We had in the meantime asked Karen Searle at Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations, which handles bookings for Lower Deer Creek Ranch, and Susan Metcalf of the ranch itself, to keep us posted on Bourdain’s visit, but we ran into some interference.
“By now you probably know that we are limited on what we can say or do,” Searle told us, in regard to Tony’s stay. “Susan and I look forward to the airing of the show,” she went on to
say, “when [Bourdain] will give his viewers a taste, a sense of what he experienced when he was a guest of the Lower Deer Creek Ranch….I
will say that he and his crew were a lot of fun whether on or off camera. And as a chef, while Tony was very interested to learn about the ranching way of life, he arrived already knowing plenty about what he looks for in a good rib steak. He appreciated the hospitality, the hard work it takes to stay in the ranching business,
and the breathtaking beauty that we Montanans sometimes take for granted.
“It was an adventure.” Susan Metcalf, forwarding an advance copy of a blog she was preparing on Bourdain’s visit, weighed in this way: “Well, I promised that if we survived the Travel Channel’s visit last weekend, I would write about it this week. It turns out that a
several page contract prevents me from doing that until after the show airs. So, in late August or early September, I can legally write
about my vague memories of cooking and writing with a celebrity chef.”
Bourdain, though, when it came to keeping a lid on things, had no reservations. At the Old Saloon he spoke casually about his exploits
at the ranch, about cooking wild birds, eating “a lot of game,” that Lower Deer Creek is a working ranch (with bunkhouses for visiting
guests), that he enjoyed the place, and that he likes Montana quite a bit-turning to someone at the bar and asking, “Do you realize how
good you’ve got it here?”
For a guy who’s been everywhere on earth, that was a stark admission, though formed as a question, one prompted by the crystal-line beauty of that morning. Two days prior drenching rains soaked Paradise Valley, turning it green and lush. Plenty of snow still capped Emigrant Peak and the Absarokas, and the muddy, swollen Yellowstone brimmed with run off. That bright clear day could not have rendered a more flattering snapshot of Montana, and it’s one Bourdain takes
with him (along with others). I didn’t have the heart, there at the Old Saloon, to speak of winter and the wind, or of the high semi
desert that the valley will become in a matter of weeks when the rains cease and the sun’s heat bakes the landscape.
During the course of our brief conversation, Tony (everyone calls him that) revealed qualities that go over well in Montana. He arrived at the saloon seemingly alone. I found him sitting by himself on the porch, a crew surely in tow somewhere, but he obviously does not think of himself as a celebrity, though he is immensely successful, a best selling author, a Travel Channel host, and a face known worldwide after five years on No Reservations. His interests though seem to be exactly those he displays on his show-food, life, travel, people. We talked a while, he met my wife, then went inside at 10:30 a.m for a beer and breakfast.
He sat with a fellow from the valley who also drank a beer, and he chatted with the staff. Someone asked about places he likes, and he mentioned Vietnam and New Zealand. Given the beer at breakfast, and his casual manner, I could see that the Tony Bourdain talking at the bar was the exact same guy as Anthony Bourdain from No Reservations. Friendly, no pretense, calm and curious. And with a midmorning beer or two, he could almost pass
for a Montanan.