Not that his fans – or detractors – would expect otherwise, but a daylong layover in Montreal for Anthony Bourdain doesn’t entail a sedentary bus tour of the city, a quaint dinner with stuffy eggheads at some prissy resto past its prime, followed by a smart continental breakfast at a swishy hotel before heading back to the Big Apple.
Hell, the celebrated maverick chef/author/TV-star/boulevardier chowed down on a medium-fat smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s for a late breakfast the day he left town. And some 24 hours earlier, he did some major carbo-and-lox loading at Beauty’s. And let’s just say that he didn’t starve himself in between those meals. Nor was he ever parched.
Though shot last summer and already a YouTube hit, Bourdain’s The Layover makes its Montreal pit stop, Wednesday at 10 p.m. on the Travel+Escape channel. The 10-part TV series, which debuted on the Canadian specialty channel three weeks ago, covers hot spots from Amsterdam to Singapore to Bourdain’s New York. Unlike Bourdain’s hit show No Reservations, the focus of The Layover is cultural as well as culinary.
In what will no doubt enhance civic pride for many, Montreal is the sole Canadian city selected for the series. For good reason. As Bourdain so succinctly puts it at the beginning of the show: “Montreal is where the cool kids hang … Without Montreal, Canada would be nothing.”
Clearly, the reference is more food than finance related.
Bourdain doesn’t do cursory layovers. He soaks up the city. Quite literally in the case of Montreal.
“Montreal is a dangerous place for a chef,” Bourdain notes. That’s because our wild-man chef hooks up with three of my favourite city wild-men, Joe Beef’s Dave McMillan and Fred Morin and Au Pied de Cochon’s Martin Picard, and embarks on a liver-defying adventure of quasi-epic proportions.
But it’s not all hooch out of a brown paper bag in the back of a pickup truck – with Bourdain, Picard and Toqué! creator Normand Laprise. Tour-guide Bourdain takes it all in and captures the flavour of the city better than any outsider. In fact, better than almost any city insider.
Bourdain begins his odyssey by getting into the rhythm of the city at Beauty’s and the St. Viateur bagel factory and the Jean Talon Market. He rhapsodizes about our raw-milk cheeses with my fave fromagiste Gilles Jourdenais at the Atwater Market.
But Bourdain is not big on tam-tams on the mountain or surfing in the St. Lawrence. He also balks at hanging out in too-chill java joints in Mile End: “I’d rather dunk my head in boiling duck fat.”
Nor is he fussy about some of the pomp and circumstance he discovers in Old Montreal – particularly seeing folks in period military attire. This has him wondering why there is no “beaver steak” on the menu at Le Club Chasse et Pêche, although he does enjoy the octopus and duck there.