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Anthony Bourdain Expands Territory places in ‘Parts Unknown’

Atlanta — Last year, Anthony Bourdain was cruising along with two shows on the Travel Channel when CNN gave him a call.

“It was a very surprising and flattering call,” Bourdain said last week.

What was CNN able to offer that Travel Channel couldn’t? Executives enticed him by providing him access to places rarely visited by American TV cameras, such as the Congo and Libya.

“I’m pretty sure if I said I wanted to do a show in Kabul (in Afghanistan), they could work it out,” he said.

Dubbed Parts Unknown, his show, which debuted Sunday at 9 p.m., is structured loosely, with the ever curious, sharply witty Bourdain exploring local customs and people, with food as his focal point.

“Our rule No. 1,” Bourdain said, “is ‘How do we do something different from what we did last time, even if it’s wildly successful?’ Sowing confusion is our primary objective.” The first episode was in Myanmar, where the country’s military leadership has recently loosened the reins.

“If we had come a year earlier,” Bourdain said, “we would have been deported. Almost overnight, people there were free to say what they want. Press restrictions had been lifted. That was an extraordinary thing to witness.”

The second episode, set to air April 21, is much closer to home: Koreatown, a 3-square-mile neighborhood in Los Angeles. He’s friends with Roy Choi, who helped launch the food truck revolution, and graffiti artist David Choe. Both guide him throughout the episode. They told him how the 1992 L.A. riots decimated Koreatown and how the area has evolved since then in not necessarily predictable ways.

Bourdain, who began his career as a chef and broke through the pop culture consciousness with his best-selling 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, has become a TV fixture, appearing as a guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and earlier this year as a regular judge on ABC’s The Taste. His Travel Channel show No Reservations won two Emmys.

“I’m absolutely not a journalist,” he said. “That would be delusional. It’s also constraining. I’m an essayist. These are very personal stories. They are very subjective. I have no need to be fair and balanced.”

The show is an effort by CNN to stretch its wings.

Parts Unknown is created by an outside production company and not CNN staff, which had not been a common occurrence. CNN last year, before new President Jeff Zucker came along, began competing for shows with networks such as NatGeo, History and A&E to bolster weekend programming. (MSNBC already does so with its Lockup series.)