PEOPLE spent three days with Anthony Bourdain while he filmed an episode of Parts Unknown. Pick up the latest issue, on newsstands Friday, to get a closer look at his life on the road, his ultimate travel tips and secrets from the set.
Anthony Bourdain extinguishes his Marlboro Red before heading into a Popeyes in Lafayette, La., on a rainy February evening—his third trip to the fried-chicken chain in three days while in town to film the upcoming June 17 Cajun-themed episode of his CNN show Parts Unknown. Bourdain has been frequenting this spot—where he orders the mac and cheese, spicy fried chicken and biscuits and gravy with a fountain Dr. Pepper—because, as in every city he visits, he’s done his research.
The chef turned travel TV host knows that this particular Popeyes, a seven-minute walk from the DoubleTree Hilton hotel where he is staying, is the last remaining location in the U.S. with a buffet—and having just eaten his way through Bhutan and Hong Kong, he’s in an all-you-can-eat kind of mood for something different.
“To me, Popeyes is exotica,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “I was eating noodles and roast goose and Chinese food for the past 10 days. So to be back and eat some Americana food, well, I will weep with gratitude at macaroni and cheese.”
Indulging purely for pleasure is rare for Bourdain, 61. He and his tight-knit six-person film crew—many of whom have worked with him since his first foray into television in 2002 on Food Network’s A Cook’s Tour—spend about 10 days in each city seeking out indigenous cuisine and the locals who make it best. All of Bourdain’s waking hours, including his meals, are meticulously scheduled by a producer for the series, currently in its 11th season.
“They try not to beat up on me and not schedule two big eating and drinking scenes in one day,” says Bourdain, who will often fast off-camera to keep his appetite strong on-set.
While most days start early for Bourdain, on this morning in Lafayette, he has a “gloriously late call time” so he can down “two big jugs of coffee” for breakfast, retreat up to his hotel room to do some writing (he pens all his voiceovers for Parts Unknown), and sneak in a nap.
At 3 p.m. he meets his driver, who will take him to the episode’s biggest food scene, the fais-dodo, a Cajun dance party set under an enormous white tent in the backyard of a friend he met while filming a previous episode. Bourdain has researched the history of the fais-dodo and the people he’ll encounter there, but everything else that happens is spontaneous.
“We’ll provide enough backstory, but there’s no script,” says the episode’s producer Jeff Allen. “Tony just arms himself with information.”
The crew have been on the scene for hours to set up and gather extra footage so by the time Bourdain shows up, the party-goers have forgotten they’re being filmed. “Everyone should think of these crew guys as, …read more