Each episode finds the best-selling author and globe-trotting bon vivant exploring the culinary wonders of some far-off city in the tight constraints of just two days. We spoke to the always opinionated former chef for our own Kitchen Confidential.
How did the new series come about?
We wanted to do something quick and challenging but quick was important. I'm shooting No Reservations most of the year so we were looking to see whether we could do a travelogue with an informative format but do it in a creative and gonzo way.
You're in and out of each location pretty quick, right?
I'm only there for 36 to 48 hours. It's a very concentrated and, frankly, very difficult couple of days. And often back-to-back. So, I'll show up in Singapore for two days then get right on the plane and fly to Hong Kong and do the same thing again.
How did you chose where you went in the episode dedicated to Montreal?
I'm fortunate enough to have good friends there who are really at the centre of the restaurant scene who are smart, funny, proud Montrealers and well-positioned to show me around. Montreal was a particularly easy show to set up because I knew right away who I wanted.
Has he heard Montreal's famed Shwartz's deli has been bought by Celine Dion?
"It's worrying, but it's better than going out of business. I'm a snob about these things and hoping that it doesn't become a franchise."
Like that won't happen. Will the Layover be coming to Toronto?
It's very likely that we will be doing Toronto in the next season.
Anybody on your radar?
Not really, but I'm sure we'll be reaching out to several local chefs.
Susur: check your e-mail! You've recently been given your own imprint at HarperCollins. How does that work?
I chose the books and we talk about how we're going to position them. So I'm headhunting, looking for books, signing up friends. I want to republish books that I love that have gone out of print. There's no particular genre or type of book that we'll be publishing, just good stuff. I'm not opposed to cookbooks but essays, memoirs, novels - all are welcome.
You're also one of the writers of Treme, the critically acclaimed HBO series set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Are you responsible for the story arch featuring Janette the chef?
Anything that happens to her I'm very involved with. We started near the end of the first season and continued through there. I think the third season comes out up there next fall."
Your Twitter attack of Paula Deen made headlines worldwide in February. Do you regret the media debacle?
Why would I regret it? I think if anything, it's become more shameful. I took a lot of shit for pointing out the obvious.
Back when we last spoke, you were fairly complimentary to the southern-fried TV chef.
She's a hard working woman. She's had a difficult life and she's been a great success. It's impossible not to respect her. But I find the food she's been foisting on America, particularly children in her children's cookbook, unconscionable.
Which is fine. We all make personal decisions on what we eat. But to know all along that you've been living with type 2 diabetes for five years and to continue to sell reckless excess as your brand strikes me in bad taste. And then only to announce it after you've made a six million dollar deal with a sketchy diabetes treatment...
Let's put it this way: it isn't something I would have done.
Your buddy David Chang of Momofuku infamy is about to open two new restaurants in Toronto this year. Any advice?
Far be it for me to tell David Chang how to run a restaurant. He's been doing it brilliantly for some time. His place in Sydney is a spectacular success. Not just that, but it's really, really good. I imagine he'll be very welcome in Toronto. He's a good guy and a good influence but, more importantly, he's a magnet for very creative people.