Interview: Anthony Bourdain on Craftspeople, Whisky, and The Beauty Of Classic Pubs


Badass extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain recently teamed up with The Balvenie to curate the 2015 Rare Craft collection, which brings five remarkable craftspeople (a blacksmith, watchmaker, letter press, stone carver, and cooper) together to showcase their creative process, personal stories and finished crafts like never before.

The Manual sat down with Bourdain to talk about these craftspeople, why he loves them, and about how he takes his scotch.

Can you tell me how this collaboration came about? 

They reached out to me and talked about the project and it sounded intriguing to me. It sounded great because it celebrated the kinds of people I believe in and the kind of work that I think we need more of. [The Balvenie] is also a brand I have respect for and it’s a product I drink.

You’ve been practically everywhere and met countless many people. What is it like for you to consistently meet new people who are performing works of “magic” that is so often obscured by the overarching craft trend, as you said in the video series?

I’m in awe of them. These are people who more often than not have sacrificed a lot and have dedicated themselves in very precise areas in ways that I never did. There’s a sense of awe and wonder and fascination. Of course, there’s also a great deal to admire about them.

What impressed you most about the craftspeople you met for this collection?

They’re doing such a hard thing—unnecessarily and against the grain. The way we do business in the world today tells us that conventional wisdom is to do things as quickly, cheaply, and efficiently as possible and to aim for the middle. In almost every case, these are craftspeople that are making things unnecessarily well at unnecessary expense and almost always undertaken with great difficulty.

I really admire that, whether its food, or a chest of drawers, or a beautiful knife or watch, it’s an extraordinary thing to see someone do the very best they can and refuse to make any compromises.

When you sat and talked with the craftsmen at the distillery, one of them mentioned drinking whisky before a meal because it primes the mouth. It struck me as symbolic of much of what you were getting at while talking to these various people. How can drinking The Balvenie, which is itself handcrafted, act as a transition/segue into exploring the other hand-crafted arts out there in the world?

I think it’s a wise and very cool decision on the part of The Balvenie because they’ve recognized what they’re looking for in others is something they’ve been practicing themselves for some time—I think there’s a very straight line from one to the other, especially when you’ve been to the distillery. It’s very clear that like the crafts people we are celebrating in the Rare Craft Collection, they too are and always have been making things in that old school, very slow, very careful way—often with the same people. I’ve met families who’ve been working with the company for generations, performing skills and tasks that really aren’t taught anymore. It’s incredible.

Related: Friar John Cor: Father of Scotch Whisky

How do you drink your Balvenie whisky? Do you drink it straight or do you have a particular cocktail?

I do not mix. When I drink a fine Scottish whisky, I am not mixing it in a cocktail. If it’s a particularly high-proof, sometimes I will throw a rock in—a lot of my Scottish friends will disagree violently with me on that—but I will throw one cube of ice in because it helps the whisky to bloom a little. It very much depends on which whisky. Generally speaking, straight. Sometimes, though, a small rock.

Do you have a favorite expression in The Balvenie product line?

I like the 21-year-old. I think it was a daring venture that was counterintuitive and risky, but the fact is that it came out so well. I like to see high risk, high reward.

When you’re on the road, do you have favorite spots to drink?

It depends. I don’t really go out and party, but to drink at an old school pub in Glasgow or Edinburgh or Dublin is a beautiful thing. I like an old bar in the late afternoon.

What else do you have in the works right now?

I have the big, international food market coming at Pier 57 in New York in the next couple of years, which we’re working very hard on.