The late Anthony Bourdain broke down barriers across the dinner table while adding to viewers' bucket-list destinations and must-have food experiences when he took his culinary show on the road, exposing viewers not only to different cultures but to the way people live and eat.
And he paved the way for a slew of other shows bridging travel and cuisine. None has yet ascended to his program's fame. But there have been some noteworthy contenders of late, including Netflix's much-buzzed-about "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," which stars the author of its eponymous cookbook, Samin Nosrat, a Chez Panisse-trained chef based in Berkeley, Calif.
The show is divided into four episodes, each of which takes place in a different country and explores one of the elements that Nosrat says gives delicious food its best qualities hence, the name of the book and show. For salt, she heads to Japan, for fat to Italy, for acid to Mexico and for heat to Berkeley. To learn about each element, she visits with a variety of locals in each country, including chefs as well as food-production facilities such as the Moshio Salt Factory in Japan and the Olio Roi olive orchard and factory in Italy.
And while it's difficult to quantify a television show's direct impact on tourism, especially over time, most believe that the "Bourdain effect" is alive and well. People want to visit the places these shows feature and enjoy for themselves the experiences they see come to life on the small screen.
"It's talked about," said Lisa Rogovin, founder of Edible Excursions based in San Francisco. "It's Samin and the show and food shows, Anthony Bourdain, things are definitely talked about. It is in the conversation. These people are known to a lot of our customers."
Edible Excursions runs a number of walking food tours in the San Francisco area, including several in Berkeley. While the impact of Nosrat's show isn't quantitative, it is buzzed about. Rogovin said she believes that travelers often bookmark destinations or experiences based on what they've seen on television or read about in magazines.
"There's no question about it that people, they're still tear-sheeting," she said. "They're still tearing things out of magazines and [they're putting things on their refrigerators], they're putting things on their vision boards or they're filing them on their computers in 'things I want to do' or their wish lists."
Media is such a motivator that Rogovin said she would even consider creating a tour around things featured on a show.
"We're a celebrity-obsessed society, and there are people who look at chefs as celebrities, 100%," she said.
Bourdain's name is still used in conjunction with culinary experiences. Pacific Delight Tours recently introduced Vietnam's Culinary Delights, a 12-day program with a "foodie-driven approach" that includes learning local culinary techniques in Hanoi with chef Anh Tuyet, who appeared on one of Bourdain's shows. He called Tuyet's grilled honey chicken one of the best Vietnamese dishes he had ever tasted.
Pacific Delight is marketing the tour as featuring a Bourdain-endorsed chef, something consumers respond well to, said Rachel Avila, general manager of the Americas for ICS Travel Group, the destination management company that worked with Pacific Delight on the tour.
Destination management company ICS Travel Group partnered with Pacific Delight Tours to overhaul Pacific Delight’s Southeast Asia programming. That begins with a new tour, Vietnam’s Culinary Delights, which will feature a visit with a chef praised by the late Anthony Bourdain, Anh Tuyet.
Avila agreed that media has an effect on travelers' decision-making. ICS has had requests from clients who saw things on TV, asking for things as specific as making a stop at a restaurant in Northern Vietnam that serves a particular type of fish.
"I do think that the combination of [culinary, television and travel] contribute to the overall interest in travel, which I think is good," Avila said. "World exposure is good, and this is certainly a creative way to accomplish that. For the travel industry, it's a great opportunity to tap into a market where demand is growing, and for the media, it's certainly a market to really invest into because the interest is there, and the audience is there, and they want that type of stuff."