Being the president of the United States means keeping some things under wraps—you know, like, nuclear missile codes, what really goes on at Area 51, and an upcoming appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s travel series Parts Unknown.
In an interview with Politico this week, Bourdain revealed that President Barack Obama’s upcoming cameo on the eighth season of Parts Unknown—premiering September 25—was such a secret that not even CNN knew about it. Though the chef has shared small details about the sit-down in the past—the president’s skill with chopsticks, and his self-professed status an “Asiaphile”—this is one of the first times Bourdain has spoken at length about what went into interviewing the commander-in-chief.
“We had been talking for nearly a year. It was very, very closely held,” Bourdain told Politico. “CNN did not know, the camera people did not know. Only a very tight group at [production company] Zero Point Zero, my partners, me and very few people at the White House. It was very closely held.”
The idea to have Obama share a meal with Bourdain on the popular series came from the White House, and the administration wanted things kept hush hush.
Earlier this summer, photos surfaced of Bourdain and Obama sharing plates of bún cha—a Vietnamese pork and noodle dish— at a small restaurant in Hanoi. The duo sat on slow, plastic stools and sipped cold beer together. All in all, the meal cost $6 and Bourdain picked up the check.
Still, Bourdain admits that he was initially skeptical when approached about the segment, fearing that the show would become a platform for political talking points. Instead, he was relieved to find that Obama just wanted to slurp some noodles and chew the proverbial fat.
“This was not a formal interview; I am not a journalist,” Bourdain said. “I spoke to him as a Southeast Asia enthusiast to a fellow Southeast Asia enthusiast. And I spoke to him as some random knucklehead who watches the news like everyone else, and I spoke to him as the father of a little girl to another father of two daughters, who has access to a hell of a lot more information than I will ever have.”
In the end, Bourdain and Obama wound up debating whether ketchup belongs on hot dogs (though the White House has remained conspicuously silent when it comes to the hot dogs controversial status as a sandwich).
“He gave me a surprisingly undiplomatic answer,” Bourdain said. "He is clearly not running for office.”