What Bourdain has managed to do is recruit the local cuisine and the people who eat, prepare and celebrate it as guides and storytellers, helping sharpen our sense of place. After all, food is universally necessary, commonly beloved.
"There are a lot of great drinking towns in this world," says veteran traveler Anthony Bourdain. "For me, if I have a bar epiphany, it's usually about four o'clock in the afternoon, before the evening crowd comes in.
Will a CNN audience appreciate Bourdain's drunken, obscenity-laced observations? Will he still be interesting after CNN files down his rough edges? Whose cable career arc will he more closely emulate, Jimmy Kimmel's or Craig Kilborn's? It hardly matters.