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A recent episode of “No Reservations” opens to French opera music. It’s somber and rubs off the record needle like crackling rice paper. The shot fills out with a dinner table, a glass of white wine and then pans to Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

Anthony Bourdain treks a sloping dirt road to meet his friend Lin—Bourdain’s always got friends, no matter where he’s at in the world—and passes coffee fields and flower patches so sponged with rain that their colors are even damp. He reflects on Vietnam’s history and French influence.

“The French were gone, leaving only some beautiful buildings, their wide, tree-lined boulevards, ice cream, pâté, the baguette … in a place where the past hangs in the air like mist.”

That’s it, right there; Bourdain is a chef, an eater and, most importantly, an observer. His understanding of food goes beyond just the crunchiness of suckling pig skin, or the spiciness of Vietnamese coleslaw. It’s everything else.

He gets that food—whether ice cream or suckling pig—is culture, and culture is food.

I’m making my way through Washtenaw County’s restaurants with this idea in mind. Think Bourdain with Midwest moxie; my name is Jessi Levine, and I’m stoked to start eating and writing.

Feel free to contact me at levineeats@gmail.com.

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