NEW YORK • It was a far cry from the bustling street scenes Anthony Bourdain routinely plunges into during his television travelogues: an empty, dimly lit pier building on the Hudson River at the edge of the meatpacking district.
But Bourdain, 59, the uncensored chef, author and peripatetic culinary traveller, walked through the echoing space the other day, talking non-stop and flinging his arms to point out this or that planned attraction: a steaming noodle stall, a farmers' market, a mezzanine with food stations and bars.
"Think of an Asian night market," he said. "Eating and drinking at midnight."
For more than a year, New York's culinary grapevine has been buzzing over Bourdain's broadly stated intention of opening a major food market somewhere in the city, but details have been scant. Now he has confirmed that he and his partners have sub-leased the main concourse and mezzanine of Pier 57, at 15th Street, one of the largest shipping piers on the Hudson.
There, in about two years, they plan to open Bourdain Market, with about 100 retail and wholesale food vendors from New York, the US and overseas, including fishmongers, butchers and bakers, and at least one full-service restaurant.
April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, who own the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and other restaurants, have already agreed to operate two prepared-food stalls.
But "the beating heart and soul" of the project, Bourdain said, will be a Singapore-style hawker market, with eating spaces and small stands selling street food from around the world - many of them mum-and- pop operations that he and his team plan to bring here.
If his vision pans out, visitors will be able to savour Geylang Claypot Rice as served in Singapore or tostadas slathered with uni by Sabina Bandera, whose La Guerrerense cart in Mexico, Bourdain contends is "the best in the world". He has struck deals with both vendors.
This is the food he has given star treatment for 10 years on TV series No Reservations, The Layover and the current Parts Unknown. His metamorphosis from chef to writer to entertainer to entrepreneur, he said, has been driven by his determination to bring people closer to the kind of kinetic experiences he shows on TV and to share the food he is passionate about.
"The way people eat has changed," he said. "They want to be at counters and communal tables. They want heat and funk and chicken wings that set their hair on fire. They're as quick to brag about the greatest $3 bowl of laksa as a dinner at Ducasse. That's what I want to create for New York, some place where I would want to eat."
Retail entrepreneur Stephen Werther, one of Bourdain's partners in the venture, said: "People want Tony's shows to come to life."
New York has had an explosion of megamarkets and food halls in the last five years, but this one promises to be different for several reasons, starting with its epic size: 155,000 sq ft. The project's risks are formidable, most notably the task of securing visas for small overseas vendors, then transporting and housing them here.
Still, some question whether the city, with its wealth of recent immigrants and their foods, needs to import new options.
Restaurant consultant Clark Wolf said: "It will be interesting to see how the cultures connect: hawkers from the Far East and workers from Queens. Is the end game to help immigrant hawkers everywhere or is it just an entertainment for wealthy New Yorkers?"
The project is envisioned as a public market. Such markets draw locals as well as tourists and serve as incubators for small businesses. They do not allow chain or franchise operations.
Pier 57, a shipping terminal built in 1952 and vacant since 2003, is owned by the city and the state, which have leased it to Youngwoo & Associates, a real estate developer, and RXR Realty. The Bourdain market has a binding agreement with the two.
Bourdain and Mr Werther have hired Roman & Williams, and Ace Hotel to design and oversee the US$60-million (S$85-million) installation. They have signed on Singapore hawker food K.F. Seetoh.
The project will have what Bourdain called "a wet market" where butchers break down whole animals, and fishmongers scale, cut and fillet. There will be culture and entertainment including karaoke, Asian pop shows and films.
The market will be open almost all day, the developers say they expect 20,000 visitors a day.
Bourdain said: "I'm concerned with the atmospherics, the authenticity, the smell and feel and sound of the place. Will wealthy and working class alike find something to love in common?
"These are the things I will be most concerned with. That and maintaining an absolute hammerlock on who is in the market - and, as important, who is not. Many of the relationships with vendors from abroad will be personal. I take those relationships seriously."
NEW YORK TIMES