I'm not sure if I am able to write about chef/writer/traveler Anthony Bourdain
without sounding like I have my head up his ass. But if I didn't already think he was the coolest and most rock food “celebrity” out there before
I went to see him speak at the Keller Auditorium last Friday night, I totally do now.
Why Bourdain rules:
1.Because the man has paid his dues. After putting in nearly 30 years of (mostly) NYC kitchen time, he wrote an engaging and compelling memoir —Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
(2000). The book gave us a peek into restaurant kitchens, including a bunch of stuff we might have been happier not knowing. Yes, restaurants are often filthy holes helmed by a contemptuous lot.
This was followed up with A Cook's Tour
and No Reservations
, both detailing his extensive global travel and eating adventures.
2. Because he doesn't bullshit. When fed fermented shark in Iceland on his Travel Channel show, No Reservations
, he doesn't feign enjoyment. When a food tastes like diapers or toe jam, he lets you know about it.
3. Because he is a tall drink of water. He is lean, lanky and his lats and triceps are fucking cut for a 53-year old (or 23 year-old, for that matter). And he knows how to dress. Whether in jeans and a muscle T (gotta show off those sweet guns and ink) or cool, breezy linen pants and sandals, he always looks good. With all due respect to Batali, we will never, mercifully, see Tony rocking the safety-orange Crocs.
4. Because during his last visit to Portland he proclaimed: “If you can't find enjoyment in a bacon maple bar (from Voodoo Doughnuts), there's no hope for you.
5. Because he has, on recent episodes of No Reservations
, visited Alice Cooper, David Johansen and The Nuge
. I mean, come on!
After entering the stage to rock show cheers, Bourdain launched into a stream of spot-on, profanity-laced observations on food, eating, and fellow celebrity chefs. Starting with his impatience for the highly revered Alice Waters, he posited: “Mother of Slow Food or dangerous demagogue?”—questioning the danger and ultimate cost of focusing entirely on food's provenance rather than preparation.
Bourdain raised the point that a cooking celebrity need not be an actual chef in order to “be good for the world.”
“Julia Child was not a chef, but she changed the world and raised the bar on how America cooked and ate.” Sandra Lee (host of The Food Network's Semi-Homemade
)…not so much. Other non-chefs making the “good for the world” cut included Ina Garten, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis.
Perhaps most resonant with the audience was Bourdain's stance on vegetarianism, particularly with regard to world travel. Applying the “grandma theory,” he stressed that snubbing meat when a guest in somebody's home is “just fuckin' rude!”
“Fuck your principles, you're in my house. If grandma makes shitty food, you smile and eat it!”
Following the hour-long address was another hour of Q & A, the level of pertinence and originality of the questions sometimes falling short. When asked the inevitable and predictable what have you eaten during your visit to Portland? Have you been able to taste our locally-raised lamb and artisan cheeses, Bourdain promptly shot back: “If I get some nuts out of the mini bar, I'll be doing good.”
He actually did much better than that when an adoring fan presented him with a bag containing his long-lost lover, the Voodoo bacon maple bar. Supposing the grandma theory goes both ways, I will assume Bourdain would have accepted a live, buckwheat-crusted, cashew cheese-topped pizza with similar gusto and grace.
Image of Anthony Bourdain courtesy of www.travelchannel.com.