Cool It, Mr. Bourdain
Posted Wednesday, October 12, 2011 5:34 PM
Chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain established himself more than a decade ago as the unlikely hero of the culinary world: With tongue placed firmly in cheek, Bourdain first burst onto the scene with an exceptionally well-written and colorful tale of behind-the-scenes life in restaurants in Kitchen Confidential.
The sardonic prose and rapier wit that had escalated his book into a hit also landed him a plum TV spot as world traveler in “A Cook’s Tour” on the Food Network. But bigger and better things were in store and the ever-ambitious Bourdain later jumped on board the Travel Channel as the host of “No Reservations,” dubbed by many fans as the best show on television.
But along the way, as his fame escalated and Bourdain made the leap from cult hero to mainstream giant, his formerly delightful cynicism and off-color humor turned sour, and, for lack of a better word, dull. Fans have come to expect his highly vocal and frequently profanity-laced criticism as a given, but lately, Bourdain has hit other culinary luminaries below the belt, and now the tide is turning. What were once considered clever jabs and witty repartee are now merely irritating, irate rants, similar to scratchings on a chalkboard.
The latest brouhaha involves legendary chef Paula Deen, who unwittingly became the subject of Bourdain’s wrath. In an August TV Guide interview, Bourdain referred to Deen as “the worst, most dangerous” person in America (as a result of Deen’s rich, high-caloric recipes) and added that “her food sucks.”
The match was lit and a roaring fire ensued as every blogger and news site reported on the Bourdain vs. Food Network star feud.
Deen appropriately responded that she had never even met Bourdain or cooked for him, and in an exclusive interview with the New York Post, shot back that “Bourdain needs to get a life….not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills….” Touche.
New York Times scribe (and former restaurant critic) Frank Bruni then wrote in a column titled “Unsavory Culinary Elitism” that “[Deen is] otherwise 100 percent justified in assailing the culinary aristocracy, to which even a self-styled bad boy like Bourdain belongs, for an often selective, judgmental and unforgiving worldview.”
But this is not the first time that Bourdain has foamed at the mouth about the shortcomings of others. Whereas Kitchen Confidential was a charming, informative and often humorous take on chefs and restaurateurs, Bourdain’s latest book, Medium Raw, seems more like an exercise in vengeance and (as Bruni described) elitism. The question remains, who died and made Anthony Bourdain the doyen of the culinary world?
In Medium Raw, he wields his sword against longtime GQ food critic, Alan Richman, with whom Bourdain has reportedly had an ongoing feud. In a chapter titled “Alan Richman is a Douchebag,” Bourdain attacks Richman for his many ills, with particular focus on Richman’s less-than-flattering description of the culinary scene in New Orleans (after Hurricane Katrina) and Richman’s sheer audacity to get even with Bourdain by writing a negative review of Les Halles, the New York restaurant with which Bourdain has a long-standing affiliation. Bourdain then sums up Richman by calling him an unspeakably crass word.
Though Richman has many faults and not everyone is a fan of his writings (he was clearly in the wrong for reviewing Les Halles simply to settle a score, and his magazine should have never published it), Bourdain still went too far.
In Medium Raw, Bourdain then backslaps his buddies, praising renowned chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andres (with whom he is good friends and who have made appearances on his TV show) while badmouthing practically everybody else.
Perhaps Bourdain has grown a little too big for his britches. It’s unlikely that his hit show on the Travel Channel will extend beyond five or six more seasons. Eventually, “Top Chef,” where he serves as the occasional judge, will also fall into the great dustbin of canceled TV shows. Though Bourdain recently landed a gig at the prestigious HarperCollins, where, according to Publishers Weekly, he will “be acquiring roughly three to five books annually,” it’s unclear how long his adventures in the refined world of publishing will last.
Bourdain would do well to focus his efforts on “No Reservations” and less on unleashing his wrath on lesser mortals who unknowingly offend him or cross his path. As the late, great Voltaire once said: “The best way to become boring is to say everything.”
Tara Taghizadeh is the Founding Editor & Publisher of Highbrow Magazine.