An evening with Tony

Dateline: Mon 04 Oct 2010

and Eric.

That's Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert, the former being a total, five-star phenom in the foodie world and the latter being a mild-mannered big-swinging-star on TV's "Top Chef." This pair of greying gourmands came to Clowes Hall at Butler University last Thursday, to rap with one another about the food industry and eating weird things. At the heart of it, they each helped explain, tho not directly or in so many words, why food and cooking are now such American obsessions.

First, the crowd. The joint was packed, to the gills. We sat in the second tier; seats were $30 each. On the stage floor, people paid $100 for a chance to gaze at the gods.

And laugh. This audience of young and middle-aged but mostly young laughed -- uproariously -- even when what Tony or Eric said was only mildly amusing or sometimes, not even especiallly funny. Clearly, it's a love affair, first stage, everythiing bubbly and intoxicating.

Tony Bourdain is the big draw. People read his book, "KItchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," published in 2000, and fell in love with his brashness, his humor and his lifestyle excesses (drugs, serious drugs). Now he's got a TV show, "No Reservations," on the Travel Channel, of which I have seen about 5 minutes (he ate a big gnarly snakefish in Bangkok). He also has two other books, at least, sounding similar themes.

Anyhow, here's what was said:

These guys hate MickeyD's. "The clown is evil," said Ripert, in that sly French accent, which makes him even funnier.

"You could wrap liver and broccoli in McDonald's wrappers, and kids would probably eat it," suggested Bourdain (I paraphrase).

Bourdain also had a unique way to wean kiddies off chicken tenders et al: Start a talking campaign about a little kid who walked into McDonald's to get his Happy Meal, then disappeared. His torso was found a week later in a ditch a couple blocks from McDonald's.

The boys were drinking Sunking beer on stage. This prompted Pizzology owner and chef Neal Brown to ask if beer pairings were the next big thing. (Instead of fancy wine, you have beer with your gourmet meal). In a word, no.

A rather large deal was made of slamming Alice Waters, the Berkely, cowboy-boots wearing food nazi of freshness; she wants the nation's schoolchildren to eat nothing but organically grown stuff. "I'd rather they learned how to read," said Bourdain, adding that there's nothing wrong with a meal of meatloaf and potatoes for the little sods.

Olive Garden and Chili's and chains in general came in for a blistering. This is par for the course.

Tony's favorite countries for food are Spain, Vietnam and Japan. He could die happily in Italy, tho, like Vito Corleone in "The Godfather."

The two share an ethic for utilizing what you kill; "anybody can grill a sirloin steak, the trick is to use the other parts of the animal," and show respect for the life that animal has given up. Oxtail soup, anyone?

Anyhow, here's the main point: the Food Phenom is alive and well. People were shouting from the balconies, lining up to ask the guys precious questions. It's fun, it's a distraction and it's produced a fair number of jobs for aimless youth (I think both Bourdain and Ripert probably were that, once upon a time). Their success is seen as potentially OUR success, meaning that new generation of cooks, restaurant owners and, yes, even dish washers (how Tony started in the biz). That's cool.

And  maybe, just maybe, food really is comfort. These are hard times, globally, politically, financially; there's less of the American Dream to go 'round than a piece of apple/cranberry/pear pie, with a caramel glaze. Maybe food is something we really can control, or at least get our heads around. Hence its appeal.

In finale, a couple quotes from the net from Tony, that bear sharing. These will help give you the flavor of the man and the event:

“Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic.”

"Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It's healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I've worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold. Oh, I'll accommodate them, I'll rummage around for something to feed them, for a 'vegetarian plate', if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine." From Kitchen Confidential, p. 70

Bon apetit. And thanks to Susan for the tickets.


Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Superb post.

As for comfort: nothing relaxes me more than laboring over a good meal, and watching others enjoy it. Heaven on earth.

Now, the cleanup: that's another story.

2010-10-05 10:24:28

ruthholl [Member] said:

There was a great "For Better or Worse" comic strip on that subject years ago, TTT. Ellie is in the kitchen, baking, stirring, cooking, roasting; she sets this gorgeous table. The presentation is extraordinary; family sits down and WOOSH it is all gobbled and gone in a matter of minutes. She is left with greasy dishes and a very sour mood. Ay yi yi yi yi.
Maybe this is why she ended up divorced (altho the husband ended the marriage).
I think the bigger point is what you said: food is complicated, and what we eat and how we serve it tells a lot about out culture.
Do you like Ruthie Reichel's books on her years as a restaurant critic for NYT? If not read, rush out and do so. Plus she has recipes and hilarious stories about her crazy, mold-loving mom, who almost poisoned everyone...

2010-10-05 11:32:18

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I will buy a book of Ruthie's, Ruthie.

Finishing Ronald Reagan's diaries now. A wretched president, policy-wise, but his personally-written notes are fascinating. Can't put it down.

And then, it's Woodward's new book, then...well, I'll get to Ruthie's tome before the holidays. Sounds great.

The last of the tomatoes are coming up tonight. What I don't eat, I'll turn into soup. Or salsa.

2010-10-05 13:58:34

hendy [Member] said:

I watch Bourdain's show, even though he's the anti-Christ of vegetarians. I've learned some recipes, and watched some exotic locales. He's entertaining.

More onerous, to me-- a vegetarian-- is that he has no desire to even understand why people don't eat meat. In my case it's non-violence. I'm not orthodox. I eat fish now and then, but not regularly. Animals are my friends, not my diet.

Ah if he would get a grip, rather than wag it in the face that don't believe as he does.

2010-10-06 08:24:14

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Oh, Hendy! You eat insects, bacteria, plants -- and all of us have feelings, you specie-ist!

2010-10-07 13:29:46

whosear [Member] said:

Hendy, I respect your reasons to be a my perspective, there are three reasons to be vegetarian: healthier, detest killng of animals, and humans are equal to animals. I respect those whose reasons are the formers, but fear those of the latter.

TTT...Policies in Latin America were awful, but regarding Afghanistan, Russia, communism et al, Reagan was on target. His attitude took us out of the recession.

Now, his acolytes of today...who do not fully look at the good, the bad and the ugly...Hannities et al...God save us.

Anyway back to Tony...he offers commentary, to take or to leave, and that is what I respect about him.

2010-10-07 21:42:04

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