Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why I Appreciate Anthony Bourdain (speaking in Brooklyn at the Howard Gilman Opera House)

Enjoying his own humor, Anthony Bourdain
I watched Anthony Bourdain's Emmy Award winning No Reservations on the Travel Channel for years, less frequently now because I am writing online most days. He is an insightful raconteur and feisty, fun, global, food culturalist, promoting the human factor, sharing food and hospitality on his travels. You can expect that his move to CNN will be edgier, more dynamic and perceptive. Bourdain has the chops to accomplish great things with the sophisticated team there. Hopefully, they will allow him to deliver, as he brings his legion of fans to their viewership. I may even turn on the TV now and then just to snoop around and see what he's up to. But most likely will stream it if I can.

So when I found out that Bourdain was landing in Brooklyn at the BAM Opera House to speak, I debated whether I should attend the more personal session (pricier) to share photos, drinks and snacks with this exceptional writer and traveler, or just warm a seat as close as I could get to the stage. I did the latter which I'm thrilled that I did, but I rue that I didn't do the former as well. It would have been a gas to take some photos and post them here with a few choice rubies thrown to me during a brief exchange from this Will Rogers of the food universe.

The show was one half hour getting started because the crowd was packed out, the only criticism of the evening which was more the fault of Ticketmaster, the producers and the Opera House venue creators, I think. Who knows, but our expectations were raised as was the suspense to see the man live and in person. At last, the announcer introduced him to warm applause and catcalls by his throng of twenty to thirty somethings. 

He jaunted out on stage, dark classes, signature black sweat shirt and jacket and designer Nikes or whatever brand they were. The audience still clapping didn't realize it. At first, I was like, "What? Oh no. It's an impersonator and Bourdain got stuck in air traffic over Mumbai." When I looked again, I nearly fainted, and those around me were like, "Not. Bourdain. That's his buddy."  Then the Bourdain twin took off the glasses and jacket and Voila!
Eric Ripert (Bourdain's doppelganger revealed)
Sure enough, it was ERIC RIPERT!!!! Yeah, Eric. Clever! Ripert introduced his close friend with the faintest whisp of a French accent and the man himself appeared, hugged Ripert and went to the podium shaking his head and laughing. And that was the beginning of a fabulous night. My love of Ripert and Le Bernardin has been chronicled on Technorati. I'm planning to go back in September. How can you not respect a chef who is so particular about food safety and quality that HE GEIGER COUNTERED THE FISH HE SERVED after the Japanese nuclear disaster. And if I know Ripert, he is still doing it! Supposedly, Thomas Keller of Per Se flies in fresh fish every day. Does HE geiger counter the fish? I didn't see an article to that effect and I am looking for it.

Ripert is awesome. Bourdain respects and shares Ripert's concerns and appreciates Ripert's phenomenal interest and artistry in developing his culinary lexicon and perfecting all aspects of his restaurant, Le Bernardin. Ripert's food palate is superb and he is a gentleman and a perceptive, temperate soul. Bourdain is sanguine, humorously ironic to the point of sardonic and in your face. The two make a great team of complements. It is obvious how and why they are friends.
Who better than a close buddy to introduce you to the Brooklyn crowd and cheer you on. (Eric Ripert and A. Bourdain)
For Bourdain, center stage is his playground. He started with  a humorous and scathing shishkabob against Paula Dean, putting up some slides of her outrageously unhealthful concoctions. One of them was her notorious 1200 + calorie balloon cheeseburger on a doughnut bun. He escalated his skewerings with other fare (I'm surprised he didn't lay bare her deep fried chocolate pudding cupcakes) and concluded with her deep fried stuffing. Bourdain quipped that her recipes in no way reflect wonderful Southern cooking and he's not sure what region they represent but the Dean marketing empire and her destiny to suck up every morsel in sight and spew out culinary pornographic excess, even though it may be at the expense of her fans' waistlines. He also quipped about the products she's endorsing, a mattress  and a new diabetes drug. Of course, Bourdain was quick to point out she was mum about her diabetes for 5 years until recently so that she could advertise the new Diabetes drug on her show, proving once again that exemplifying and peddling illness can be profitable.
Bourdain during the question and answer session. Eric Riper (left) sitting and listening.
 Bourdain is a talented showman. He covered topics from his show that resonated with his fans like what you have to go through to team up with him traveling the globe (i.e. leeches, food that's inedible, gastric problems, being the guinea pig of the unexpected). Of course he discussed getting high and sneaking in clips of a foreign DEA bust aiding agents in burning up the cocaine, despite freaking out the show advertisers and administrators. He emphasized that he learned when you go to grandmas for Thanksgiving and she serves you gravy and jellied cranberries from the cans along with over salted, unsavory turkey meat, you compliment her and go for second helpings because that's the way. You're a guest and you love her and receive her hospitality. Bourdain has been the recipient of more than one bacterial stomach bug on his travels, but he bucks up and tastes the dishes wherever he goes, from Dubai to the African bush. And it's cool. His riff was a humorous scraping up and drumming down of vegans and vegetarians who, when they visit your house, turn their nose up at your grilled meats and ask for grilled peppers. He discussed getting along with folks despite the fact that you have nothing in common with them culturally, folks with whom you couldn't be more diametrically opposed. In other words as a statistic or part of a generalized group, they are THE ENEMY. He showed clips of himself breaking bread with a strict muslim Wahabist, a red neck, red state Deliverance type and a KGB hit man: each of them "the nicest guys," illustrating that we can "get along" if we put down the rhetoric. It was a refreshing point; there is nothing like exploring cultural differences in foods to tear down walls.
Answering the question about food quality
 During the question and answer session, Bourdain shared some interesting thoughts. Regarding flying (he must be frequent flyer black status) he doesn't mind turbulence; it breaks up the boredom/monotony of a fight during which he doesn't eat and after watching 3 films becomes tiresome. He laughed that he enjoys looking at the panic and terror on the faces of fellow elite passengers who think it's over and their time has come. When asked whether he wants his daughter to eat responsibly (Bourdain shares the Obamas' concerns about  American obesity; that's why he hammers Dean) Bourdain replied that food quality, eating organic and fresh is important. He relayed he is not of the type that is pushing sushi on a  three-year-old. But he proudly recalled a wonderful story of his thrill when he saw his daughter's interest when the family was dining in Paris and she admired the height of the seafood tower of clams, shrimps, scallops, mussels, etc., with two lobsters perched prettily on top. Remembering her love of the lobster Sebastian in The Little Mermaid, she cried out, "Oh Sebastian," then grabbed the top lobster and picked it clean tearing at its flesh  (as only Bourdain can gesture and mimic).

Bourdain's take on American junk food gyrations? Great answer. Make the junk food look like the food court in Thailand or other Asian nations with food stalls run by entrepreneurs where you could sample Dim Sum, or roasted goose or duck, and other treats. These would be more nutritious and fewer calories than the typical garbage slid toward us. What he was discussing is happening outside of Eatley across from Madison Square in NYC. That is a wonderful food court of more upscale fare from various restaurants in the city from seafood to deli. It's a step in the right direction, but Bourdain was discussing more exotic offerings for more reasonable prices; not corporate, not industrial, not big business, but something equivalent in other countries as street food. And he's right. Expanding the palates and intellectual curiosity of Americans just might decrease their waistlines. Quality not quantity might be the right imperative. That and an unadulterated food supply that is not rife with additives, preservatives, GE/GM (genetically modified) produce and products, pink slime hamburgers, E coli-spinach and hamburger, salmonella eggs and antibiotic fed animals... would slim all of us down.

The inimitable Bourdain listening to another question.
Bourdain is about food, quality food. It's who we are and what we are as Americans. And if we are going to help one another, we should be fit and trim, as he quipped with a sober note. You want to live next to a neighbor who will quickly come to your aid rather than one who is unable to get off the couch because he/she are trailing 50-100 pounds of fat baggage front and back and need help from you to get around.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Thanks for the follow, and I'm thrilled to be yours!

Carole Di Tosti said...

Thanks Anne. Appreciate your following me. Great to share. ;-)

Amberr Meadows said...

I love Anthony Bourdain and his show. Travel Channel is one of my favs. You are so lucky!

Carole Di Tosti said...

I'm annoyed I didn't go to the pre show meet was pricier, but in retrospect, I would have been able to talk to him and I think Eric Ripert was with him bringing the treats from Le Bernardin. That is so annoying. I must have had a lapsed moment not to get the tickets. Thanks for sharing. I love Anthony Bourdain, also.