Checking in On Bourdain

By Karen

Even though I stopped logging regular reports on Anthony Bourdain, I’ve been casually keeping tabs. I’ll confess I miss our old debates about Tony, so here’s some dish on what I’ve been seeing lately and I invite anyone to weigh in.

First, a round of applause to Tony, who seems to be pulling through his hair gel phase. His mane seems to be slowly returning to its original lushness.

I adored No Reservations in Naples. Maybe it’s because I can relate to the food, or maybe it’s Tony’s love for all things Italian, but his episodes in Italy are always sumptuous and highly rewatchable. And, of course, it’s a joy whenever Ottavia shows up and takes him down a few pegs, which she did when he and his crew crashed a wedding they happened upon. It was truly a gauche move, even for Vic Chanko.

The El Bulli episode? Meh. Yes, I know. The end of a culinary era. I should be wearing black. However, watching Bourdain & Friends consume the highlights of 52 one- or two-bite courses did nothing for me, although the sheer bizarreness and utter impracticality of what was shown was impressive and, I’m sure, delicious.

There’s no doubt Ferran Adria and David Chang are geniuses at what they do. But I think their notion of dining out is akin to a theater producer bankrolling some full-scale, avant garde musical and allowing only one row of seats for an audience. He sells a dozen tickets per performance, max, and eventually everyone’s claiming he’s got the hottest thing on Broadway and keeps the show “sold out” forever. But do I want to keep hearing about how wonderful, yet impossibly exclusive, it is? No.

On August 4, Tony visited the Colbert Report and didn’t quite seem to be getting the joke, playing straight his usual schtick on the evils of restaurant chains. After spending 28 years in restaurant kitchens, he said he now “boils with rage” at chains like Chili’s or Applebee’s, and claimed Cinnabon to be the most “grosteque” thing ever.

Was he implying he was cooking haute cuisine all that time? We know better.

Yeah, it’s a crying shame all Americans can’t hop a plane on someone else’s dime to grab a fresh bowl of pho in Hanoi or a pizza in Napoli when we want a nosh.

Colbert managed to make Bourdain sound even more elitist and out of touch by asking Tony to describe the rite of eating ortolon whole, as he described in the opening of Medium Raw.

On August 5, Tony appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, and food consequently got shoe-horned into the political discussion. As the show wrapped up, Maher thanked “Arthur Bourdain” for being there.

The camera caught Tony’s nonplussed reaction. Sorry, I couldn’t find that bit anywhere online.

This clip is from the “Overtime” segment without Maher, where the guests discuss viewer questions. I’m guessing Maher apologized, saying he meant “author Anthony Bourdain” but it got jumbled.

http://www.hbo.com/bin/hboPlayerV2.swf?vid=1199897

Ep. 223: August 5, 2011 – Overtime

Tony’s a smart guy, and he’s branching out beyond food TV. I just wish he’d tap into his his worldly experience and talk about things other than food.

Technical PS: I’ve given you the links to the videos two ways, in the text and separately, as a WordPress experiment just to see how “embedding” from those sites would work.

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21 Responses to Checking in On Bourdain

  1. adele says:

    Well, last week was a big media week for AB, so I’m glad you posted on it. The Colbert appearance left me a little cold, but then the segment was very short. I am still chuckling over Colbert’s names (from an earlier segment) for an Arab family — Suq Madiq and Munchma Cuchi. Juvenile, I know.

    As for the Maher show, I thought Tony held his own and got off some good lines (to Maher’s surprise, I thought) right up until the unfortunate name gaffe. When I saw that he was scheduled for Real Time, I hoped AB would be on the panel, since he’d have a chance to get away from food talk — oh well, maybe next time, if Maher can remember his name.

    I liked the El Bulii show, especially for the sense of camaraderie among Tony, Ferran Adria, Albert Adria and Jose Andres; I found the food interesting (although it’s hard to think of any food as earth shaking), and I thought the scenes on the Costa Brava were gorgeous. I loved the Naples show, too. It’s always good to see Ottavia, and you’re right, Tony is always so happy to be in Italy that it’s contagious. I thought of him this weekend when I made a Neapolitan gravy (lots of meat) to serve on lasagna. Aside from meatballs and sausage, I put a teeny-tiny pork roast in the tomato sauce and served that separately. That pork was so good that people were actually moaning when they tasted it.

  2. catsworking says:

    One thing I noticed when Tony was in Naples was that nobody was calling tomato sauce “gravy.” Nobody on the Italian side of my family ever did, either. But my grandmother would throw whatever meat she had in the house into the sauce, and it never failed to improve both.

    I was laughing at Colbert’s Arab names myself. I’m waiting for Tony to show up on The Daily Show. That’s where he belongs. I’m amazed he’s never done it (at least, I don’t think he has). Jon Stewart would definitely bring out the funny Tony.

    When I was watching that video of “Overtime” on Maher, I thought it was kind of sad that Tony was the only one sitting at the table with a book — his book. Like he was supposed to put in his own plug for it. I wonder what that was about?

  3. adele says:

    My Italian relatives (my mother’s sister married a Calabrese Italian) never used the term “gravy” either for sauce, no matter how much meat was in it. The recipe I made was called “Neapolitan Sunday Gravy.” In Chicago you rarely hear the term “gravy,” although I have an Italian friend, whose wife’s family (also Italian and born in Chicago) does call tomato sauce with meat gravy. I’m sure Morgan will check in, but I contend that “gravy” is East Coast, but maybe not Massachusetts — unless it has to do with which part of the boot one hails from.

  4. MorganLF says:

    Bill Maher was marking his territory, Jersey style. Here is how it played out: Tony came out all smiles and Maher who is one of the most well-read up-to-date informed and scathingly funny analysts on television, was loaded for bear. Tony twice made the comment that they were both Jersey boys the same age but Bill seemed to brush over that. He mentioned that his staff was all excited that Tony was a guest. You can best believe Maher, who fancies himself as quite the “swordsman” is surrounded by a bunch of attractive ladies. It must have piqued him that Bourdain had them all worked up.

    Bill is smart and witty, but a meeskite of the highest order. Thanking “Arthur” Bourdain was a deliberate slight. He introduced Tony as a “chef and bad boy” for a guy so informed, categorizing Bourdain as he did was a big “tell”.

    Maher admitted to learning a lot about world politics by watching Tony intermingling with local cultures on No Res and also admitted he’s read “Medium Raw” when he asked Tony about patronized whores (he should know- Maher has been linked with some of Hollywood’s most notorious). Did he not read the rest of the book? Why not introduce Bourdain as writer, travel-host, and lecturer?

    Anyway, I thought Tony was disarmingly nice and quite respectful of Maher’s position as host and made no attempt at grandstanding. Maher was threatened and a bit dismissive and it showed. He has a staff of writers and his shit is fucking hilarious, but come on whose shoes would you rather have under your bed?

    PS: Websters defines any sauce made with meat as gravy also the italian sugo translates to gravy so sugo pomodoro is….

  5. Zappa says:

    Blasphemy!! Cinnabon is delicious! Ive not been to one in years,but it was always worth the day of starvation prior to going there! This from a guy who loves Kraft mac and cheese from a box? (another culinary masterpiece)

    One catty *heehee* PS on my part-I happened to look at my twitter account for the first time in a short forever Ottavia is guilty of over tweeting…seriously,put the smartphone down and back away slowly…its not THAT interesting

    ZM

  6. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I think that is a brilliant analysis of what was going on between the lines there. I rarely watch Bill Maher, so I wasn’t catching all the subtext, but what you’re saying makes perfect sense. He may be funny, but he’s no Jon Stewart, and what a douchebag. Why do that to one of your own guests? Especially when he’s on your side going in?

    Tony was unfailingly polite, as he always is for these things. I get the feeling sometimes that he’s inwardly pinching himself, not quite believing that he’s really talking to Leno or Maher or whomever. For all the talk around the Net about him being an arrogant jerk, I never see that in him when he’s out of his comfort zone doing any type of appearance. If anything, he’s surprisingly humble and “normal.”

    I thought Colbert really fucked up when he mentioned that Tony is “chef at large for Les Halles.” Seemed like a rank rookie mistake for his people to make. I can’t imagine that Bourdain would have given him that info to use.

    What I find really weird about Tony’s guest appearances is that the hosts always play up the chef stuff in the intro and then seem to mention as an afterthought, “Oh, yeah, and he has this show on Travel Channel.” He really needs to turn that around, because he’s beyond has-been as a chef, even if he does put on the whites and hang around kitchens occasionally for TV.

    ZM, I’m with you. I haven’t had a Cinnabon in ages, but I think they are DELISH! I love smelling them in the mall. And just the other day I ate a whole box of Kraft M&C for lunch. Four servings (or whatever the side of the box says) my ass. Really. Right to my ass. That’s where it went.

    And last week, I had a gourmet Angus McBurger from You-Know-Where. I eat like an American, dammit, and I’m proud to say it. Those places keep jobs in America and honest Americans working (albeit for minimum wage) so we should support them.

    We hadn’t checked Twitter in about 4 days and even though we only follow about 30 accounts, were amazed by the sheer volume of what was out there. The Bourdains have become a pair of tweeting fiends. Oh, and thanks to Adele (the person), I just accidentally copy-tweeted Bourdain on a couple without thinking about it. I’ve never tweeted him before. I leave 99.9% of the tweeting to the cats. They find it a refreshing break from meowing.

  7. MorganLF says:

    I have not seen Colbert yet ,but I beleive you are exactly correct sometimes Tony must say to himself man how the fuck did I get here?

    Maher was a douche but Tony wisely played it correct, I am sure he watches the show, and Bill Maher is no one you wanna fuck with. He is rapier quick very informed, but he did date “Super Head” (google it).

    Tony was gracious and on point, I think the clutching the book thing was a bit weird and probably the point of the appearance was to promote the book, but Maher was too busy marking territory against a hotter, cooler Silverback.

    BTW Cinnabon is a sense remembered. When I traveled a lot for a living there was always the luxeness of a Cinnabon at the airport to look forward to, have not had one for years but yummmm and Kraft Mac & cheese possibly the reason why I do not have a recipe in my repertoire how to improve on fabulosity?

  8. Zappa says:

    Agree!Agee!Agree! Maher is a douche and I had an entire box of mac n cheese last week as well! You have a feww spoonfuls before you put it in your bowl.Then you eat the rest out of the pan when you are cleaning up.That adds up to only one serving!

    Lets head to a mall and eat Cinnabon in the food court with those ceremonial hoods over our heads and Tweet a picture to AB

    ZM

  9. Gizmo's mom says:

    Regarding the East Coast thing but not Massachusetts, I’m from Boston and the Italians here say “gravy”…. at least all the ones I know, and that’s quite a few !

  10. MorganLF says:

    and what about Maher leading with you eat asshole? How 2007 was THAT??

    ZM what mall when? I’m there..

  11. adele says:

    Gosh, I’ve never had a Cinnabon; I’m not a huge fan of most cinnamon rolls. But those stands do smell good.

    But ZM, I hear you about the Kraft Dinner; the box is only one serving, isn’t it? I always think I’ll have just one small bowl,but first you have to taste it to make sure it’s good,and then you think you’ll have just one more spoonful,and before you know it, the pot is empty. BTW, tell Zappa that Dorothy, my formerly homeless cat, is living the good life, and I can’t believe that she’s only been here since 6/30. She’s a total member of the household and loves dinner parties.

  12. valerian says:

    It’s a false dichotomy to present junk like Chilli’s, Applebee’s, Cinnabon, McDonald’s and anything made or distributed by Kraft as a justified alternative to haute cuisine. There is an abundance of better options between those two extremes—ones that strike an appropriate balance between quality, affordability and ethics. I know, that’s more than two dimensions to consider, which is difficult when you’re so locked into bogus binary thinking, but maybe you will have the mental capacity to handle it if you improve your diet. Also, there’s nothing egalitarian about giving money to soulless corporations in exchange for poison masquerading as food. You don’t eat like an American by going there; you eat like an ignorant, unhealthy pig. To suggest that patronizing chain restaurants is necessary because it supports American jobs and workers is as self-congratulatory as it is delusional. You are really supporting poverty wages, which are detrimental to American workers, and homogenized mediocrity, which is detrimental to us all. Complacency and rock-bottom expectations are far worse than elitism.

  13. catsworking says:

    Welcome, valerian. It always makes my day when I get a new commenter who calls me an “ignorant, unhealthy pig” right out of the gate.

    Since you apparently didn’t bother to delve into this blog and recognize its overriding satiric intent, but chose instead to take every word as The Gospel According to Cats, I will return the favor with some broad assumptions of my own. Eating exclusively in the mid-range between junk and haute cuisine must involve a lot of yummy soy beans, celery, and grossly-overpriced organics, which probably goes a long way in explaining your general grumpiness.

    Fortunately, the blogosphere is a big place and you will find plenty of like-minded bloggers you won’t feel compelled to take an ill-mannered dump on. But thanks for stopping by.

  14. Zappa says:

    Yaaay,Karen!! May I suggest an afternoon on the couch with a Jersey Shore marathon and a pizza? Does this …woman?…have any friends?

    Morgan,I am thinking that there is Cinnabon at National Airport,I don’t go Mall-ing beyond what the subway limits me to and there isn’t any Cinnabon close by that Im aware of.

    Let’s send an Olive Garden gift certificate to Valerian

    ZM

  15. catsworking says:

    ZM, I don’t think valerian made any new friends here. At least, I know I wouldn’t want to share my pizza with him/her.

    That anti-junk and fast food tirade reminded me of the hit-and-run commenter some time ago who wished the cats would eat my eyeballs.

    All this talk about Cinnabon has given me a craving and tempted me to take a stroll through the mall this afternoon, just for spite. At least, I think the Cinnabon is still there. They’re renovating the whole mall and the food court.

  16. MorganLF says:

    Valerian-just a question what did you have for lunch? Do you have the luxury of perusing the vegan/vegetatian/ offerings at Whole Foods or better yet trot over to the whatever restauraunt and order a healthy locally sourced $30 dollar meal?

    Dude really what are we the people with budgets and limited lunch breaks supposed to do? I’d be bery interested in your enlightened suggestions, but till then EAT ME. Will that make you a souless, egalitarian, ignorant, unhealthy pig?

  17. Mary Austin says:

    Karen, I totally agree with what you say about Tony looking like he’s pinching himself when he’s on Leno or Letterman, etc. I’ve noticed that, like he’s thrilled to be talking to them! About Bill Maher, I liked him until I heard an unflattering comment about cats–no more Maher for me! As for Cinnabon, we used to have one here in downtown Spokane, but no longer WAAA! Also, btw, the NR reruns during the day have ads for Olive Garden. Tony would die! On that note, chain restaurants are not all that bad, Mr.Valerian. In fact, more of them offer their servers health insurance and sick days, unlike local restaurants. Think of that next time you are at your local intimate restaurant being served by someone who comes to work sick because they won’t get paid unless they do. I know servers and this happens much more often than you would be comfortable knowing about!! Bon Appetit Monsieur Valerian!

  18. catsworking says:

    Mary, excellent point about chain benefits vs. local restaurateurs. Touche!

    Maher dissed cats? Them’s fighting words around here.

    I’ve never claimed to be a foodie and freely admit that I have no complaint about Olive Garden, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, or any of the other big chains. They didn’t get to be “chains” by poisoning their customers, and they’re obviously serving something people like or they wouldn’t have multiplied.

    Is what they’re serving the healthiest things you can put in your mouth? Of course not. But no nutritionist would look at Bourdain’s diet, on or off camera, and declare it remotely healthy, particularly since so much of it is washed down with liquor. But thanks to smoking and drugs, he’s managed to remain fashionably gaunt all these years so he can go around making fun of “no-neck Americans.” When he eats deep-fried anything, or a huge sandwich gratuitously topped with a fried egg or slathered with mayo, he declares it “delicious,” but out of the other side of his mouth, complains that the rest of us indulge in the same things.

    If he went around eating what he claims we should all aspire to, No Reservations would be canceled in a New York minute. Bourdain’s unhealthy eating habits are what keep him on TV, or else Alice Waters would be taking his place.

  19. Imabear says:

    I watch Maher every now and then, when I see it’s on and am in the mood. I remember seeing Alice Waters on the show one time and he was very, very nice to her. Wonder if he is aware of the Bourdain/Waters “disagreement”? Didn’t know about the cats…..doesn’t bode well for future watching of his show.

    When my mom, who is 80, and I eat out we often go to national chains like Applebees, Fridays, Red Lobster, etc… She like fairly basic American food – nothing fancy, and they work well for us.

    Organic salads have their place, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 18 years now and had a lot of great food, but I still love the Southern cooking I grew up on (though I’d never eat it every day now, I’d be big as a house).

  20. catsworking says:

    Imabear, if every American started trying to eat organic, we’d be looking like Somalis before long, and just as poor. Bourdain would have to remove the line about our lack of necks from his routine.

    My parents are the same way. They want burgers and chicken fingers and the occasional steak in a restaurant. Sometimes nachos, but that’s only my father, the more “adventurous” eater.

    My mother doesn’t like anything mixed together except tossed salad (with Italian dressing). That means no potato or pasta salads, cole slaw, casseroles, meatloaf, and most ethnic foods.

  21. Imabear says:

    I agree. L.A. has soooo many snobs of all kinds, including, of course, elitist foodies who shop at the Santa Monica farmer’s market and Whole Foods – way out of my price range (I go to Trader Joes – much more affordable). I do remember going to a Whole Foods once in search of local, free range meat. I was astounded that their selection of beef was from New Zealand!!! Talk about a carbon footprint! I thought those folks were so environmentally conscious… And there is plenty of free range meat here in California – and I’m sure other parts of the US. Why fly it in from NZ??? I also wonder how many of the hip liberals who shop there realize the CEO is a conservative….

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