Would Bourdain Call Frito Pie a Manly Meal?

By Karen

My new DVR has changed my TV viewing dramatically, but somehow I always come back to Anthony Bourdain, who still surprises me after all these years.

Last night, I binge-rewatched the first 3 episodes of Parts Unknown Season 2, with Season 1 “Prime Cuts.” After his visit to Israel, I’m still trying to wrap my head around Tony’s claim that he grew up totally without religion.

None of his books have a freaking index, and I’ve been unable to find where I KNOW I read that he was once an altar boy. Tony the innocent little Catholic kid is part of his persona to me, and I know it’s not backstory I dreamed up. I was as surprised to read he was that deep into Catholicism as I was to just learn he’s half-Jewish.

Not that his religion matters either way, but he’s been accused by various drive-by commenters at Cats Working of periodically reinventing himself, and I’m wondering if we’re seeing some of that now.

Google didn’t help, but I did find this one-liner Eater quoted from No Reservations: Naples in 2011…

“I’m not exactly a good Catholic. I do have the paperwork to suggest that I might be.”

Not exactly a good Catholic? Those don’t sound like the words of an atheist, or even an agnostic, as he proudly claims to be now.

Anybody else out there remember anything?

And then he went and ate Frito pie in New Mexico. Ever since, my Bourdain Google alerts have been filled with outrage — even though Tony said the disgusting mess was “delicious.”

The butt-hurt sprang from his snarky voiceover that Frito pies are made with “canned Hormel chili and a Day-Glo orange cheese-like substance.” If you haven’t seen it, here’s the offending scene…

The fallout was immediate and widespread. A blogger for Houston Chron asked if Bourdain is a “mindless cretin” or “culinary fraud.”

Note: Check the comment under that post from Oct. 2. Hmmm… any guesses on who the mysterious Texan-baiting “B” might be?

Frito pie chili is homemade and the cheese real. Bourdain has apologized for intimating otherwise.

I tried to imagine a dish as gross, and came up with a dessert…

  • Take one bag of unopened Oreos and smash it.
  • Slit the bag open down the side.
  • Warm a jar of peanut butter to soften, then put two big scoops onto the broken Oreos.
  • Douse the whole thing liberally in Hershey’s chocolate syrup.
  • Dig in and enjoy!

I recently read Bourdain’s new short story, “The Ten Manliest Meals in America,” in the Summer 2013 edition of Lucky Peach. Yes, I actually shelled out $12 to read 4 pages.

I wouldn’t call it a short story, but an 1,800-word character sketch of an unnamed 65-year-old, twice-divorced New-York-based food writer at a men’s magazine who drinks and ruminates on writing the article that constitutes the story’s title.

Perhaps there’s a nod to Ottavia in the character’s first wife who, he recalls, ordered a T-bone for two, then…

“Polished it off in ten minutes flat, picked the bone up with manicured fingers and gnawed the thing down to a shine. The Serbian waiters masquerading as Italians had clapped admiringly and cried ‘Bravissima!’ She’d never looked so beautiful. He’d never felt so in love.”

And was Tony waxing autobiographical when he wrote…

“His mother had been the strength of the family. He’d loved and been loved by two magnificent women in his time.”

For me, the piece was Bourdain’s vision of his future self had he not met and married Ottavia.

But was it a glimpse into the novel he’s been writing, or discarded pages? Or just a one-off for his buddy, David Chang?

I guess time will tell. But even if it’s a throwaway, I still love his dead-on eye for detail, which shines in his description of the perfect manly meal…

“Chicken wings at a no-name strip club, blacked-out windows, meth-head bouncer, the bar lined with flabby, middle-aged men like him, most of them neutered by diabetes, gout, and high blood pressure, pawing at cold-eyed girls who despised them and their hot-sauce stained fingers.”

BONUS: Tony talked to The Guardian about his family values, with more on his late father than I’ve ever seen anywhere.

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15 Responses to Would Bourdain Call Frito Pie a Manly Meal?

  1. Zappa's Mom says:

    Can I add two scoops of vanilla ice cream and Cool Whip to your dessert?

  2. catsworking says:

    ZM, I think that’s an excellent idea. And maybe a sprinkle of walnuts. Oh, hell, and some multicolored sprinkles!

  3. adele says:

    The only thing I could add to your dessert, Karen,after ZM’s addition of ice cream and Cool Whip, is some sprinkles, just to make it more festive.(and I just noticed that you said that as well — must get new glasses)

    Just the visual effect of the Frito Pie had me reaching for the Immodium.

    I don’t remember AB ever talking about being an altar boy (although I don’t believe I’ve seen every Cook’s Tour, but I distinctly remember his saying to Ottavia, when they crashed the Naples wedding that he had “the papers” to be married in the Catholic Church.

    I have Lucky Peach ($12 thank-you very much; the Bourdain habit can be costly), but I haven’t read the story yet. I’ve been hooked on these mysteries by Cara Black — the first one is Murder in the Marais; there are about 10 of them, each set in a different Paris neighborhood. Very enjoyable. But your description of the descriptions may get me to read the story tonight.

    BTW, I’ve thought ZPZ’s cinematography this season on Parts Unknown has surpassed itself.I’m finally getting a DVR on Saturday, and I look forward to being able to give each show my full attention. Sunday nights are so crowded with good shows that since I don’t need to be up early, I end up watching Parts Unknown at 11pm, and by then I’ve watched Boardwalk Empire, Homeland and Masters of Sex, so my concentration is not what it could be. Good that I’ll be only about a decade behind in my home electronics. Comcast is having a deal, so I’m also getting Wi-Fi..

  4. Marina says:

    Love the article, Karen. I too remember hearing that AB was an alter boy… I can’t remember if it was in Kitchen Confidential or on an episode of No Reservations. Of course, I always see that little boy side of Bourdain right along with the cynicism, so it’s not a far stretch for me. It was interesting to hear he’s half-Jewish. The man just keeps getting more and more interesting. And, speaking of cinematography, I recently managed to catch a couple of later episodes of NR which I’d never seen (T&E here in Canada just kept repeating 2006-2008 episodes for years, and I actually hadn’t seen anything from more recent years!). One episode was shot in the Joshua Tree National Park area and it was just stunningly beautiful. Great shots and camera angles all throughout! And it just keeps getting better all the time! Oh, the other one I particularly loved was the Return to Beirut episode, a classic along with the original. And I too love my new DVR… I can enjoy an episode whenever I need a fix…

    As for AB “reinventing” himself? I don’t know. I find intelligent, active “living life” kind of people are simply very multi-dimensional and complex, and to say he’s reinventing himself kind of sounds like he’s having to come up with a new gimmick all the time. Sounds kinda Madonna to me. I think he’s just a really interesting guy (okay, fascinating) and we just haven’t seen it all yet. Thank goodness!

    And last but not least… Frito Pie… homemade or not, it looked pretty yucky to me, and I’m a big savory food lover. Your dessert, though, sounds pretty darn good! :~)

  5. catsworking says:

    Marina, you’re right. Maybe “reinventing” isn’t the right word (although his detractors here in the past have charged that he’s prone to selective memory). We just keep discovering new layer to him, like a big onion.

    Somewhere, someday, I’m going to find where he talked about being an altar boy. I know I didn’t dream it.

    Must confess that I was so looking forward to him going to Denmark, I started watching the show as it aired (the DVR was also catching it). But about 3 minutes in, he said, “This show isn’t about Denmark, or even Copenhagen, but about this place – Noma.”

    My reaction was: “Well, Carrie’s off her meds and Brodie’s on the loose. Buh-bye!” and switched to Showtime.

    I probably have a higher tolerance than many for watching people cook berries, roots, and weeds, given my longtime fascination with Norwegians, but Sunday night TV is cut-throat, and Homeland beats Bourdain hanging out with cooks – again – in this house.

    I’ll watch the Copenhagen episode, remembering what he said in the recent Season One Prime Cuts about wanting to piss off people who loved last week’s show by doing something they’ll hate this week. Good job.

    I’m also watching Masters of Sex and just got into The Paradise on Masterpiece. It’s based on a book by Emile Zola that I immediately downloaded onto my iPad to read on my upcoming vacation.

  6. MorganLF says:

    Vacation? Whats that? I don’t remember the choirboy reference other than maybe to describe a general mood or tone of an era. I think Id remember. Even when I was a kid many years ago I would have thought that was corny.

    His parents appear to be worldly and educated, I doubt they’d have approved of their son prancing about in a lace trimmed dress every Sunday…

  7. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I was counting on you to be the one who would remember. Drat!

    I’m going to have to skim every one of his nonfiction books until I find it. And then, maybe I read it in an interview somewhere. This is maddening. I know I’m not nuts. (OK, maybe a little.)

  8. Marina says:

    I liked the Copenhagen episode, but to each his own. :~) RE: the alter boy reference, I too know for sure I’ve heard it somewhere. A few months back Ottavia posted a picture on Twitter of AB when he was a boy… very touching. A lot in the eyes, and this really sweet innocence. Maybe that’s where I saw the alter boy reference… now you’ve got me wanting to check it out as well!

  9. Zappa's Mom says:

    Darn! I’ve missed “The Paradise” beacuse I’m catching up on “Mr Selfridge” ( I’m glad I gave it a second chance) How is it?

  10. catsworking says:

    ZM, I am totally hooked on The Paradise. I even chose it over Homeland this past weekend (not that Homeland was anything to sneeze at, as it turns out. Brodie’s back!).

    Sadly, Bourdain once again took a backseat. I have watched the Copenhagen episode, and even though he made a conscious effort to not dwell on the place, the charm of the people managed to seep through.

  11. Mary Ann says:

    There is a mention of an altar buy in Kitchen Confidential, but it’s in reference to someone else, not AB.

  12. catsworking says:

    Mary Ann, thank you for that information. Maybe I do have my wires crossed and I’m misremembering it. But in my gut I don’t think so. ;-)

  13. dellachiara says:

    I checked back on my Twitter page, because I knew I’d favorited that Ottavia post of a boyhood pic of AB… he was a boy scout, actually. Maybe that’s where we are getting confused? If he’s a lapsed Catholic, join the crowd is all I can say… :~)

  14. catsworking says:

    Good sleuthing, dellachiara! OK, I’ll take Boy Scout. Close enough. I recently heard on some news report about the Pope that if all the lapsed Catholics in America were considered a religion, it would be either the biggest one or the second biggest one in the country. I’m in that club myself.

  15. dellachiara says:

    Thanks… boy scout, alter boy, boy something, haha… and yes, I’m in the lapsed category myself as well. :~)

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