Bourdain v. Waters: Little Snark or Bite

By Karen

Kinder and gentler is becoming chronic with Anthony Bourdain. On May 14 he shared a stage with Alice Waters, the organic food maven he’s compared to the Khmer Rouge — and nothing happened.

The Connecticut Forum’s “Food for Thought” event was so sold out, they ran a simulcast. Bourdain fans must have expected some verbal blood sport, but they got thumb-wrestling instead.

Back in January, Bourdain did start backpedaling on Waters by calling her a “visionary.” Maybe he felt like a rat when Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse were nice to him after he’d trashed them, and wanted to avoid déjà vu.

For Jules Pieri of the Daily Grommet, the panel was all about Waters.

And Tasty New England and the New Haven Advocate thought Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman stole the show. What, did Tony forget to pack his charisma?

However, I found that just when Bourdain was softening in January, the Feedbag lit into Waters for importing chefs and food to those soirées she held during inauguration week, instead of walking the walk by relying on locally grown produce (in DC? in January?) and talent.

The panel moderator, local personality Colin McEnroe, compared Bourdain’s “world-class ego” to Kurt Vonnegut’s, and mentioned that Tony dropped a lot of f-bombs.

Fox61 described Tony’s defense of people who can’t afford organic. I knew he’d stand up for food budgets.

Eat Me Daily revealed what the panelists all ate the night before the Forum, and it wasn’t the gourmet fare you’d expect of culinary experts.

When asked which food trend he’d ban, no one seems sure whether Bourdain said “buffalo” or “truffle oil.” (My guess: truffle oil.) And he called Whole Foods grocery the “Starbucks of organic food.”

When Waters’ expressed her utopian dream of school children getting 2 organic meals and a snack every day, Bourdain said they should learn how to write first.

And in answer to the inevitable “What would you want as your last meal” question, when Waters said she’d like shark fin soup, Bourdain (who gave his usual bone marrow response) observed that her dish didn’t sound very local.

Waters got in one little dig on both Bourdain and Goldman by stating she never watches television.

If you want to read the whole history of Bourdain v. Waters, has it all. Warning: He’s no friend of Tony’s.

In other Bourdain news…

You know you’ve really made it when your likeness appears on lunch bags. If you reuse these, you can watch Tony age as the bag gets wrinklier.


Grub Street reports that one of Tony’s old pots will sit on a shelf in Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar, opening in June in New York City. Apparently, Boulud’s a collector.

23 Responses to Bourdain v. Waters: Little Snark or Bite

  1. Adele says:

    Hate to say I told you so, but . . . I think Tony loses much of his snark face-to-face and particularly with women. Having considered $28billion for organic meals and snacks, when our schools are failing on so many levels, I really wish there had been more of a Bourdain – Waters debate. Heaven knows, he had the ammo. I think Tony is a little worn out on the lecture circuit,

    Glad you saw the lunch bags. I found them yesterday, and they’re pretty good. I also visited the This Is Why You’re Fat website and saw some amazing and frightening food creations — at least 2, the Mother-in-Law sandwich and the Three Little Pigs sandwich, of which have been featured on No Res.

  2. catsworking says:

    Adele, you’re absolutely right. Bourdain is too much of a gentleman. 😉

    I’ve never seen Alice Waters beyond photographs, but she does strike me as a real airhead. Sure, she’s running a successful restaurant, but she seems to be short on common sense.

    I wonder what Tony would do if he ever met Sandra Lee and SHE was really nice to him? He’s been relentless in dissing her.

    It’s very possible that the lecture circuit is getting old for him. The writer of one of the articles I read even mentioned that he anticipated much of what Tony said because he’d heard it all before. It’s very hard to keep a step ahead of Bourdainiacs like us.

  3. Adele says:

    There was a series on the Sundance Channel, called “Iconoclasts,” and Alice Waters was paired up with Baryshnikov — apparently they’re old friends. Chez Panisse is supposed to be a great restaurant, and I’ve seen the cookbook — very creative recipes. She has done a lot for appreciation of American cooking and American food. But, for me, it stops there. I understand the ecological advantages of eating local and organic (smaller carbon footprint), but this is a time of economic crisis, where, if anything, people should be taught how to make the healthiest choices out of what they can afford. Most of Chicago’s infamous Cabrini Green public housing has been torn down, and an organic farm was started in one of the empty spaces. The tomatoes I bought there were good, but $2.99 a pound would hardly be affordable for most of the former residents of the area.

  4. catsworking says:

    For what she charges, the food should be great at her restaurant. But until Bourdain mentioned her, I’d never heard of her or her restaurant. But then again, I’m not a foodie.

    We pay $2.99/lb. around here for tomatoes raised on pesticide. Organic, forget it.

    I bought my mother a tomato plant for Mother’s Day and she’s growing it in the pot on her deck. We’re all dying to see if it actually produces anything. She’ll have to pick $10 worth for me to break even on it.

  5. Adele says:

    I’m lucky to have a fruit and vegatable market near my house. The prices are really good, and the selection’s not bad. They have fresh herbs for $1.29 a container and things tend to trend Mexican, so there’s a great selection of chiles. This week, even Whole Foods had heirloom tomatoes for $2.99. It seems that since you’re further south, Florida tomatoes should be available at a good price.

    I saw a TV commercial for those tomato bags, where the tomatoes grow upside down; I’m tempted, but around here, one must get the tomatoes going by Memorial Day, so if I’m going to do tomatoes, I’d better get on it. My sister raised a bumper crop of great tomatoes, summer before last. She has a large yard, and I’m trying to convince her to plant again.

  6. catsworking says:

    Adele, the cheapest tomatoes here are usually Roma. I can get them for $1.49/lb. They’re kind of tasteless, though.

    The popular tomato here is Hanover, grown in Hanover County, not far from Richmond. But because they’re supposed to be so special and come along only once a year, I don’t think they’re cheap (unless you live in Hanover).

    I could probably find cheap tomatoes at a farmer’s market, but there aren’t any nearby that I know of.

    I almost never buy fresh herbs because they come in bales, they’re expensive, and I always end up throwing away a pile of green mush because no way can I use them all. I did look at seeds earlier, thinking I might plant some stuff, but who am I kidding? I can’t get a shovel into the red clay in my yard, and Yul would make quick work of anything I plant inside.

    Once I tried planting cat grass in the house in this big flat. Yul jumped in like it was a kid’s wading pool and had the whole kitchen floor covered with potting soil in no time. Fortunately, he didn’t mistake it for a litterbox.

  7. Adele says:

    That Yul, what a scamp! I usually plant herbs in pots, and they’re amazingly healthy. If you have any spot outside where you can put some pots, you can have some herbs. I also generally buy them as plants — they’re around $3, and basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, chives and dill alll grow very well. I do buy cilantro seeds (I love cilantro — some don’t) because it comes up quickly, and I can keep re-seeding.

  8. catsworking says:

    I should get some window boxes to put on the railings of the front steps. They’d get full afternoon sun. I really would love to grow some herbs. Oregano and chives I’d use. Maybe basil and dill. I like cilantro too. Hmmm….

  9. Adele says:

    I tried to do a cut and paste from Tony’s blog responses, but my computer kept stalling. Anyway there’s a YouTube of Tony, Alice Waters, and Duff Gordon; it lasts for about 6 and a half minutes, and it stops just when Tony is ready to say that literacy is more important than $38bil for upgrading the food in schools. The link address is one of the last posts in “Dear Rachel.”

    Tony looks damn fine, and although his remarks aren’t overly snarky,he’s funny, and the expression on his face speaks volumes. And you can hear Alice Waters speaking from the ether — or points much lower and more scatological. It’s worth a look.

  10. catsworking says:

    Thanks, Adele. I watched it. Alice Waters does come across as a bit spacey. I suspect Bourdain was biting his tongue a lot because to attack her in person would have made him look like a bully.

  11. Bob says:

    Ok I take it back…. Just watched part of the Alice Waters/Tony Bourdain debate and actually he does defend his position very well…

    In his usual, of late, style he shows that he can afford the good things for his daughter but empathizes with those that cannot afford to “Go Green”.

  12. Bob says:

    Karen, don’t know what happened there normally when I post a link it just hypertexts it… Don’t know why it popped the player in the middle of my post..



  13. catsworking says:

    That’s OK, Bob. You have succeeded where I have failed. I’ve tried to get videos into the blog and it never works.

  14. Nancy (not THAT Nancy) says:

    I hope this doesn’t come across wrong but I really do think organic food is well worth the money, even if it means cutting back on other kinds of food to afford it. I’ve done that and I’m actually spending less on food than I ever have before. I’ve lost 25 pounds, my blood pressure is better. I’m not saying organic food is the solution to this, it was just rethinking my diet in general. Eating a lot less meat and cheese (which I still eat, but in small doses). Cutting back on meat and cheese saved a ton of money.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we all do what works best for us. I don’t think anyone should be sanctimonious about it, and if Alice Waters acted that way, it was wrong. But I also kind of get annoyed when I see people attacking or pooh-poohing organic food, especially when it’s apparent from comments that they really don’t fully understand all the reasons it’s a good choice.

  15. catsworking says:

    Nancy, I don’t think anyone would disagree with you that organic food can be healthier (although I think there’s plenty of duplicity with organics going on — like the way we were sold a bill of goods that expensive bottled water was SO MUCH BETTER than tap, as if it didn’t come out of a pipe somewhere), and for a single person it’s very doable as a lifestyle.

    But what about a mother with kids to feed? “Sorry, no Hamburger Helper casserole tonight because I spent the ground beef money on this gorgeous organic tomato. With a little extra virgin olive oil and sea salt on it, you won’t even miss the rest of your dinner.”

    Alice Waters saying that kids should get an organic breakfast, lunch, and snack every day at school just proves how out of touch with reality she is. The schools are supposed to brainwash them with this stuff so they’ll go home and refuse to eat whatever their parents can afford to feed them?

    She reminds me of a missionary who tries to convert people to her religion, regardless of how it will wreck the family if they don’t all follow suit.

  16. Nancy (not THAT Nancy) says:

    I guess I agree with Alice, though. I think the tomato would be better to feed the family than hamburger helper. However, that’s not even close to a fair comparison.

    For the price of hamburger helper and a pound of ground beef, I could cook a really delicious meal that’s also healthy. And it would involve lots more than one tomato.

    Good healthy food isn’t necessarily any more expensive, it just takes a different approach.

  17. catsworking says:

    Nancy, of course a vegetable is healthier than Hamburger Helper. Nobody would dispute that. I guess with most families, the decision becomes one of what’s quick and cheap? Beans are cheap, but do I have time to soak them overnight and then boil them for an hour before they become edible, while letting brown rice also simmer for an hour while I’m chopping up other fresh stuff to make it a balanced meal, or throw this box of Helper into a skillet with everything else, let it simmer for 30 minutes, and put dinner on the table?

    In the times I’ve been on an eating healthy kick, I know it was very labor-intensive and time-consuming. When a harried Mom is in the grocery store comparing prices and considers what she’ll have to do to bring all those fresh ingredients to the table, compared to throwing a box of Banquet fried chicken in the oven with some frozen fries, with ketchup on the side as a veggie, it’s a no-brainer.

    Yes, eating healthy is definitely a better lifestyle choice, but until someone can make it convenient and affordable, we’ll always have McDonald’s.

  18. Bob says:

    See you hit it right on the head there Karen… Time is also a big factor in figuring what to eat.. K lets say you’re a well off suburban mom, you Can afford to buy the best of the best..

    But it’s after school time, the kids are home. Clamoring for something to eat, figure it’s springtime, you probably have a soccer practice or baseball game to get to… A husband that is coming home.

    Ok ladies let’s get into a happy place and cook something nutritious, what was that fast meal that Jamie Oliver showed on the TV last week, or was it Gordon Ramsay??? Something with leeks and lamb…Forget it call up KFC, chicken is always good right, Coleslaw (even if it glows in the dark) is a vegetable.

    I honestly how many working families have the TIME even if they have the Money to eat that way???

    Oh Mercy Mercy Me
    W.W.T.D……. “What would Tony do”

  19. Nancy (not THAT Nancy) says:

    I get past the time consuming thing by learning shortcuts. For instance, I chop extra garlic and onion, enough to last a couple of days. I cook enough brown rice to keep in the fridge all week and dole out as needed. Canned beans work as well as dried ones and take less time, just drain them and cook with a bit of kombu to take out the gas. I make big quantities of soup or chili or stew or just beans and rice and freeze it. I have a chest freezer in the garage, which was cheap to buy and is cheap to run.

    Again, I want to point out that it’s not more expensive to eat this way if you really want to. In addition, I’ve found that the veggies I buy from the organic farm last longer in the fridge, so I don’t have as much waste as I do with supermarket veggies.

    Regarding the hamburger helper thing, Again I don’t want to argue this point but what I’d do is throw in a box of nice whole grain pasta, saute a couple of chicken breasts cut up with onions and garlic, and then mix it all with a large dollop of homemade pesto that I froze from last season’s basil crop. A little parmesan shredded cheese and a salad and there you have it.

    It can be done. Convenience also has a price when you consider a lot of the stuff in packaged foods (partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup) will end up costing you healthwise in the long run.

    Anyway, down from my soapbox now. I just wanted to clear up some common misconceptions.

  20. catsworking says:

    Kombu? What the hell is kombu?

    Nancy, I’m more in your court than I realized. I keep chopped onion that I chop myself in a jar in the fridge. No need to cry EVERY night.

    When I cook brown rice and whole-grain pasta, I make extra so I can put it under things and get several meals out of it.

    I don’t use a lot of canned beans, but will soak and cook a whole bag of dried because they have more fiber (at least according to the packaging). I end up with a shitload of beans, but they become the base of things while they last.

    I don’t personally buy those prepackaged “helper” things because I think they’re more expensive in the long run. If you’ve got the same ingredients in the house, you can pull together something fresher, tastier, and cheaper. I was just using Hamburger Helper as an example. As I stroll through Food Lion, I’m always amazed at HOW MANY products like that there are. And those frozen bags of stuff that even contain the meat. They seem like a good idea, albeit a bit pricey, but by the time you cook them and they reduce, you’re lucky to get 2 measly portions out of them and realize you’ve been had. You could have bought a whole chicken, pasta, and frozen veggies for less.

    Unfortunately, there’s no farmer’s market anywhere near me, and I’m not about to drive all over creation to find one when Food Lion is a mile away, even though their produce has gone rotten by the time I get it home.

    Like most houses in the South, I have no garage or basement for an extra freezer, and precious little closet space anywhere in the house, so my ability to stockpile food is nil.

    I think your methods are great for someone highly organized and a good planner, but that doesn’t describe most people. They don’t think about what’s for dinner until they’re standing in front of the empty fridge. Without them, there would be no Domino’s, KFC, or takeout Chinese.

    Bob, we know WWTD. He told Alice Waters, the night before the forum, he had a pizza delivered to his room.

  21. boscodagama says:

    Read the book _Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution_ by Thomas McNamee. If you spent any time in the Bay Area in the late 60s. early 70’s you’ll realize quickly why old Alice is such a space cadet.

  22. Liese says:

    Waters managed to piss off some foodies and bloggers with her elitist, snobby attitude. Read below…

  23. catsworking says:

    Thanks, Liese. You’re right. Waters hardly endeared herself to everyone in the audience and, I must confess, the more I see of her, the less I like her. I included this same link in a more recent post about Bourdain.

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