Trying to Acquire “The Taste” Again

January 9, 2014

By Karen

An opportunity for a preview of Downton Abbey on January 2 trumped the premier of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste. Unfortunately, I hadn’t programmed The Taste on my DVR, and then ABC took its sweet time making it available On Demand, so I’m a week late to this party. But last night I caught up on the first 2 hours not because I loved the first season, but because… well, how should I say this?… my name is Karen and I’m a Bourdainiac and I couldn’t NOT.

Let’s start with the positives…

Was it me, or did selection seem a bit less cruel this season? I even enjoyed seeing the 2 most arrogant douchebag hopefuls (one of which spent 6 whole minutes preparing raw tuna) get rejected.

New judge Marcus Samuelsson is a vast improvement over the personality-free Brian Malarkey. I don’t know anything about Samuelsson except that he has 6 James Beard awards, but he’s lively and a good foil for the other three.

Bourdain seems to be going more after Ludo Lefebvre and his chronic dickishness (which Ludo calls “passion”). And is Ludo laying the French accent on quite a bit thicker this year? Half the time, I could barely understand him. He’s making Eric Ripert sound like a Midwesterner.

Now…

That circle jerk of an introduction to the judges, with Nigella gushing that Bourdain is “the Mick Jagger of food.”

That metaphor would make a little sense only if Mick Jagger were renowned as the world’s foremost LISTENER to music.

I don’t hold Bourdain accountable for such silly hyperbole, although I hope it still makes him wince. He’s riding the wave, hanging out and having fun with accomplished working chefs and being allowed to coast on 13-year-old laurels, which he readily admits where never in the same league.

I didn’t pay much attention to who got picked because there’s no sense in forming attachments before the herd-thinning gets serious. Tony’s team includes some dysfunctional misfits he personally identified with and hopes to whip into a juggernaut. Some of the other judges’ picks seemed capricious, and I suspect more for dramatic potential than love of their food.

And somebody claimed one androgynous cook strongly reminiscent of the first season’s winner.

The actual competition begins tonight. Now it’s on my DVR because if ABC continues its relentless bombardment of No!No!, UNICEF, and ASPCA commercials, which I was unable to skip on On Demand, I’ll definitely end up hairless, with a child and a puppy.

But I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the show’s basically ridiculous premise — a taste.

Who the f**k sits down to a meal and decides whether it’s good or bad by jamming every freaking thing on the plate onto one forkful and cramming it in their mouth?

I think what The Taste ultimately accomplishes with its little white spoon gimmick is to diss each component of all the cook’s efforts and to honor none.

THIS JUST IN…

Bourdain is apparently in the process of opening some sort of international food market in New York City.


Bourdain the Ubiquitous

December 17, 2013

By Karen

In late October, I traveled to Lisbon to make a 13-day transatlantic crossing to Miami on Royal Caribbean’s ship, Vision of the Seas. My plan was to get away from it ALL — job, litterboxes, useless Congress (and Obama), never-ending disasters, premature Christmas (that one didn’t work out at all, the Caribbean was already decorated). I just wanted to reboot.

But one thing I couldn’t leave behind — Anthony Bourdain. He was EVERYWHERE.

Not that I complain. Long-time readers know Cats Working has a history with Tony & Assoc. And other travelers with only a passing interest wouldn’t have even noticed how he dogged their every step (through no fault of his own, I must add — he has people for that now).

Bourdain has certainly hit critical mass, and then some. The Richmond, Newark, Miami, and Atlanta airports all had their big-screen TVs tuned to CNN.

They might as well have been showing the Cartoon Network, but let me not digress.

During every commercial break (they’re numerous) were Parts Unknown commercials and outtakes, especially for the season finale in Detroit.

In United’s and Delta’s in-flight magazines, I found his caricature and mentions in several places.

I caught him on TV at my hotel in Lisbon.

In my cabin on the ship, in mid-freaking-ocean, I channel-surfed to a rerun of No Res on ship’s TV where he visited St. Vincent and Bequia in the Grenadines. This struck me as ironic, since Bourdain expresses only disdain for cruise travel.

So, I tell people I took this vacation alone, but Bourdain might as well have been in my suitcase.

In other news…

Thanks to my new DVR, I’ve been collecting all of A Cook’s Tour and I’m closing in on the last episode I need, “My Life as a Cook.” Sitting on the DVR yet to be watched is Tony’s first episode ever, “A Taste of Tokyo.”

I’m actually enjoying A Cook’s Tour more than Parts Unknown because it’s pre-jaded Tony. At times, he reacts to strange dishes like Andrew Zimmern used to, before Zimmern anointed himself mini-Bourdain.

Today, there seems to be nothing revolting enough to make Tony turn a hair. The thrill is gone.

If you follow Tony on Twitter, you know he’s taken up Brazilian jiu jitsu with his wife and daughter, and recently earned his first stripe on his white belt.

Personally, if I had a husband, and he were on the cusp of geezerhood, and he told me he was taking up wrestling, I’d brain him with a skillet.

In case you’re interested, Gothamist did a nice job of covering some new ground with Tony and his relationship with movies, before he appeared on Dec. 11 with filmmaker Albert Maysles at the Society for Ethical Culture in NYC.

And mark your calendar. Season 2 of Tony’s cooking competition, The Taste, begins Jan. 2. Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre are back, and they’ve replaced Brian Malarkey with Marcus Samuelsson as a judge.

I’m just relieved they didn’t recruit that bald bastard from Master Chef, so I’ll check it out, with fingers crossed that it’s improved.


Would Bourdain Call Frito Pie a Manly Meal?

October 7, 2013

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.


It’s Bourdain Season Again

September 13, 2013

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s back from an extended vacation in the Hamptons, and he describes beautifully for CNN how he goes “Full Metal Ina.” Who wouldn’t want to spend a month at the beach with a guy who does all the cooking? Lucky Ottavia!

Today, David Chang’s magazine Lucky Peach should be on newsstands with a new Bourdain short story.

And on Sunday, Parts Unknown Season 2 begins with Tony visiting the West Bank and Gaza in Israel. Another episode this season that I’m particularly excited about is Copenhagen. (Oh great. Now I’ve done it. I’ve got Danny Kaye singing in my head and he won’t stop!)

BONUSES…

Tony recently did an interview with Forbes about Parts Unknown.

The day after he returned from vacation, he did this 47-minute audio interview with Opie & Anthony on Sirius…


Marilyn Hagerty, Kindred Spirit

September 3, 2013

By Karen

The book deal Anthony Bourdain forged with Marilyn Hagert bore fruit on August 27 when an anthology of her newspaper columns, Grand Forks, a History of American Dining in 128 Reviews, was released by Bourdain’s imprint at Ecco Press.

I still have no desire to read it, but I caught online last week this clip of Hagerty doing the Today Show.

Only in a galaxy far, far away would an author publishing 30-year-old material be getting even a nanosecond of air time on any national talk show. Indeed, during Hagerty’s interview, they flashed several pics of Bourdain, looking fetching, as if to explain why they were letting this relative nobody fill space between their commercial breaks.

But it was while Matt and Savannah had Marilyn taste and give a spot review on the latest NYC foodie obsession, the cronut, which Marilyn pronounced “chewy,” that it suddenly occurred to me…

In spite of all the attention she’s gotten from Bourdain and the foodie elite since her review of Olive Garden went viral, Marilyn Hagerty was, and always will be, an UnFoodie!

She eats at Taco Bell and McDonald’s. She eats things out of cans. She probably eats cheese slices wrapped in cellophane. And her readers do likewise. And they enjoy it.

In other words, like most of us, Marilyn Hagerty eats to live, she doesn’t live to eat.

As I watched Marilyn hold her own against that pair of New York sophisticates, possibly not even realizing she was defanging them with her innate civility and common sense, I felt great admiration for her.

In the airless, jaded realm of food worship, where the grosser and scarcer a thing is, the more tasty it must be, Marilyn Hagerty speaks with a clear voice for the goodness of a meatloaf made with ketchup and cheap hamburger.

(Yeah, I know Bourdain’s been saying pretty much the same thing while flogging her book, but somehow it rings hollow coming out of his ortolon-tainted mouth. I, on the other hand, have no dog in this fight.)

The plain food we UnFoodies eat is OK, too. Sometimes it’s even tasty. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We shouldn’t feel bad about being grossed out by bugs and animal guts. It’s OK if our cheese is wrapped in plastic so it doesn’t get moldy.

Marilyn, you go, girl!


Bourdain Goes Short (Story)

August 16, 2013

By Karen

Mark your calendar. Anthony Bourdain’s got a short story in the #8 issue of Lucky Peach, which is themed “The Gender Issue.” The magazine is on newsstands September 13. I think I’ve seen it in Target, so I won’t miss Tony’s latest foray into fiction. I wonder if it’s a preview of the novel he’s been working on?

But before that…

On August 27, Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews by Marilyn Hagerty, is being released by Bourdain’s imprint at Ecco Press.

UPDATE: Eater has published the full text of Bourdain’s foreword to the book. Nicely done, Tony. But the book still sounds like a snooze.

Since Grand Forks happens to be Hagerty’s stomping grounds, the title is brilliant, but the cover design evokes the ‘50s. I predict if sales are disappointing, that cover will become a scapegoat.

It’s only available in paperback and retails for $14.99. ($11.98 on Amazon.)

Hagerty is 86 now, and when not asking myself, “Why, God, WHY HER??!! I’ve been happy for her to finally see her work in bound form after all her decades in newsprint.

UNTIL I just learned the Grand Forks Herald published The Best of The Eatbeat with Marilyn Hagerty as a 99-cent, 59-page Kindle e-book last year after her Olive Garden review went viral and Bourdain started sniffing around.

AND in 1994, her paper published a hefty paperback anthology of her work called, Echoes, A Selection of Stories and Columns. It’s now out of print, but 2 autographed, exorbitantly-priced copies are available on Amazon.

UPDATE: One copy has disappeared since I started writing this, so some idiot astute collector must have snapped it up.

As for Grand Forks, my inner UnFoodie has this reaction to reading decades-old reviews of local joints in North Dakota, sandwiched between covers that remind me of My Little Margie, even if annotated with updates on their status today…

Who cares?

But it will be interesting to see if the foodie fire Hagerty lit with her earnest Olive Garden piece still burns hot and consumes enough copies to propel her to the bestseller list.


Bravo, Bourdain!

July 26, 2013

By Karen

I’ve been engrossed in a Dexter catch-up marathon, so I was watching people getting hacked to bits in the hours leading up to Anthony Bourdain’s debut as a talk show host, subbing for Piers Morgan.

Yet I was feeling a weird, elated anticipation at seeing Tony take on a new venue.

I don’t watch Morgan, and I was surprised to see a studio audience. But Tony’s personal appearance experience served him well and he didn’t let all those eyes in such close proximity rattle him. OK, his teleprompter reading seemed a tad stiff, but that’s a skill he’s never needed much.

I think I detected some underlying nervousness, and it was gratifying to watch him power through it.

First guests were David Carr from the New York Times and David Simon, whom Tony introduced only as creator of The Wire. Then I think he mumbled Simon was his boss on Treme, and Simon added he was Tony’s boss “too briefly.”

Somebody, tell me. Has the Treme gig ended? I don’t get HBO.

As they discussed legalizing drugs, I really appreciated Bourdain’s uncanny ability to know when to shut up and just listen.

He’s the Anti-Lauer.

Next topic was the NSA scandal and Edward Snowden. Tony neatly tied it to travel by asking, “Where would you rather spend the rest of your life? Venezuela or Russia?”

Simon said he’d never been to either country, so Tony offered, “Venezuela. You’ll eat much better there.”

That segment seemed a little uptight, with Tony reading pre-written questions, but at least he got the hard part out of the way first.

Then on came Tony’s besties, chefs Mario Batali and Eric Ripert. You could almost feel the room thaw.

I thought their assessment of whether the “hostile work environment” Paula Deen allegedly created in her restaurants was any worse than Gordon Ramsay’s behavior toward his staffs on TV (complete with video clip) took an excellent slant on that story.

Tony was totally in his element now, with no cue cards needed.

They also discussed Justin Bieber’s recent peeing into a restaurant kitchen mop bucket that had Tony up in arms on Twitter. Batali said he would “kick (Bieber’s) ass,” and Ripert pronounced it “drunk and stupid.”

Then they had a negroni, a concoction of Bombay gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Sounds disgusting to me, but I think of gin as liquefied Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, Batali and Ripert weren’t invited to the great cronut tasting. Tony brought out some guy from Grub Street and the cronut’s inventor, Dominique Ansel.

The audience got to taste a cronut and a DKA.

(Just Googled DKA. It’s “Dominique’s Kouign Amann,” a version of a Breton pastry that’s sort of a caramelized croissant. And Ansel’s website text has so many embarrassing mechanical errors, it SCREAMS for my day-job proofreading services.)

But anyway, Tony, who’s on record for hating sweets, had never tasted a cronut. He LOVED it, and the DKA. The audience was split, so no clear preference was established.

I’ve been thinking writing is his only fall-back for later career, but now I can see Bourdain hosting a talk show about travel and food (in that order). But not like The Chew. More sophisticated, geared to well-traveled viewers.

He’s got a quick, dry wit, and you never know what’s coming out of his mouth next. And he can harness the profanity. I don’t think he had to be bleeped once. He’s also got the inventiveness to take a done-to-death story like Paula Deen and turn it on its ear. Not to mention he’s not exactly hard on the eyes.

Bourdain, congratulations! Cats Working gives you 12 paws up. You hit this one out of the park, and we hope more opportunities like it start rolling in.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers

%d bloggers like this: