By Adele from Chicago
“This is just like 1981 when no one could get Rolling Stones tickets and somehow you found them,” was how my friend Linda reacted when I told her I snagged last-minute VIP tickets for Anthony Bourdain’s April 24 appearance in Chicago.
Just after 8 p.m., Tony, wearing jeans, a tee shirt, blazer, and tan boots, took the stage to enthusiastic applause. He said we were one of his largest audiences yet and launched into his tale of meeting Sandra Lee, embellishing his blog account. His imitation of Ottavia’s stunned look was particularly funny. His wife took mixed martial arts, could throw a punch, has no problem telling other women to keep their hands off her man, and he’d have been grateful if she’d run interference. But Ottavia stood stock-still and let Sandra grope Tony’s waist, tug his ear, and say, “You’ve been a bad, bad boy.”
He talked about the Food Network getting rid of every trained chef except Bobby Flay. Tony imagined Bobby, whom he thinks has talent and some decent restaurants, getting called on the carpet by FN brass. They tell him, “You poll as cynical and inaccessible, so to stay here, you’ll have to go around the country having throw-downs, competing with local cooks on their specialty dishes.”
So now it’s OK for Bobby to stay in the FN family because yokels can brag, “Ah beat Bobby Flay with my chili.”
Then Tony gave us a look as if to say, “Yeah, and it’s not rigged at all.”
After a bit more FN-bashing, Tony observed that since Scripps Howard recently bought the Travel Channel, he was working for his former masters and feared if he didn’t stay in line, he might be forced to do a bikini wax on Paula Deen.
Mentioning Scripps brought him to their new product placement policy. “I know how much you all love that,” he said, noting how he was castigated all over the Internet for not keeping things real. Thanks to TIVO and DVRs, he pointed out that commercials aren’t watched much, so sponsors place products within shows to get consumers’ attention.
“What’s real, anyhow?” he asked. “Was I more real when I was selling books to get crack? Was I more real when I was hitting up my mother for cash to buy drugs? Was I more real when I was standing in a kitchen turning out meal after meal for people I didn’t care about?”
His implication was, I think, that we all have to serve somebody.
He urged people to get passports and experience other cultures, but cautioned on the necessity of showing respect and wondered why certain Americans pack their tackiest clothes to travel, like tee shirts with logos and slogans. He mentioned the 19-year-old American girl he saw in the Blue Mosque, wearing a tube top with “her jugs hanging out the bottom,” Daisy Duke shorts, that left nothing to the imagination about her nether cleavage, and 6-inch Lucite heels. She looked “more like she was ready to give hand jobs under the West Side Highway than visit one of the holiest places in Istanbul in the holy month of Ramadan.”
With regard to hospitality, Tony advised us to “accept indigenous beverages and local meat.” Although he draws the line at eating pets and has almost always had a shelter cat in his life, he said, “If the head man of a village has rolled out the red carpet for me and serves me a plate of puppy heads, I’m eatin’ the f*#%in’ puppy heads.”
Tony said he thinks food blogging is a good thing. But after his “Techniques” episode, bloggers complained that “Jacques Pepin used a fork in a nonstick skillet and left eggs runny in a omelet, and Thomas Keller didn’t wash a pepper mill after seasoning the inside of a chicken.” Since these guys are the best in the business. when they tell you how to make a French omelet or roast a chicken, “Shut up and listen.”
During the audience Q&A session, where my fellow Chicagoans kept the stupid questions to a minimum, someone asked how he had the nerve to pose with that bone in My Last Supper. Tony said it was the result of getting drunk with the photographer.
Asked to recommend a culinary school west of the Mississippi, Tony couldn’t and said there are too many culinary schools giving subprime loans and promising everyone they’ll become a chef. “If you’re 32 and decide to change careers by attending culinary school, don’t.”
He said he was grateful that Kitchen Confidential was such a success because at age 44, he was practically a dinosaur on the line.
The tattooed stalker was mentioned, and Bourdain admitted that when the guy showed up in Minneapolis, it really freaked him out.
Someone asked if Scripps told Tony and ZeroPointZero they had only one more episode to shoot, where would it be? After thinking a minute, Tony answered, “Spain,” and explained that when A Cook’s Tour ended, they had begun filming, “Decoding Feran Adria,” and Food Network thought the show was getting too cerebral. Tony and his crew finished the episode and used it as a calling card to get the No Reservations gig. It all began with Spain, and it should end with Spain.
The finale came when Tony summoned some guy up on stage, who went up with a woman. He got partially down on one knee and proposed, citing NR as what brought them together.
Tony wished them well and said he’d accept no responsibility if things didn’t work out. He said when he married Ottavia 11 days after Ariane’s birth, the Manhattan city clerk who droned the words looked up once to ask, “You’re on television; aren’t you?” and then resumed the ceremony.
Linda and I got in line to meet Tony at the VIP reception. When I introduced myself and gave him a children’s book for Ariane. He said, “Ah, Adele from Cats Working,” and inscribed my copy of No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach to “Adele” with “Cats Working” inside his signature knife drawing. He graciously thanked me for Ariane’s book and posed for pictures with us.
A bit later, while Linda and I were having a glass of wine, I checked my camera and discovered the picture of Tony and me hadn’t come out. The crowd was thinning and I caught his eye. I must have looked rather pathetic because he asked, “What’s wrong, Adele?”
I told him about the photo, and he posed with me again. We stayed to talk and I asked Tony about the Cuba shoot.
He said that for the last three years, something always went wrong, either in Cuba or or the U.S. NR segments need to be set three weeks in advance, so thanks to bureaucratic snafus, the plug got pulled every time.
Of Liberia, he said he had a hard time figuring out how to write about it, being honest without conveying overwhelming despair. And he got really sick there. He thinks Liberia has the beginnings of what it would take to make things right, but it’s been so messed up for so long, it’s hard to know when they’ll make real progress.
Someone else asked him about endangered sharks, and Tony said it was almost strictly due to the market for sharks’ fins throughout Asia, where they’re valued as aphrodisiacs. He’s tried shark’s fin and said it was OK but has an odd texture, and seemed to dismiss it as a love drug. He hold us he’d used back channels to contact Paul McCartney, urging him to invest a few million in Viagra and Cialis, send it to Asia, and save the sharks. He didn’t say if he’d received a reply.
Linda and I left soon after that, and Chicago’s wind and rain couldn’t dampen our happiness as we kept asking each other, “Can you believe this evening?
(Note: Adele misplaced her camera cord. We’ll post her photos when she finds a way to send them.)