People must really think they know Anthony Bourdain pretty well. That’s the only conclusion I can come to after attending Bourdain’s joint talk with French-American chef Eric Ripert, an event marred by frequent audience yelling and hooting. Look, I’m all for a little bit of audience participation in stage shows — otherwise, what’s the big difference between attending something and watching it on a big screen? —but the level of “witty” commentary from the peanut gallery approached absurd heights.
The show opened calmly enough, as Bourdain sat Ripert down in a metal folding chair and grilled him on subjects ranging from his American citizenship to his status as a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. Bourdain is a natural showman, pacing around the stage in his boots and his black-on-black shirt-pants combination, playing to the crowd. Ripert is something less of one, although one imagines that he does much better in his native French than in his grammatically-impeccable but still step-slow English. No knock on Ripert— his English would be excellent for even a native speaker — but when stood up next to Bourdain, it is clear who has a TV career and who is one of the best chefs in the world.
Ripert then sat Bourdain down and grilled him on a similar range of topics, including the nascent farm-to-table movement. Bourdain came out against it for reasons that seem sort of unclear — it’s too elitist and not egalitarian enough, which seems odd coming from the high priest of the foodie movement. And make no mistake, Bourdain’s following is cult-like and defines the “celebrity chef” as we know it.
Bourdain’s fame seems more accidental the more you get into the roots of its genesis. His initial output was an article for a small Manhattan paper which The New Yorker purchased and ran within its pages, to be followed by the wonderfully punk Kitchen Confidential, which spawned much of the foodie movement as we know it.
But, is Bourdain a good chef? As Ripert put it in his interrogation of the be-chaired Bourdain: “Have you ever worked a more than a day in a good restaurant in your entire life?”Bourdain had no choice but to smile sheepishly and admit that unless two hours in El Bulli count, then he is out of luck.
Speaking of the celebrity chef, Bourdain and Ripert have opposing viewpoints on the noted Food Network host and T.G.I. Friday’s “food dude” Guy Fieri. Bourdain views him as an overwrought example of celebrity culture out of hand, mimicking his goat horn-flashing stage presence to widespread audience laughter. Ripert had a different take, admiring the man’s commitment to showmanship and to life on the road. Bourdain finally admitted that he was amazed by Fieri’s ability to “jam those sunglasses on the back of his neck” and travel between Denver omelets as part of his “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” series.
The most cringe-worthy moment of the evening came during the question and answer section when a woman, who seemed perfectly nice and had a seat next to mine, walked up to the microphone and introduced herself as a “Farm-to-table culinary artist” while her husband filmed from the audience. I wish I could remember the rest of the question, but I was frantically looking around for something to kill myself with, so that’s all I can report.