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Old 04-26-2010, 11:55 AM
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Default Bourdain Interview

Bless this man.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entert...76,print.story

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chicagotribune.com

Anthony Bourdain, unreserved

Kevin Pang

Tribune staff reporter


We can go on with a lengthy exposition about who Anthony Bourdain is, but what he has to say is far more interesting. The host of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel, Bourdain will appear at the Chicago Theatre Saturday to muse on food, television, and surely, Rachael Ray. Here he is.

You're a chef by training. How do you keep 4,000 people in a theater entertained?

I'm gonna walk out on stage and just start talking. I don't have props or an entourage or DJs. I'll just talk for an hour about what's exciting or pissing me off at the moment.

You do know Guy Fieri has a T- shirt cannon at his stage shows.

Right! He's got a giant blender. A "flair" bartender, whatever that means. I don't have T-shirts, I don't have merchandise. I don't even have wardrobe. He has the cool yellow chef's coats with "Culinary Gangsta" spelled out on them. It's like Wayne Newton.

What's with all you food folks touring? Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, now you? Maybe you should organize a Monsters of TV Chefs Mega Tour.

At the end of the day, all of these guys have to cook. I don't even cook on stage. I don't really understand it, but it's fun for me to do. It's lucrative …I talk for about an hour and then I take questions.To the extent that they've been drinking, that makes a big difference. Hopefully, the questions are provocative and hopefully confrontational.

You enjoy the confrontation?

I'd rather be challenged by somebody, rather than have somebody say, "Dude, where are you going to have drinks after the show?" I love a spirited debate as much as anybody. I even like being wrong, if something can make a good case … on something. In a lot of ways, that's what I do professionally, traveling. I'm confronted by my own ignorance or misunderstandings all the time.

"Kitchen Confidential" liberated you from the kitchen. In your new book, what perspective do you have on the food world when you haven't spent the last 10 years in a restaurant?

It's distorted, to some extent. I'm incredibly lucky, I've got the best job in the world. One of the chapters in my book talks about how perhaps this weird, jaded, overindulged lifestyle of all these great meals all over the world has left me with a distorted view of some great restaurant. I focus on Alinea as an example, the fact that I didn't enjoy the meal there, it talks more about how I've changed than anything wrong with Alinea.

What was wrong with Alinea?

I just didn't enjoy my meal there. It's a major bone of contention around the house. I know Grant (Achatz, the chef/owner). I have enormous respect for him. He probably served me the greatest restaurant meal of my life at the French Laundry. I think I'm smart enough and been around long enough to recognize a talented, truly great chef. That experience didn't connect with me. My wife, on the other hand, thought it was one of the great meals of her life. I've burnt out in some respects, I've had too many 20-course menus. I've become one of the annoying old foodies. You reach a point of diminishing returns where if you can't enjoy at Alinea, it's not a good sign.

What exactly didn't connect?

I did not experience the sense of wonder and delight that a lot of people do feel. I've eaten at El Bulli (in Spain), at WD-50 (in New York City). (Alinea) didn't thrill or excite me. I was annoyed by the presentation of the food. I was particularly annoyed by the service ware, the clothesline and the wire construction. For me, I found it intrusive.

Many aspiring chefs look up to the 20-course meals as the zenith of gastronomy. And when they achieve that level of cooking, they end up getting bored by it, and then what excites them are the simple foods.

No question about it. It's true of wine also. I respond to blunt objects more than a subtle wine. Rough neighborhood wines in Italy or Sardinia or Cotes du Rhone make me happier. Cruder, messier things where I don't need to engage my brain, I could pretty much submissively lose myself in the moment.

There was one course at Alinea that I do remembered that was just so superb. It was one of the more conservative courses. I think it was the lobster dish. The flavor and the precision of the cooking was so extraordinary. I kept thinking if every course was like this, this would've been one of the great meals of my life. But who am I to say? I really respect that Grant has chosen the difficult path. Obviously it's not interesting for him to please everybody.

The big takeaway from the first book are the rules, like don't order seafood on Mondays. Any new rules in the years since?

"Kitchen Confidential" was about a career that took place mostly in the 70's through 90's. When I wrote "don't eat fish on Mondays," the guy writing it didn't think anyone outside New York City would even read the book. Things have changed so much in the industry. The behavior in any good kitchen has changed a lot. Certainly the business still attracts the same kind of personality types, but a lot of the behavior I was talking about — snorting cocaine or having sex on the cutting board — would probably be frowned upon, particularly in open kitchens, which is a relatively new development. There's so much genuine hope for a real future in kitchens that didn't exist back in the early part of my career. An Irish pub on Monday, I'm not sure I'd go for a seafood salad. But I wouldn't have a problem at the sushi bar at Le Bernardin.

What's your opinion on the Michael Pollan-ization of food? He's got this new book called "Food Rules," where it's "don't eat this" and "don't eat that." Do you ever want to say, "I just want a burger and a soda, buzz off?"

I really liked "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I really like the bits with him in it in "Food, Inc." which I thought was a terrific movie. But I worry about orthodoxy. There's a real danger of appearing elitist. It's probably a good thing when he terrifies people about high fructose corn syrup and the evils of fast food. I think it's useful. But bludgeoning us, insisting that we move to 100 percent organic, becomes kind of ridiculous. That's the difference between Pollan and Alice Waters.

In one interview, you've compared Alice Water's approach to food to the Khmer Rouge.

How can you disagree with what she says? But she seems to blunder in saying the most outrageously insensitive stuff. She doesn't help by saying these things that are designed to piss off and exclude working families who are struggling to make a budget, who might otherwise be inclined to join the cause in whatever degree they can. But again and again, she displays a spectacular disconnect from the reality of most ordinary people. In some way, that's her strength. I think Alice is good and wonderful and useful because she's an elitist, because she loves the rolling hills in Provence and French wines and stinky cheeses. But she's the wrong person playing the populist.

What would you do if you were given control of the Food Network?

Wow. No one should ever let me do that. It's a tough question. Morally, would I remove programming I find morally questionable or embarrassing, or would I want to bring a profit to my shareholders? Whatever Food Network has done, no matter how egregious, dumb, stupid, it's been spectacularly successful. Every new horrible show, every publishing venture has come out roses and gold. How could I disagree with that? I can say I hate it.

Let's say profits were no issue, and you had editorial and creative control of the network.

I'd bring back "Molto Mario" right away. I'd have Mario Batali do a standard instructional show that would be the cornerstone. I would make it more chef-centric, of course. I would make sure Sandra Lee was never allowed near any cooking utensil or food item. Immediately. I'd have a long talk with Rachael Ray. I'd say, "Look, Rachael, you're bigger than food now. You're in Oprah territory. You don't have to cook anymore. Move on."

I'd give Ina Garten more time, because I think her food's good. I might try to do some Asian, Latino and be more inclusive, with cultural culinary programming. They also used to have a great show called "My Country, My Kitchen." And of course they canceled it because it was so excellent. That's a show I'd bring back.

What can you say about the Chicago food scene that would piss off Chicago foodies?

I don't like deep dish pizza, except for Burt's Place (in Morton Grove) which was quite wonderful. Most deep dish is awful and not pizza, I don't know what it is. It's ugly stuff. But that's about it. I love Chicago. Chicago's one of the few American cities that's big enough to support a large number of high end restaurants. A lot of cities cannot support restaurants like Charlie Trotter or Alinea or Blackbird. There just aren't enough wealthy people. It's a big town, it's got great food on the high end and low end. And I'm on record admitting the Chicago hot dog is far superior than the New York hot dog.

Any places in Chicago you're eager to visit?

Publican I'd like to try.

You featured Mancow on the Chicago episode of "No Reservations." My question to you: Why Mancow?

(Laughing) I don't have to agree with him to like him. He's actually a quiet, thoughtful guy. He's a monster douche on radio and our politics are as different as anyone could be. But I also get along with Ted Nugent really well. I know Mancow through a mutual friend. He's been extremely loyal to me from very early on, giving me huge amounts of time on his radio show to promote my books. He's a loyal friend to me. And I don't have to love the act.

Mancow on "No Reservations":

My aunts live in Hong Kong and she tells me you and Bizarre Food's Andrew Zimmern are like Bono and Jagger in Asia. Why do you think that is?

I'm going to guess because they're very food-centric and very proud in that part of the world. And they get a real kick out of Westerners eating foods that even they recognize as difficult. I think they like to see authentic dishes represented on TV, especially if we're getting it right rather than going to the best restaurant in town. We're doing the foods people like to eat when they're drunk at two in the morning. I have a lot of Asian fans within the states and abroad, and it doesn't surprise me at all that Andrew does as well.

Conversely, they get really pissed off if you miss the good stuff, or you didn't get a real good version of the stuff. You put the wrong dumpling place on TV, they get really cranky about that. I got booed by 500 people once in Singapore. Someone asked me what's my favorite chicken rice place -- that's the signature dish of Singapore -- and I haven't had it at the time. And 500 people booed at me, followed by arguments over which places I should be recommended. When "A Cook's Tour" was on Food Network, they were so unenthusiastic about sending me out to Asia, and yet, out in Asia they loved the show so much. I was looking for an American company to underwrite me making television for a largely Asian audience. So it doesn't surprise me and pleases me to no end that people in the very place I like making television most like me back. That thrills me.

I read that you're planning to move your family to Vietnam.

Down the line, I hope to write a book there. Move there with the family and live in Vietnam and write about that.

What's so appealing about Vietnam?

You dream about a place. I've always dreamed of Southeast Asia. In my head it was this Francis Ford Coppola image of the exotic east, and then I went and it was so much better than even that. It's a place filled with incredibly proud cooks and passionate eaters. Beautiful country, lovely people, all that history. I've described it as a pheremonic reaction. Right away I thought this was the place, it smells good. You look around and everything is beautiful. I always have an idiotic grin walking down the street.

"No Reservations" has aired 100 episodes. What's the end goal?

I just want to keep doing this for as much as I can get away with it, and as long as I have something to say. The camera people, the producers and I have traveled around the world so many times now that we'll sit around and think about places that will be fun and interesting to explore, but more so, how we're going to make a show, technically: how the show will look, the tone, the sound; how will we make it different than anything we've done?

How do you avoid cliche when you've already done so many shows?

We try to undermine whatever it was that worked last week. We deliberately set up difficult things to do. Using new lenses, constantly experimenting with new equipment to give it a more cinematic look — letterboxes, widescreen, gyros, cheap do-it-yourself kind of innovation. The editing styles. We think about movies that we loved that have been shot in this area that we might try to rip off. In the case in Rome, we're going to do the whole thing in black and white, and in letterbox. Can we do really gorgeous food porn in black and white? It's never been done.

How much of the cinematic influence comes directly from you?

I'm a super cinema nerd and have been since I was a little kid. I have an annoyingly enormous number of films running around in my head. If we're thinking about Indonesia, I know I'll be going back to "The Year of Living Dangerously." If we're going to Venice, I think of "Don't Look Now," "The Comfort of Strangers," "Death in Venice."

What do you think of Jamie Oliver trying to make a bunch of fat kids stop eating nachos?

I admire him for it, I really do. He is to be complimented. Like Grant (Achatz), he's doing the difficult thing. Jamie can just do Naked Chef forever and open cynical, exploitative Jamie Oliver-branded restaurants and make gazillions of dollars and die a billionaire. But instead, he's chosen to annoy the sh-- out of us by telling us what we don't want to hear in the interest of goodness. I really respect and admire it. It's never proven to be a good business model to be the bearer of bad news, tell people again and again what they don't want to hear. I admire him for it.

Has smoking affected your palate?

I'm sure it has. One of the things that always annoys me was that people would comment, "Never trust a chef who smokes." Well, most chefs smoke or at least were smokers. The restaurant industry statistically has the highest incidence of smoking, so chances are the chefs that you love and admire and see on TV, they smoke. They smoke cigarettes, cigars, weeds, or used to. Does it affect my palate? Sure, but I think smoking is one of those things that fall very much into the personality type of driven, orally fixated, pleasure-seeking, highly-sexed chefs. I just smoke on TV, most of the others guys don't.

What excites you in food these days?

I think what David Chang is doing is really interesting. I'm always interested to see what he does next because he's created a real game-changing business model. Pop-up restaurants where, say, chefs from France who come in and do guest appearances for a night, that's exciting. There's this whole new democratization of fine dining that's going on. New ways of getting reservations that were unthinkable before, using online lottery system, first-come-first-serve, social networking. I think that's pretty exciting. Food trucks, anytime I see good street food, that's exciting. An izakaya turns me on (Japanese snack bars). If I'm looking for comfort food late at night, low impact, a casual Japanese beer-related izakaya is really exciting to me. I'm excited by the "New Casual," with high end chefs who walk away from fine dining and strips it down.

Is the idea of fine dining losing its pretense? How everything doesn't have to be foams and gelee, but that burgers and hot dogs could be high-end food too?

Well, fine dining is fine dining. David Chang isn't serving you burgers. You might even see a little foam at Momofuku Ko, which has two Michelin stars. But the guy serving it to you is wearing a snap-on dishwasher shirt at the counter, and they're playing the Sex Pistols in the sound system. Which is pretty awesome. People are willing to pay for the ingredients. They're just removing the bulls---.

Has the foodie culture become too precious? When people spend 3,000 words expounding on the virtues of a hot dog, is this a good thing?

Yeah. It could be silly, it could be annoying and I like to make fun of bloggers. But when we're researching a show some place, chances are, it's bloggers we're reaching out to first. It's not the restaurant review in the newspaper that's going to determine [a place's] future. The Internet is a big bathroom wall with people writing on it all the time. At the end of the day, some consensus will be reached. You know, 3,000 words on a hot dog, why not? What better thing to write 3,000 things on? How many tens of thousands of words has been written about Kate Gosselin for f---'s sakes. Or the Kardashians. So I don't see anything out there...what better than a hot dog or a chef?

Has there been a place that refuses to serve you?

Romania, just by virtue of being Americans. You walk in the door, and they say go away, no seats. You mean at a restaurant?

Right.

No. I've always been treated with incredible generosity and kindness and solidarity by chefs. Everyone I've met at a restaurant since Kitchen Confidential came out, worldwide, it's been high fives and free hor d'ouerves and drinks. The only people who've met been prickly to me have been a few food writers. But I can't complain about my treatment by anyone.

You and Ferran Adria are buddies. What's the real reason he's closing El Bulli, with plans of opening a culinary school in 2014?

I'm quite certain that they never made money and I don't doubt that at all. It's incredibly hard what they were doing, year after year, to completely reinvent, not just their menu but expected to be spear point of innovative cooking worldwide. All eyes are on what he's going to do this year. I think he just might be tired of Ferran Adria. I imagine I would be. It's incredible pressure. How long can you go on and making that turn of contribution to single-handedly determine the future of food? He was so far out in front. I think enough is enough. Time to make some money.

Is teaching something you'd like to do in the future?

If I had the time, I'd like to teach high school English or creative writing, honestly, to rotten kids.

Who are your literary heroes?

Graham Greene would be one. I'm a huge fan. There's so many ... Malcolm Lowry, Hunter S. Thompson, Nick Tosches, I read a lot. Just the perfect crime novel is a thing of beauty. There's much to be learned from Elmore Leonard or George V. Higgins ... fantastic writers.

By the way, did you hear Rachael Ray has a line of dog food called "Nutrish?" Your response, please.

I guess it's an easy joke. I've kind of stopped picking on Rachael. Because A) it's low-hanging fruit, and B) she sent me a fruit basket.

kpang@tribune.com

Anthony Bourdain
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
Price: $43-$78; ticketmaster.com
Yeah, it's long, but it's Bourdain, so whatever.
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Old 04-26-2010, 12:25 PM
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Awesome.
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Old 04-26-2010, 12:40 PM
Dr T Non-Fan Dr T Non-Fan is offline
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I've never heard of this guy. I love honesty, though.
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Old 04-26-2010, 12:51 PM
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DTNF, He's a bit of a bomb-thrower, but somewhat worth following if you have foodie blood in you. I found Kitchen Confidential extremely entertaining and illuminating.
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Old 04-26-2010, 12:53 PM
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Download the Italy episode of No Reservations.

Also follow his hangover advice
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Old 04-26-2010, 12:57 PM
Dr T Non-Fan Dr T Non-Fan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Listeria View Post
DTNF, He's a bit of a bomb-thrower, but somewhat worth following if you have foodie blood in you. I found Kitchen Confidential extremely entertaining and illuminating.
I'll eat nearly anything, as long as it's free. Is that "foodie" enough?

I do know that I vicariously (wife cooking stuff for me that's she's watched) or secondarily (on my way to and from the kitchen) watch way too many food network shows.

And I did watch Jamie Oliver try to save Huntington, WV from itself.
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DTNF's Trademarked Standard Career Advice: "pass some exams and get back to us."
DTNF's Major advice: "Doesn't matter. Choose major that helps you with goal of Career Advice."
DTNF's Résumé Advice: Have a good and interesting answer to every item on it for the interviews.
DTNF's Law of Job Offers: You not only have to qualify for the position, but you also have to be the best candidate available for the offer.
DTNF's Work Philosophy: I am actuary. Please insert data. -- Actuary Actuarying Rodriguez.
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Old 04-26-2010, 01:21 PM
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Bourdain is awesome. He is near the top of my list of people I would like to hang out and have some drinks with.
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Old 04-26-2010, 01:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronus View Post
Bourdain is awesome. He is near the top of my list of people I would like to hang out and have some drinks with.
He's like 147,357th on my list. After 147,356 smoking hot chicks.
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Old 04-26-2010, 02:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr T Non-Fan View Post
I'll eat nearly anything, as long as it's free. Is that "foodie" enough?

I do know that I vicariously (wife cooking stuff for me that's she's watched) or secondarily (on my way to and from the kitchen) watch way too many food network shows.

And I did watch Jamie Oliver try to save Huntington, WV from itself.
Have you seen another food type cable network is launching sometime in May?
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Old 04-26-2010, 02:42 PM
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I think his show is on the Travel Channel
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