written by Jason Greenberg
Listening to Anthony Bourdain speak is like running through a field of land mines. Okay maybe just a field of sound bites. He rattles off one-liners in such quick succession that you’re sure he had to have prepared them beforehand. Part journalist (he prefers storyteller), part chef, part writer and part comedian, hehas become not only the face of The Travel Channel, but also one of the most recognizable personalities in the food industry.
Bourdain was in town recently to take part in a Times Talks interview session—an event in conjunction with the Food Network’s NYC Wine and Food Festival. His interviewer was none other than former New York Times restaurant critic, Frank Bruni. Most of the questions and conversation centered on Bourdain’s television show, No Reservations. But one should always expect Bourdain to veer onto other food-related topics. His opinions on certain celebrity chefs are widely known, but lately he has been critical of beloved chef Alice Waters too. “She scares me,” he said, adding his own strikingly visual description of Waters as “Pol Pot in a muumuu.” The crowd certainly got a kick out of that. Although some, including Bruni, were slightly taken aback. Bourdain took issue with Waters’ appearance on 60 Minutes and her constant preaching on the nation’s eating habits. “The message is good, she’s just the wrong person to deliver it,” he said.
Bourdain did admit that sometimes he goes too far and occasionally regrets the blatant honesty he is known for. He recalled a time that he made disparaging comments about Chef Jamie Oliver. He later found out that Oliver had suffered from dyslexia as a child, and that Kitchen Confidential had been one of the first books he'd ever read—that he had been a hero of sorts to him. Bourdain has since apologized and the two had a beer.
The topic of the Food Network also frequently comes up in conversation with Bourdain. “It’s a Food Network world, I just live in it,” he told Bruni. Does he believe that a chef’s personality and on-air presence can be determining factors in the success of their restaurants or their career in general? Yes and no. There are some chefs, such as Eric Ripert, whom he believes should never have to give another interview because his food speaks for itself. Bourdain does, however, admit that there is a bit of hustling that is inevitable, even historical in the food world. “Escoffier was a hustler,” he said. “With the book deals and restaurants.”
After Bruni was done with his questions, it was the audience’s turn. Unfortunately, most of the questions were more chances to praise Bourdain than actual questions. But a few led to Bourdain to share more of his philosophies and insights. A few asked about the obesity epidemic to which he responded, “All I can say is stop eating at the king, the Colonel and the clown.”