Put Up Your Dukes: Anthony Bourdain

bourdain538Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: Anthony Bourdain. Put up your dukes!

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Let’s talk about Anthony Bourdain. I know you like his food/travel show No Reservations. Well, I got reservations (cue Wilco song). About so many things. I’ll commence tearing down Bourdain’s TV show and his carefully constructed persona shortly, but first I have to get this out in the open: When it comes to celebrity chefs, I’m with WFMU’s Tom Scharpling, who simply said, “Cook my food.” While it certainly requires skill and creativity to be a chef, I don’t need the spectacle of celebrity to enhance my dining experience. With music and film, give me spectacle. When it comes to the person who makes the meal that I’m going to shit out a few hours later … cook my food.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

I’m not clear on what your beef is here (no pun intended). If you’re saying that celebrity status isn’t required to prepare a fine meal, then we are in agreement right off the bat. By the same token, despite your implication, I don’t think the “spectacle of celebrity” is necessary to make good music. Maybe your complaint is with the rash of cooking shows on air these days and the celebrity status bestowed upon the chefs that host them. Or maybe you’re an unrepentant cretin who is just as content with a Big Mac as an expertly prepared steak, since you’ll just be “shitting it out a few hours later” anyway. Should I keep guessing, or would you like to clarify your point?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Hey, I was just giving you a baseline for my distaste (sweet pun!) for celebrity chefs. And yet, on the food chain (oh my sweet freaking Jesus) of these people, Bourdain is several notches below even Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray for me. I would trust either of them to make me a meal in spite of their abrasive personalities. Bourdain? He’s a former coke addict, he prides himself on eating gross/exotic food, and he’s an egocentric, self-appointed artiste. It’s like having David Crosby fix the brakes on your car or asking Pete Doherty to do your taxes. Can’t Bourdain dial down the “culinary rebel” shtick a little?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Sigh. I’m getting flashbacks to our Hunter S. Thompson installment of Dukes. Suffice to say, I admire your ability to make these bold statements based on the most superficial of impressions. I’ll explain why you should trust Bourdain over Ray to prepare a meal, and why your Crosby and Doherty analogies are so far off as to make me embarrassed for you. Ray is a television personality. She has no training as a chef and has never worked in a restaurant kitchen. She says “yummo” a lot. The primary criteria for her recipes is speed of preparation for the busy suburb an soccer mom. Bourdain has a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. He has nearly three decades of experience as a chef and has run kitchens in some of the finest dining establishments in New York. As with Thompson, your issues with Bourdain seem to be that he’s profane and used to take drugs. Perhaps this is better suited to your delicate sensibilities?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
I’m pretty sure that Hunter S. Thompson would take one look at Bourdain’s degree from the CIA and assume he’s some sort of government operative trying to tap his phone. But you’re right—I’ve been circling around any real criticism of Bourdain product. I read Kitchen Confidential, his tell-all about the restaurant biz. I’ve worked in a few restaurants, and it was a fine portrayal. I ate a very nice meal at Les Halles, the restaurant where Bourdain is some sort of honorary executive chef; I’m not sure that he is ever actually in the kitchen there, which is OK, too. He’s more of a TV personality now. Which brings us to No Reservations, the program he hosts for the Travel Channel. It’s not like other culinary travel shows—it’s deep, man. The show always begins with an awful soundbite of a Blues Hammer-esque vocalist intoning “Noooo Reservationssss” in some hepcat style. I saw the “Venice” episode recently. Bourdain does his best (meaning worst) Lou Reed impression, walking around deserted back alleys of Venice, spouting some nonsense poetry about the soul of the city and its inhabitants. Later, he dines with some native Venetians and everyone pats each other on the back, talking about “heroic” cooking and the “real” food of Venice. You see, my problem is not that Bourdain is rebellious or that he’s cool enough to be invited to drink wine in hole-in-the-wall cafes. He’s an elitist, constantly mocking the tourists and pretending he’s not one of them. Give me Rick Steves over this guy any day.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
That “awful soundbite” opening the show is the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. As a card carrying Morrissey fan, I know you’d prefer to hear the Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder,” but the tone and content of that song wouldn’t be appropriate for a travel and cooking show hosted by an abrasive and unabashedly carnivorous New Yorker. But I digress. Yes, I admit that Bourdain’s poetic musings can sometimes be a bit over the top, and the guy is clearly impressed with himself. As you know from reading Kitchen Confidential, however, a healthy self-regard and a steel set of balls are practically prerequisites for survival in the culinary industry. And give chefs their due; they are artists in their own right. I find Bourdain a welcome change from the usual dumbed down, nicey-nice fare in both the travel and cooking show genres. He’s foul-mouthed, politically incorrect, likes to drink, and yes, he makes fun of the fanny-packed cruise ship crowd, an elitist take I wholeheartedly endorse. Plus, c’mon, how many cooking or travel shows do you know that would host the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Marky Ramone or Queens Of The Stone Age?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Nice ad hominem argument there with the Morrissey/Smiths jab. Hasn’t been my cup of tea since I was a teenager, however. I like Jon Spencer a lot, and knowing that he’s responsible for that lead-in soundbite makes me sad. You’re trying to impress me with the likes of Marky Ramone? Was Bez from Happy Mondays not available? I’ll give chefs their due respect, but you have to admit we’re in an era of overcelebrating these people. Bourdain is just one more enabler within the framework of our national obsession with food. The Food Network, Top Chef, Gordon Ramsay’s various series and whatever other network cooking shows leave just enough programming time for weight-loss reality shows like The Biggest Loser. Makes sense to me. You know what I do enjoy about No Reservations? The camera work. Really beautiful location shots of the different cities and their architecture, plus panoramic natural views. It’s great TV until Bourdain buzzkills it with some junior-high poetry about steamed mussels or the perfect crepe. That’s about all the praise I can muster. I feel like a theatre critic complimenting the scenery because the acting is just so awful.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch
Man, talk about grasping at straws. When one argument gets shot down, you jump to another. Bourdain is a celebrity, and I don’t like celebrity chefs. No, wait, he’s a no-talent, junkie hack. Uh, no, that’s not it, he’s a poetry-spewing elitist. What I really mean is, he’s responsible for America’s obesity problem. What’s next? Bourdain’s reckless derivative trading brought down AIG? Yes, there are too many damn cooking shows on the air right now, and most of them are garbage. If you had watched more than one episode of No Reservations, however, you would have seen that Bourdain isn’t peddling peanut butter pies to middle America. Yes, the guy can be an arrogant prick, but he’s focusing on the right things when it comes to travel and food. His mantra is to get off the beaten path and seek the expertly (and often humbly) prepared local fare. He shouldn’t be faulted for overreaching at times in terms of portraying these experiences in hyperbolic terms. By the way, given your ascetic views on food, drink, drugs, etc., have you ever considered a career as a monk?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan
Yeah, regarding my multi-tiered assault on Bourdain, it’s called “moving the goalpost.” I do it all the time to win arguments. Usually nobody notices. Even so, all the things I mentioned constitute, for me, a reason not to get excited about Anthony Bourdain. He’s clearly your antihero in a celebrity-chef universe that deserves to go supernova. Regarding my fledgling career as a monk, if it means abstaining from viewing Bourdain on TV, sign me up. Just put me in whatever abbey brews Chimay or Orval. See you (and probably Bourdain) at rehab.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted April 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Bourdain is similar to the rest of the casualties that have turned the Food Network into ego bloated tripe (can you eat that??). Even skilled chefs like Flay, with a decent pedegree, have dumbed down their shows to the point where they try to insert the occasional meal as an appetizer (keeping with the pun theme) for their persona. I’ve cooked a boatload of new dishes after watching cooking shows (looks down at bloated waist), but this new breed of rock-lobster stars just makes me want to stick with the old tried-and-true.

  2. Posted April 9, 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    This is the truth…. Tony Bourdian comes from the school of hard knocks… I worked with him for years at The Supperclub near Times Square… His poetic demeanor is from working long hours…. And listening to The Modern Lovers, Curtis Mayfield, and the clash… All while pounding absolute and grapefruit juice and heinkens, while creating perfect food dishes. That man loves to cook… I saw him hold a raw chicken like it was a newborn baby…. I mean fat in a good way…. This guy came from nothing…. All because he is a phenominal writer… Check out his first book, “Bone in the Throat”.

  3. Posted April 21, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    can we get a put up your dukes on The Hold Steady PLEASE!?

  4. Matthew Fritch
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Would you settle for a Hold Steady Over/Under? Coming next week…

  5. matt
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I hadn’t checked back and didn’t see you were already planning it when I looked at my email. I had a moment of inflated self-importance today because of it.

  6. Andrew the Noisy
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Comparing Marky Ramone to Bez is just wrong. Marky played on “Blank Generation”, for God’s sake, show some respect.

  7. Posted March 11, 2010 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    He’s the polar opposite of so many other critics…Why? Oh, he has a television show that’s been running for what, 7 seasons now? He’s incredibly upbeat about what is on his plate. No matter if its gourmet or a taste of the local food from a street vendor. My only complaint is that he apparently likes everything, no real complaints or criticism.

    He’s just a fat kid at heart, as long as the food is bad for you he’ll sign a waiver and a thumbs up.