24 June, 2010

Anthony Bourdain in Seattle

Anthony Bourdain was the foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, un-celebrity I expected him to be.

What I did not expect was a stand-up comedy routine. From the moment he came out, until he finished the talk, he had food and restaurant enthusiasts rolling in the aisles. I knew he'd be funny, I just did not know to what extent.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. I went there to hear Anthony read from his new book Medium Raw which he was there to pimp, and a copy of which came with our tickets. I like hearing readings for two reasons: I like to hear the writer read the story in his or her own inflection, and I also like to see which passages they select for reading to the audience. I think it's telling, and gives a tiny sliver into what part of the book the author seems to like best, or feels is the most interesting for a crowd. I don't know, call me silly, but when I go to a book event, I expect to hear an author read from that book.

I will complain about one more thing and get it out of the way. Tony? Get over the Food Network. You've bitched about it for years, and it was fun for a while. It's a successful network and isn't going anywhere. While the rants are funny in your books, carried over into real life, you just sound angry and disgruntled. (Which, of course, is part of your appeal. And part of your history.) But really Tony? I just really wanted to hear what amazing things you've done, hear you read from the book, and hear about the things you're passionate about (of which there are many, I suspect).

But that's just me.

Now. On to the good stuff.

When I was sitting in the balcony, looking down at the lone stool on stage, I mentioned to Rick "Why don't they get him a comfortable chair or a couch? That stool looks uncomfortable and he doesn't seem like a 'stool guy'." Well, it turns out, he's not. He came out and stood for almost an hour-and-a-half onstage, only using the stool as an oversized beer coaster for his bottle. That was another thing that made me see him as a comedian--the drink, the willingness to get up, walk around, and interact with the audience, and the humor. He's a very interesting entertainer. He might be known for his culinary skills, his adaptability in foreign scenarios, and his written prose, but his onstage presence was equally captivating.

He did spend a good, long time dissing the Food Network, Iron Chef, and other gastronomical spectacles. It got a bit old, but nonetheless, it was amusing to hearing him, as always, dish the back story of culinary superstars, and the restaurants and networks behind them. I understand his disdain, and were I in even a remotely neighboring stratosphere of culinary talent, I'd likely feel the same bile rise in my throat to see nobodys in the industry rise far higher than those with talent.

But doesn't that happen in almost every industry? I mean, I can hardly stomach watching the Oscars anymore.

He was particularly full of bile for Sandra Lee, who has a cooking show that really cannot be considered cooking, even if one stretches the definition to include "throwing lots of spices into unsuspecting dishes" and "opening cans and jars and throwing contents into a casserole dish". Even then, she might manage to miss the actual mark. But she's too easy a target. Even her slogan "Semi-Homemade" some sort of disclaimer. Yet Anthony said, "Sandra Lee did to food what Hitler did to Poland." Not entirely untrue, I will give him that. (Especially, after viewing this hideous video that he mentioned.)

He went light on Rachael Ray, citing that she has done him some favorable gestures, and he has a very hard time being cruel to someone who does something nice to him. She's apparently also done something that he actually considered (gasp) 'cool': she hired The New York Dolls for a party she threw. Clearly, she could have hired something like Lady Gaga or some marginally talented group. Instead, she chose TNYDs and Tony was quite bothered by that, because that meant he pretty much couldn't hate her anymore.

Oh, Tony.

Once he got past the Food Network, he started talking about being a dad. It is crystal clear that he is a devoted one. He mentioned that he never has cared much about the ethics of food -- he was, after all, in the pleasure business, not the eco business -- until his daughter arrived. Suddenly, 'certified organic' is all that is good enough for his girl. Now, he and his wife find themselves devising ways to make kiddie-seducers "the King, the Clown, and the Colonel" look uncool, making up stories about Ronald having 'cooties' and the like. He said "Ronald McDonald is more recognizable to kids around the world that Jesus or Mickey Mouse." True, that. Still, he says "I'm proud of my daughter. I don't want to raise an annoying 'foodie', even though, essentially, that's what I am." His proudest moment was when she ripped apart a lobster and ate it at a family seafood feast only after sweetly calling it the name of a lobster character in a children's film first.

He talked further about fast food and how each hamburger could come from dozens of sources, and many suppliers soak their beef in some sort of ammonia mixture to kill off bacteria before using it for food.

"If we let cleaning supplies into our beef, the terrorists win!" he says. "There shouldn't be cleaning products in my hamburger. Hotdogs? There's an implied consent."

He fielded a lot of questions from the audience, which was a segment of the show that was both interesting and annoying. Interesting, because I love that he enjoyed interacting with the audience, and he entertained greatly with his answers, eliciting many spontaneous guffaws. Annoying, because 9 out of 10 people did not use the microphone and we couldn't hear the question (a logistics issue that the Moore Theater should have dealt with) and at least half of the questions were ridiculous, if not downright stupid, such as "Where was the absolute worst place you took a shit?"

Really? Do I want to know that? For real? (It was Pakistan.)

Still, it was interesting, and here are some of the tidbits we learned:
  • Best place for a young cook out of culinary school to go: Spain
  • Worst meal of his life: Fermented shark in Iceland
  • Best place to travel if you're single and celebrating your 50th birthday: Brazil
  • Cheapest place to retire with good food: Uruguay (but it's a meat-heavy diet; it is not for vegetarians)
  • His current favorite food: crunchy pig tails
  • Favorite Seattle eatery: Salumi
  • "In the hierarchy of pork, the Philippine lechon is right up there."
  • Where wouldn't he go again? Scandinavia. Too clean and orderly. He prefers dirty, dysfunctional places like Vietnam, Lebanon.
  • If he is in NYC, what does he eat? "I'm goin' to Cactus Deli for a big fat pastrami sandwich."
  • When asked what was in his fridge, he said "Nothing much. I am a New Yorker. When I want food, I pick up the phone." He did confess that they usually had a pantry full of Italian goods: capers, pasta, olives and such. 
  • When asked what his last meal on Earth would be, he said "Marea's toast with uni and a wafer-thin sheet of melted lardo."
  • Beatles or Rolling Stones? "Do I look like a Paul McCartney fan?" he asks, and leaves it at that.
  • Food he enjoys most: Good runny stinky perfect cheese, regional wines, classic sushi (no avocados and crap), simple things 
After spending almost two hours pre-signing every single one of our books, then talking for an hour-and-a-half, he sat out in the lobby and personalized every single book again for over an hour, and letting people take their picture with him.

His only request was that he 'would not sign breasts or asses'.

Seattle Restaurateur, Tom Douglas, replied "Let it be known, far and wide, that I will sign any breast." (I might remind him of that at a later date.)

Since Tony's appearance on Tuesday, I've started reading my copy of his book. In doing so, I was surprised to notice that he did indeed read from the book. From memory. His Sandra Lee story? Was quoted verbatim from the book. He basically recited parts of the book without reading it.

His talents are far-reaching and in the end, I was left even more impressed than I knew I'd be.


  1. This is really lovely. I admire him, love his writing, and adore his general curmudgeonliness. I guess what I like about him the most is his love of simple, good food prepared well (very much in evidence at Les Halles). Thanks for the write up of the event.

    Also, your pictures are so gorgeous--there is such an amazing clarity to them, such an fantastic, palpable quality of the light that you capture. I really do admire your work, Jackie. (Also, you should give lessons. Or at least suggest a good new lens to me, my 18-55 standby just doesn't cut it anymore.)

  2. Thanks, Steph! I do give lessons (for about a year now). Write me offline and let me know what you're looking to shoot and I'll definitely help you out with gear recommendations!

    And thanks. Thanks for always providing sincere, honest feedback. You're the best!

  3. I absolutely LOVE Tom Douglas' retort. I saw him wandering around near Lola last week and wanted to hug him like the big teddy bear he appears to be. :)

    And while I LIKE Bourdain, I've never wanted to throw my arms around his neck.

  4. Great post, I'd love to hear him and you just confirmed he's worth it. thx

  5. I really enjoyed reading this Jackie. A great insight into the man.

  6. Wow, that was a great rundown of the evening. I feel as if I were there. Thank you so much!

  7. I am so seriously bummed that I missed that. Saw it coming but had another commitment.

  8. Great post! We saw Anthony Bourdain at the Moore a few years ago and it sounds like he hasn't lost his edge. Learned a couple of new vocabulary words that night...

  9. Nice recap. I was there that night too. PS. I think you mean Katz's deli, not Cactus, for their legendary pastrami. http://katzsdelicatessen.com/

  10. Awesome! Its genuinely awesome article, I have got much clear idea regarding from this piece of writing.
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