Food nomad Anthony Bourdain travels about 255 days a year, which is a fact I learned last week on one of his days away from home.
Bourdain came to Bloomington with his good friend Eric Ripert, who is a French-American chef, for their “Good vs. Evil” tour — the two shared the stage for casual conversations about food, restaurants and themselves. It was just the two of them — no moderator. The night started with Ripert seated in a folding chair while Bourdain circled him, asking jab-y little questions designed to get the crowd laughing. Then, they switched.
Our seats at the show were great, my iPhone photo is not. Bourdain is on the left and Ripert is on the right:
Bourdain, as you know, hosts “No Reservations” and “The Layover,” wrote “Medium Raw” and “Kitchen Confidential,” and has a rebel reputation and a nearly iron stomach.
Meanwhile, Ripert is the sensitive, idyllic counterpart who won’t eat bluefin tuna. Ripert is the chef of the upscale Le Bernardin in New York, author of “Avec Eric” and host of of PBS show of the same name. He’s certainly accomplished, but low-key compared to Bourdain, and because he’s not publicly scorning Paula Deen and Rachael Ray, he is perhaps not as well known. To show how Ripert plays to a different audience, Bourdain during one bit makes Ripert tell the crowd many times he’s been on “The Martha Stewart Show” — about 20.
“Good vs. Evil” was highly entertaining — funny, of course, but also insightful and thoughtful at times. For the most part it felt candid, but there were some scripted moments for sure. After they took turns interviewing each other, they both sat down and conversed more deeply on topics like organic food, endangered food, etc. A Q&A followed, and there were some pretty awkward moments from people who didn’t have questions, but just wanted to say hi to Bourdain.
Bourdain is a quote machine, and the journalist in me wanted to jot down some stuff in the dark. I thought about recording it all on my iPhone. Instead, I just listened.
Here’s a few snippets of things Bourdain said, probably paraphrased a bit:
On eating iguana: It was like you had taken your childhood G.I. Joe figurine, left it at the bottom of a fish tank, and then decided to gnaw on it.
Lightening round on various food personalities:
Giada DeLaurentiis: Big head.
Guy Fieri: How does he do it?
Rachael Ray: She gave me a fruit basket once, so things are good between us. A fruit basket goes a long way.
Ina Garten: I enjoy many of the things she makes but wouldn’t want to stay the weekend in her home.
Going on “The Martha Stewart Show”: Bourdain and Ripert went on the show together, where they were given a generous 15-minute segment. While Ripert prepared a beef bourguignon, Bourdain was resigned to side-show status: he made pasta with a hand crank (he said he’d never made pasta until then).
Finally throwing some attention his way, Martha asked Bourdain if he had ever worked in a restaurant before. His response: “Yeah, for 28 years, bitch.”
On Butter Queen Paula Deen endorsing a diabetes drug: A little shame on her part would have been appropriate. It’s like this: When I had a heroin habit, I wasn’t selling Tony shoot-up dolls, and I wasn’t on the other end with methadone.
On Paula Deen’s food: It’s not Southern food. It’s not working-class food. It’s freak food.
Being consistent vs. being innovative: Consistency should always come first at a restaurant. Meals have to be the same every night, whether you as the chef are there or not. You don’t want your salad chef winging it.
What is the definition of American food? Anyone who is cooking in American right now is making American food. (Meanwhile, Ripert said the American food is the fusion of cultures.)
“Grandma’s house” rule: Bourdain once ate warthog rectum in Namibia. It was an offering from the locals, who consider it a special part of the animal. It was incredibly gross, and he had to go on antibiotics afterward.
Bourdain says the point is, when you’re a guest, you eat whatever is put in front of you, just as you would at your grandmas house.
On breakfast: Black coffee only. Occasionally he’ll get a bagel with salmon when he’s at home in NY.
On a humbler note: I’ve worked in a lot of good restaurants but not any great restaurants.
On the often bizarre choices for celebrity judges on “Top Chef”: I like Pee Wee Herman. But I wouldn’t want want to be sent home by him.
Asked whether he’s a suitable judge for “Top Chef”: Padma wakes you up at 4 a.m. and says, “Use the contents of a vending machine to cook a 12 course meal for Tom and I. Oh, and you have to use the the entire Glad line of baggies. Meanwhile, you have to cook it in the back of a Toyota Highlander.” Yes, I think I’m qualified to judge this show.