The sold-out show was an hour and a half of humorous banter and questions between the two, who obviously enjoy and respect each other, followed by about forty minutes of obviously unscripted questions from the audience (obvious because many seemed to lack a clear conclusion).
If you have read Bourdain’s Medium Raw there was some repetition of stories and themes, all of it still fresh and entertaining. Interspersed with the comedy were serious themes that were touched on with thoughtful responses, topics such as whether there is such a thing as sustainable seafood, whether genetically modified seafood is positive or negative, and whether Alice Waters does more harm than good as the ongoing spokesperson for the locavore movement. Anyone familiar with Bourdain knows that Waters is one of his favorite rants:
Bourdain to Ripert: “Alice Waters, good or bad?”
(laughter from the crowd, long pause from Ripert)
Ripert: “What do you think?”
Bourdain: “I think it is like having Alec Baldwin or Barbra Streisand support your political campaign–it is embarrassing.”
Later Bourdain described his on-stage encounter with Waters, in which his desire to verbally liquidate her was disarmed when she “practically levitated onto stage, cradling a basket of fruits and vegetables.” Ripert then noted that Waters gets a pass because “she is 74.”
Humor aside, Bourdain’s primary issues with Waters are ones worth considering, and he goes into greater detail about this in his new book. His primary problem is the lack of socio-economic awareness in some of Water’s statements and crusades. One example of this was his recounting of her statement that low-income individuals who cannot afford local organics should just give up a few cell phone hours to buy those grapes:
Bourdain: “What if you live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Waters says ‘oh, there are turnips, and rutabagas…’ So basically you are telling people to live like Russian peasants.”
Like most environmental issues, the question of food sustainability is one that has legitimate and usually overlooked socio-economic divides, and Bourdain excels at recognizing and calling attention to those disparities. Still, as Julie adamantly noted in our after-event discussion, he tends to paint this as an either/or issue, when in fact they are different issues that deserve equal attention. Because we tend to gloss over all class issues in America as issues of “personal responsiblity,” rather than systemic problems, I appreciate Bourdain’s attention to the gaps. However, I think there are ways to address the systemic issues, and he would be a great spokesperson to add momentum to some of those solutions. Embrace your knighthood, Tony. I would also like to point out that while the Reagan administration did try to get ketchup classified as a vegetable for the school lunch program, the effort failed (in contrast to Bourdain’s claim).
But enough on Waters and income gaps–here are a few of my other favorite things from the evening:
Bourdain, harassing Ripert for saying that Guy Fieri rocks: ” The guy is 45 years old, shouldn’t he take the fucking sunglasses off?”
Bourdain, on the Olive Garden as the worst restaurant, ever: “I hate the Olive Garden. There would be fires burning (if I had my way).”
Ripert, on Bourdain’s past drug abuse: “Are you high tonight?”
Ripert, on his serious persona: “In the kitchen, I listen to Techno music.”
Bourdain, on Water’s statement that her death row meal would be shark fin soup: “All I could say was, that’s not local!”
Ripert to Bourdain, on his “minimal” cooking skills: “Were there any good restaurants where you worked?”
Bourdain, on bad Mexican food in America: “There is no cheddar cheese in Mexico.”
All in all, the crowd left wanting more, and the chefs sparked discussions that were carried on into the parking lots by the enthusiastic crowd. On the way to the event I had wondered what exactly we would be witnessing–two chefs chatting for two hours?–and it far exceeded my expectations. We need, as a culture and as a nation, to have more discussions like this about food, food production, and national cuisine.
Too, both Ripert and Bourdain are paragons of volcanic hotness. I only wish the V.I.P. tickets with the meet and greet had not sold out so quickly. And Tony, if you decide to quit your starring role and just produce, as you suggested, Ann is willing to take over, as am I. Call me.
Thanks for reading,