Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert's story, as told recently in Hamptons magazine, goes like this: Ripert, chef at the esteemed Le Bernardin in New York City, was impressed enough with Bourdain's 2001 book Kitchen Confidential that he invited Bourdain to lunch at Le Bernardin. The meal was so good, Bourdain told the magazine, that it left him nearly in tears because, although the book was doing well, he realized the opportunities he missed by not going further in pursuing a career as a chef.
Not that Bourdain has been hurting. His popular Travel Channel show, No Reservations, aired its series finale this week, and he has upcoming gigs to host a weekend show debuting in early 2013 on CNN and to be a mentor/executive producer on The Taste, a cooking competition scheduled to air in 2013 on ABC. His humor, adventurousness and brutal honesty (including frequent shots at other TV-food personalities) have made him a TV fixture and fueled other bestselling books.
His initial meeting with Ripert led to a lasting friendship, which North Texans can get a glimpse of when the duo bring their "Good vs. Evil: An Evening With Anthony Bourdain & Eric Ripert" show to Bass Hall on Friday night. We chatted with Bourdain about the show and about, well, food. Here's an abridged version of the conversation.
How much does the show reflect what you and Eric are like offstage?
The beginning of the show is pretty adversarial. I base my questions to him on a classic prosecutorial examination of a witness. It's an aggressive and hostile interrogation. I'm looking to make him uncomfortable, to get him to go off-brand. Eric is a very careful, very diplomatic guy with a reputation to uphold, so it makes it tough for him to honestly answer a lot of the questions that I ask him. We both do whatever is possible to trip each other up. After the initial interrogation period, we sit down on a couch and discuss issues. I think that part of the show is much closer to what we're like when we're not onstage.
From what I've heard, he does his own share of dishing out the prosecutorial part.
He's very good at it. And he's getting better.
So what are some of the issues we might expect to hear discussed?
Eric is very interested in sustainability -- the morality or judiciousness of eating certain species of fish. The extent to which we should aspire toward eating locally; the whole idea of organics, GMOs. That's something where I think there's room for discussion and even disagreement. Our sort of foodish culture and to what extent it has distorted our relationship with food -- things like that. The [locavore] movement is great if you live somewhere where there's a lot of good stuff. Not everybody does. So those people who suggest that we should eat only what's local or what's seasonal -- gee, that would be great in Italy or the San Francisco Bay area, but it's not so wonderful for, say, northern Quebec.
When you came to Dallas last year, you told the Dallas Observer that you were 'pig-ignorant' of the Dallas-Fort Worth food scene. Have you had any chance to get an education since then?
Dallas, Houston I still don't know much about. But I know Austin pretty well at this point. I have a publishing imprint, and one of my authors is [Dallas-based] Daniel Vaughn, who does the Full Custom Gospel BBQ site [www.fullcustomgospelbbq.com] and is known as The BBQ Snob. He's written a terrific book on Texas barbecue, so he's sort of my mentor on this. [In the season premiere of No Reservations, Vaughn took Bourdain to Austin's Franklin Barbecue and JMueller Barbecue]. That [episode] was enlightenment in a mouthful. My perspective on Texas barbecue shifted in the space of a few moments.
You've talked about educating your 5-year-old daughter and developing her palate. How do you educate adults, especially when there are so many chain restaurants and fast-food places?
It's a combination of seduction, of trying to make less-than-enticing-looking but genuine things look like a cool thing to go to. But I think also negative reinforcement is required. You make people feel bad about their decisions. It's a terrible thing, but it's the same business model as in fashion, and I think it's effective here: You mock people for eating at P.F. Chang's when there's a perfectly good Chinese restaurant down the street. I'm all for mocking people, if the result is good.
Y'know, we used to cook in this country. And we are starting to cook again. Today is probably the best time in America to be cooking, the best time in American history to be eating. Things are getting really interesting, so there's less and less reason to find yourself at an Olive Garden -- unless you're 150 miles from anything resembling a real Italian restaurant.
The food scene in Dallas-Fort Worth has been steadily improving, but you still hear from chefs who say that their restaurants need a gestation period before diners really discover them. Is that something you've encountered in most U.S. cities?
I was just in Atlanta, and the scene in Atlanta has really exploded over the last year. There's been a sort of invasion of young, hip chefs, and there's a hipster, counterculture-driven restaurant scene. Dining, even fine dining, as [L.A.-based food critic] Jonathan Gold has suggested, has become an increasingly countercultural activity. So you have to look at the demographics at certain cities and ask if they're as hospitable to the sort of the do-it-yourself restaurants that are popping up in Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York.
It is a process of seduction. It can happen very quickly, but in some places it takes a little longer. So if it's happening in some cities quicker than others, don't worry, it will get there. Right now there are 30 young chefs with ironic sunglasses and pigs tattooed on their forearms headed to Dallas intent on curing their own charcuterie and sourcing locally produced artisanal cheese and serving bone marrow and kidney.
You've had some not-so-nice things to say about vegetarians. Do you hear from vegetarians and others who don't necessarily agree with you but are fans?
I have a lot of fans in predominantly Muslim countries like Malaysia, where my preoccupation with pork surely did not go down well. I have a lot of vegetarian fans, and it's a constant surprise and delight to me that they find me entertaining, considering my dubious view of their lifestyles.
Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872