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New Yorker blogger "critiques" Anthony Bourdain

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"When Meals Get Macho"

My take: The level of hubris is so high, I can't decide whether to laugh or be offended by this article. I do see a strain of truth to be salvaged [and to think the author is a former magazine editor], something to do with how Americans approach food, but the writing is so vile I don't want to tease it out. Apparently there is some sort of feud going on between Chez Panisse and Bourdain camps? What a pity, for everyone. I've generally appreciated both, in the past.

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  1. "He’s left a crude hickey on this country’s food culture."

    That was my favorite line of the article.....in general I found it amusing that essentially an article going after Bourdain for being edgy for the sake of being edgy did that itself.

    While I find Bourdain to be very blustery (sometimes for the better, sometimes not) - I think he's also been very upfront that much of his writing/tv career was him trying to build a better life for himself financially. That he knew he had limitations as a chef, that he wasn't an amazing chef of his generation, and he didn't want to be on the line in his 50's or be a corporate chef for TGI Fridays. So when someone wants to write an attack article about his current attitude for food, I find it difficult to take it all that seriously because I think that much of it has to do with his brand and works for his niche of entertainment.

    1. Bourdain is different, eye- and sense-opening, and he's got style - every kind of style. What more does Ms. Adler want in a TV program about food, travel, or both? If she feels that Bourdain is too macho for her, there's always Rachael Ray. Yum-O!

      1. The prudish blogger sure does take herself seriously.
        Bourdain and his bluster are far more interesting than her badly written blather. Like most "blogs", it is utterly insignificant.
        The "hickey" remark _was_ a good laugh, however.

        1. I really liked this one. I was a AB fan for a minute....until he became a characature of himself. Many good lines here (the hickey one is good) but so is the one about aspiring cooks and AB "burping in their general direction". I also liked her comment about his "entitled immaturity". IMO kitchen confidential was an eye opener and really cutting edge in many ways, then it all turned into ridiculous BS. I just hope AB can call it quits before he makes such an ass of himself that he loses all respect for even the good things he has done.

          7 Replies
          1. re: sedimental

            I think AB will be just fine, whatever he does.

            1. re: linguafood

              Yes, I am sure he will be. Look at Paula Deen. No worse for wear, lol.

            2. re: sedimental

              Well, I saw it differently. The paragraph with the alleged "entitled immaturity" was bullshit. The author makes a number of accusations without explaining to readers how and why they are true. As a reader I expect an opinion—especially a dramatically damning one—to be a) self-contained and b) coherent.

              The author talks about control and self-respect, but I question if she has mastered either. This bully waxes about harm to food culture, but I'm seeing a lot more harm inflicted upon a fellow human being.

              1. re: calf

                Yes, your OP indicates your opinion on it.

                1. re: sedimental

                  It's one thing to have an opinion, it's another to explain it clearly. The kind of verbal put-downs in that article remind me of grade school. I expected the quality of thinking and conversation to be more reasonable than that, at the New Yorker.

                  I don't even follow Bourdain's shows anymore, but after this article I watched the new episode on Paris. It was about covering a kind of grass-roots cooking happening all over the city, being done by young chefs. He was respectful and asked good questions, and went to the trouble of getting two older chefs (Eric Ripert and Joel Robuchon) for their perspective on the kind of change that was happening. Nowhere did he "burp in the general direction" of the new chefs. Maybe I'm missing some crucial information, but the content of this article is not compelling, for examples like this one.

                2. re: calf

                  "Entitled immaturity" is the best characterization in the piece — concise and accurate and needing no explanation.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    I guess we all know what Adler is referring to when she talks about Bourdain's 'immaturity.' Some of us hate it, some tolerate it, and some enjoy it.

                    But the 'entitled' bit - at first glance, it seems she dropped the E bomb for no other reason than because it's a buzzword of an insult.

                    From the article:
                    "There is undeniable power to Bourdain’s vulgarity, but a lot of it reads as entitled immaturity. Suggesting that aggression is the only appropriate existential response to the demands of restaurant cooking—that hardened hands and focus are best matched with hardness throughout one’s life—he simulates teaching sophistication, then teaches solipsism."

                    Rereading the original context, Adler seems to have the whole thing backwards. Bourdain doesn't claim that he behaves badly or immaturely because he's a cook (or seldom, anyway). He's written many times that he was a self-destructive and badly behaved young man who started cooking because that was the only profession that would tolerate him at the time. He's written that a life in the kitchen slowly changed him from a thieving, drug abusing, irresponsible punk into someone who lived with a purpose... into a guy who does what he says he'll do.

                    Bourdain's critics seem quick to see his bluster and swearing and tendency to put his foot in his mouth and assume that's all he is, and that it's his whole appeal. It's not, and it's not.

              2. Bourdain is basically Guy Fieri without the bling.

                He's a hack of a cook who parlayed a poorly written biopic into a multi-million dollar media empire. It's the American dream on a plate. Kudos to him.

                12 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Everyone has their own idea of ethics and self respect...and money making options.
                  If I were Paula, I would have stopped short of the ground beef patty between the crispy creme donut. If I were Anthony, I would have stopped short of posing naked with a salami between my legs. But that is me. Only they know if they regret their choices or not. Both have made a stellar career out of controversy, either way.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Where did you have the opportunity to sample his cooking?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I've sampled his cooking at Les Halles in NYC on more than one occasion. He's good.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Where did Guy Fieri cook? I know he owns restaurants but I was not aware he ever ran a kitchen.

                        1. re: kurtt

                          But there is a difference between Les Halles and Fieri's restuarants, which by all accounts are basically TGI Fridays.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          while making up stuff is really, really fun, other than being a hack cook, there's really no evidence to support any of this.
                          if you think bourdain's stuff is poorly written, you should read food writing on the world wide interwebs sometime.
                          if bourdain has a "multimillion dollar media empire," i'm the paraclete of caborca.
                          crikey, does guy fieri even have a multi million dollar media empire? does he even OWN his show on the food network?

                          1. re: linus

                            Both are millionaires many times over.

                            There's a cure for that, y'know. I think they called it the "Freeman-Watts prefrontal lobotomy" a while back.

                            1. re: linus

                              Pretty sure Guy is a millionaire many times over. Read somewhere that he cleared close to $10 last year. Apparently has a garageful of exotic cars.

                              1. re: FattyDumplin

                                thank you for that info, cowboyardee. those figures were about what i expected, maybe a little more.
                                hardly the "millionaires many times over" predicted above.
                                granted, two very successful men.

                          2. I'm not familiar with the writer, but I came away from the article with the suspicion she somehow feels she has been slighted by Mr. Bordain. Her opening remarks intimating that tripe and the use of blood to thicken sauces is a mundane thing in this world where cryovaced supermarket food supplies are creeping into the most remote outposts of civilization strikes me as being as unaware of her own place in the universe as she accuses AB of being in hers.

                            When someone's cooking show bugs the hell out of me, the least disturbing way I have found to handle it is to change channels or turn off the TV. Sounds like this lady has some sort of axe to grind that compels her to keep watching. And bitching. Pity!

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Caroline1

                              She'll never accomplish what AB has done and that alone is driving her nuts. Her blog reminds me of how a blogger would react when the candidate of her choice has just lost the election for grade ten class president.

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Bourdain has taken numerous pot shots at Alice Waters (though he's tempered it with the odd kind word for her causes). The writer was a cook at Chez Panisse and a Waters disciple. I believe the article is basically an attempt to escalate the feud and/or up the profile of the writer by starting a war of words with a higher profile food celeb. Food writing and hip hop cultures aren't all that different.

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  Food writing, hip hop, and cat fighting. Thanks for the info on who she thinks she is. '-)

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    It's kind of silly to take seriously anything Bourdain says, 90 percent of which is said to be either entertaining and/or outrageous. Taking offense just makes you humorless. AB has made it clear that he thinks Alice Waters is pretentious, and it's hard to disagree with that, even if you admire much of her work.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Right on, Ruth. None of this is serious or meaningful. The only reason Bourdain bashes others ( and let us not forget that he does this at every opportunity) is to attract more attention to himself -and the only reason for this article by Tamar is to be equally successful in attracting attention and stirring up controversy. Apparently it works like a charm! She is probably angling for a food show or has a new book on the back burner.

                                      I am just hoping that she doesn't pose naked with cigarette hanging out of her mouth and a krispy creme hamburger donut covering her privates...oh wait.....she worked at Chez Panisse....then change that to a joint and a perfect fig leaf and two "lusciously ripe tomatoes".........

                                      1. re: sedimental

                                        Ding ding ding ding ding (to sedimental's "Right on Ruth...")

                                        1. re: pinehurst

                                          Yes yes. The piece fails fundamentally by collapsing any distinction between Bourdain the person (whoever that might be) and the persona he's chosen , created, and paid to play. Within the ridiculous limits of celebrity food and travel television, Bourdain almost alone on tv can surprise with wit, insight, and what is for tv a surprising amount of non-gimmicky self reflection. Anyone remember Tyler Florence or Mario Batali on the road? His gluttonous/punk shtick which got so predictably boring early on is giving way to a more complicated presence--for TV, of course. But he's always worth watching, even if the result is not some eye-rolling sweat flop like Zimmern delivers every week. And Bourdain knows things. He's not always in love with a place (Greece comes to mind), but he deals with these reactions and the trips always end up giving you more than you knew. In some, like an early episode with his brother retracing his family's roots along the French Atlantic coast, he can be moving and memorable, even. Adler says nothing about the cultural and commercial context of Bourdain's performances; without even a try at this, her piece is not worth a whole lot. And not dealing with the Bourdain-Waters divide and what it might mean (which can say a lot about this corner of the food world) is simply either lazy or disingenuous.

                                2. Tamar Adler. Jealous? Bitter? Are we? Look, FWIW, I think Bourdain is charming in such a naughty boy way. He has also done a decent job at giving many people a look into the world of culinary delights that may shudder others! Perhaps to some people, he's offensive and vulgar. I, myself, happen to love those qualities. I'm sick of cute. I'm yawning at politically correct. I'm tired of perkey kitchen "abreev" terms. When push comes to shove, I'll take Bourdain over a lot of others on the celeb/chef/foodwriter circuit. He knows his sh*t.

                                  1. Bourdain actually left a comment on this article. The crux of it being, "I wish I could take myself half as seriously as the author of this article seems to."

                                    One could argue that Bourdain has asked for it. After all, he's delivered some pretty scathing criticism of other food celebs, some of which he later recanted or toned down. And yeah, his routine gets old at times. But in my mind, he's in the entertainment industry now. That "schtick" is what he is being paid to do. It's what his audience wants, and what delivers his ratings, and makes his employers happy. So the guy is doing his job. I think Bourdain realizes that, and doesn't make himself out to be anything more than he is - an entertainer/TV personality, doing his job.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: MelMM

                                      Yup, Bourdain understands that his job is to avoid being dull.

                                    2. "He’s left a crude hickey on this country’s food culture."

                                      Anyone else notice the hypocrisy that the best and most entertaining line was one Anthony Bourdain would be likely to write himeslf? He should embrace it!

                                      1. Calf, on a quick read, it looks like Adler is from a different approach to food (Chez Panise) and a very different book.
                                        Maybe this is East Coast versus Northern Cal/ Berkeley?

                                        I loved the example of head chef being humble. I suspect that is what she wants people to take away. Bring gentility, humility, manners, awareness of others into the cycle now of a "busy situation."

                                        Sure Bourdain has a macho approach to food. He admits he is a spoiled middle class boy who spent the odd summer in France with the relatives. That sets you apart from other grub slingers.
                                        And, well, he has chased a macho image.

                                        But, speaking from my temple priestess position as a former newspaper journalist, I can say editors can't write as well as the underlings.
                                        My own writing tumbles if I'm also editing. Different parts of the brain dancing to different songs.

                                        1. Poor Tamare used "unctuous" in the first sentence of the first paragraph, Puuuhlease.
                                          I've been known to bitch-slap even my friends for using that word .

                                          Frustrated editor trying to be cloyingly funny while being scathingly hateful and jealous all the the same time.

                                          Shame on you New Yorker.

                                          If done Tongue-in-cheek, sure,. This type if vile spew? . No place for it...well, except from a frustrated "I want my 15 minutes dammit" blogger.

                                          Food Network would be proud though. Big thumbsup from them I bet.


                                          1. I've seen a dozen or so of AB's shows; some are really quite fun, some dull, and some stupid. It's worth noting that AB is not the complete master of his mythic empire. He's the star of a show with writers, directors, and producers. Don't mistake reality TV for reality. True, he may basically be playing himself, but he is "acting" in a very real sense in a scripted show. As such, it's hard for me to take it that seriously, and harder for me to take the author of this piece that seriously since she seems to take AB so seriously.

                                            1. Personally I thought the piece was puffy and overblown and didn't really make sense. I've interviewed Tony Bourdain. He's very genuine, kind, and funny. This was his response to Adler's piece:

                                              "To dislike my sentences is a perfectly reasonable position. To find them hyperbolic, badly written, crude or offensive also seems reasonable. But to accuse me of attempted "manliness" is beyond the pale. I fail to see how the eating of meat or tripes or bones has any gender association--and am baffled by this ham-fisted attempt to suggest that I do. I have never seen the enjoyment of food as competitive--or aggressive--or as an indicator of virility. If anything, the opposite is true. Nor, for that matter, do I see how being deliberately crude in the interests of comic effect has a gender. When I say to the camera that "I'd jerk a rusty butter knife across my best friend's throat " for a spoonful of pho--that's not hate speech. It's not bluster. It's called a joke. The author seems to imagine me as a tragic, Mailer-esque--or worse, cut-rate Hemingway wannabe. When I'm far more likely to look to Joan Rivers or Sarah Silverman (or Joan Didion for that matter) for guidance. I wish I could take myself half as seriously as the author of this article seems to."

                                              And this tweet from David Chang's Lucky Peach:

                                              "Oh, I get it. The guy who made it cool for millions of people to get interested in food and eating: he's the problem! had that all backwards."

                                              Agree with you Lucky Peach.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: TrishUntrapped

                                                The Lucky Peach tweet pretty well sums up my feelings about Anthony Bourdain. I personally like his style and his show, but I think any Chowhound has to at least appreciate that he's made people more aware of the type of food that Chowhounds generally venerate - fresh, interesting, made by people who give a damn. Someone upthread compared him to Guy Fieri, which makes no sense to me. Both are food "personalities" but I think we can agree that Bourdain is generally promoting very different food.

                                              2. I am a regular reader of the print edition of The New Yorker, have read Kitchen Confidential and seen some of Bourdain's more recent work, and I find the insights to be "spot on" as is sometimes said nowadays, and written with typical New Yorker flair, that is, eminently readable.

                                                My view has nothing to do with Chez Panisse. That's the next-to-last place in my neighborhood at which I want to eat.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: GH1618

                                                  i am a regular reader of the print edition of the new yorker, have read kitchen confidential and seen some of bourdain's more recent work (and his past work) and i find the insights to be nothing remotely resembling "spot on," and written at a level way, way below typical New Yorker flair. that is, the piece is eminently unreadable.

                                                  my view has nothing to do with chez panisse, either. i've never been there.

                                                2. I felt generally clobbered over the head by the author's simultaneous bitterness and superiority, and she seems to have revived a Bourdain of many years ago, one he has acknowledged, repented for, and moved past long ago, in order to be able to write what comes across as an attempt at generating buzz.

                                                  I admire Bourdain's work, but not unconditionally. He's gone overboard a few times, or just failed to interest others, but I honestly have not interpreted him or his past to be particularly macho. He reminds me somewhat of Woody Allen in his mildly neurotic self analysis, and Woody Allen is the last person who comes to mind when I think machismo.

                                                  And I don't think self destructive behavior or a difficult personality are particularly male traits, though they may have manifested themselves in a masculine way in Bourdain because, well, he is a man.

                                                  And this:

                                                  "And it remains true that Bourdain’s approach to food is more than an ugly one—it’s a destructive one too. It forsakes gentleness for machismo, balance for bluster. He has spawned an ethic, in the kitchen and in life, that poses as brave, but is really nothing more than the emotional equivalent of a keg stand, or maybe just a fear of being plain."

                                                  "Ugly" and "destructive" are just too hyperbolic to be credible, and the rest displays a certain lack of ability to discern between entertainment and real life.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                    Agree. I don't see Bourdain's approach to food as ugly or destructive. Just the opposite. In fact, re-reading Adler's piece, I found her to be sexist.

                                                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                      I do find him to be macho -- or perhaps "hyper masculine" -- but I agree that it's tempered by not taking himself too seriously.

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        I think I remember him referring to playing with dolls with his daughter....

                                                    2. Some fact checking would be good before Chez Panisse gets a behavioral free ride.Alice Waters,in the early days,circa Jeremiah Tower etc wasn't NICE.She was a credit hog,in spades.

                                                        1. Though the inclusion of this Jeremiad on even the New Yorker website is a disappointment, it should be noted that it *is* a blog entry and not a piece from the print edition. Thank heavens for small favors. Ms. Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal, has received all sorts of praise on the Home Cooking board. I have not read it, but from what I gather, it contains suggestions and recipes for repurposing leftovers as springboards, via addition of further ingredients, to future meals. Guess I missed the boat - like frugal cooks over the eons, I have done this all my cooking life, but never thought to create a book explaining the obvious. Is it too late to market a digital download recipe for boiled water?

                                                          1. The writer clearly values style over substance. Except where Tony Bourdain's work is concerned, of course.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                              that makes me sad for the author, as her writing lacks any kind of style, other than awkward, purple and difficult to read.

                                                            2. I like that people are disparaging not of the opinions presented in the post but rather the author's gloopy writing style. "Suggesting that aggression is the only appropriate existential response to the demands of restaurant cooking—that hardened hands and focus are best matched with hardness throughout one’s life—he simulates teaching sophistication, then teaches solipsism." Yowza.

                                                              I'm reading P.G. Wodehouse' "The World of Jeeves" again. I read it when I was a teenager and find my appreciation for the well-turned phrase is more acute in my 50s. As a teen I simply found the stories funny. Reading that article was jarring. If only Jeeves were here to shimmer in, proffering a B.and S. to calm my rattled nerves.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: MplsM ary

                                                                i would be remiss if i didn't say i find the author's opinions as unsupported and bogus as her writing.

                                                              2. I don't personally know Mr. Bourdain, he might well be a wonderful man. My perception of him based on his public persona is that he is a jackass whom I dislike.

                                                                1. this post of mine will no doubt be OT but I saw the header being about AB so . . .

                                                                  I am just finishing AB very last show of No Reservations.
                                                                  pretty cute.
                                                                  I've enjoyed the many that I've watched over the years.