I've been hanging out with Anthony Bourdain this week, having read his smart, intriguing f-bomb-filled memoir, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. This is not a man short on sharp opinions, self indulgence or back-handed compliments. Actually, since the definition of a back-handed compliment is an insult dressed up to look like a compliment, that is not true: Bourdain's way leans more to compliments dressed up to look like insults. Would that make him the king of the back-handed insult? (If my arm-chair psychology has it right, it also belies a teddy-bear heart hidden somewhere down in him.) His expressions are wired with angry negativity, but he is clever and sassy, and smart enough to know a good thing, so out it comes... A very bloody valentine.
A review of Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, along with a photolog of a wonderful evening I had at the restaurant Piccolo in Minneapolis on a short stop last year. It was a phenomenal experience that I never got around to writing about, but is definitely worth pointing out.
Take for example, the chapter titled "Go Ask Alice" in which Bourdain takes to task the Green Goddess herself, the "Mother of Slow Food", the Orator of Organic, the High Exalted Alice Waters. In one of many castigating stories he tells about her, Alice Waters, who hadn't voted since 1966, suddenly became political to the point of nominating herself and a cadre of influential foodie friends to the newly elected Barack Obama as "a small advisory group-- a 'Kitchen Cabinet' if you will-- to help with your selection of a White House chef. A person with integrity and devotion to the ideals of environmentalism, health and conservation..."
Bourdain is aghast that Ms. Waters had assumed the worst about the White House and its kitchen, an assumption that, according to him, even a token Google search would have dispelled. "It's all about Alice," is Bourdain's cry. In the end, though, he finds common ground with her and tips his hat to her misaligned (his opinion) work for having made a difference, and opts to accept the messenger if not her precise message. Happy Valentine's Day, Alice Waters.
On the other hand, Bourdain's latent teddy-bear self shows through with his deep respect for Justo Thomas, the unknown and unsung hero of his chapter called "My Aim is True". This chapter/essay couldn't be more beautiful. Mr. Thomas is the fish butcher at Le Bernardin, the Michelin-starred, three consecutive New York Times four-star reviewed restaurant which Bourdain deems "probably the best seafood restaurant in America." The reverence in which Bourdain depicts Mr. Thomas' swift, meticulous, professional work all but glows, along with his respect for Eric Ripert and the management of Le Bernardin for their committment to social justice. This gorgeous essay moved me to tears, and I learned so much about the restaurant industry at the same time.
His vitriol and self-indulgence has rubbed off on me, so allow me, for a moment, to depart from my usual sunshiny self to blather about things in the world of food and wine that annoy me. Here I go, channeling my best, most disagreeable, inner Tony Bourdain:
- Cologned service staff. If I were the God of Restaurants, this would be cause for immediate dismissal. I hate it when Pinot Noir tastes like Eau de Pew or when Syrah tastes like Essence of Sunday School Teacher, which happens all to frequently while dining out. This goes for those pouring at wineries, too.
- Restaurant cell phone chatterers. Put. It. Down. "They" will not miss you for the fricking hour it takes to nourish yourself and enjoy your meal. If they can't wait, please keep you phone on vibrate and step outside to take your call. Your louder-than-table-talk phone conversation is seriously diminishing my enjoyable experience, and next time, if my stink eye isn't enough to make you end your call, I may even tell on you to the waiter.
- Cheap-ass tippers, and you know who you are. The people who accommodate and anticipate your every need, take all the crap that comes their way both from their management and from thoughtless patrons should be treated nicely. Come on, have you ever met a wealthy waitperson?? Once you do, you can become stingy with your tips.