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Disdain For Bourdain

December 2, 2010

Normally we try and keep things nice and positive on this blog, but a smarmy guy on TV last night has induced today’s rant-ish post.  Try not to let it depress you too much today.

I was very excited that Top Chef Season 8 started last night.  It’s a little different than the past 7 seasons, in that the contestants are all former contestants – most of them made it to the finale of their respective season, only to fail to capture the Top Chef title.  The reward for the winner of this season is bigger than in previous seasons, because the level of competition is so much higher.  These 18 chefs’ careers were catapulted following their appearances on the show, and they are all well-respected chefs/restaurateurs around the country. 

In past seasons, there has always been a fourth “guest” judge; last season it was renowned chef Eric Ripert, and the previous two seasons it was British food critic Toby Young.  This season the fourth judge is Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and author of Kitchen Confidential.  He is known for trying food from all cultures, no matter how strange, and for his sarcastic sense of humor.  Bourdain has also appeared on Top Chef before as a “single episode” judge.

I’ve never been a big fan of Bourdain, but I didn’t really dislike him either.  I thought his sense of humor worked on occasion, and I respected his opinion of food and cooking.  But after last night’s Top Chef, my feelings have become much more defined:  Anthony Bourdain is a douche bag.

Let me explain why.  Last night’s challenge for the contestants found half of them cooking and being judged by the other half (plus the usual judges), and then the other half cooked for the first half.  The twist was that the chefs could watch on a monitor the reactions by their competitors and the judges as they ate the food.  Bourdain had a particular dislike for Fabio Viviani’s dish, and made no effort to mask his displeasure…over and over again.  He relished in insulting the dish in front of the other chefs and judges, saying it resembled “an inside-out animal.”  He kept repeating how much he hated the dish, smirking smugly the whole time, happy to be entertaining the others. 

Criticizing the food is his job, I understand.  But there’s a way to be a harsh critic without being an obnoxious tool.  Don’t take pride in repeatedly bashing the dish – you hated it, we heard, move on.  But worse than that, he wasn’t laying into a green chef fresh out of culinary school – Viviani has run two successful restaurants in Southern California for many years.  He has paid his dues and deserves a little more respect than Bourdain showed him, regardless of how he felt about that particular dish.

Toward the end of the show last night, the judges were discussing the three least successful dishes of the evening (of which Viviani’s was one).  They were going over the dish created by Stephen Asprinio, which none of them liked, and Bourdain chimed in with, “You know what I was thinking about while I ate this dish?  My last colonoscopy.”  Oh how droll, Sir Anthony.

Bourdain looked like he was trying harder to make the judges titter than to provide thoughtful criticism of the food.  His arrogance overwhelmed his presumed insight on cooking.  Toby Young is known for being particularly harsh, but even when he did have bad things to say about the dishes, he still maintained a sense of respect for the chef presenting the food to him.  Sure he didn’t elicit any chuckles from his fellow judges, but at least his integrity remained intact.  Bourdain’s casting makes it seem like he’s there for “comic” relief, or at least to create more controversy than necessary.  If he wants to rip someone’s food apart, fine – that’s his job.  But don’t make fun of the chef for your own personal amusement.

I realize I’m pedestrian at best when it comes to being a food critic, and that Bourdain would flick me off his radar screen like a rogue uncooked piece of risotto on his plate.  But maybe he’s been hanging around the culinary elite too long for his own good.  Time to get back behind the flat-top, my friend.  By the way, Anthony – when you had that colonoscopy, did they find your head up there?

Ding, fries are done.  End of rant.

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