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Anthony Bourdain Sounds Off, Part I

Still from No Reservations
Still from No Reservations
Travel Channel

Anthony Bourdain, the Celine of the food world, wrote a book called Medium Raw which has made him anathema to the food critic establishment. He couldn't care less. I recently spoke to Mr. Bourdain on the phone. His three-year-old daughter was crawling on his chest. Because Bourdain has lots to say, we've broken this down into two parts. See part two of the interview which includes fun games such as Fuck, Marry, Kill.

There has been some pushback from some of the characters mentioned in your new book, Medium Raw. Tell me about your approach to burning a blaze of glory through the food world?
I think I just reached a point in my life where I don't have a reputation or a business to protect so I felt free to unburden myself. There have been a couple of elephants in the room who chef friends still in the business haven't been able to point out. I'm not saying I'm a social activist or interested in doing good for the world, I guess the opportunity presented itself to unburden myself.

In [GQ food writer] Alan Richman's case, I was pissed off. I think I'd made my case as succinctly as I could in the chapter. So as far as I'm concerned, it's done. Now if he wants to take shots at me, he's well within his rights from this point on and that would be entirely appropriate. I just hope he doesn't take his wrath out on innocent third parties.

Such as?
I thought the Les Halles review was grotesque. If I was supposedly an honest broker of opinion and a food critic, the standard should be: Would what I just wrote require a correction in the New York Times or would I possibly be fired by not pointing out that this man called me a douchebag a few weeks ago? I never would have reviewed this place if my agenda was simply to hurt by proxy.

It seems to be a professional danger to some extent. Critics rely on their egos, that's what got them their jobs as critics, being able to express their palate but on the other hand, you get a lot of douchebags who take that ego one step further.
I think it is a dangerous area to be writing in. Over a period of time, you get older, you start to run out of adjectives, you find yourself in this world of rapidly aging entitled people all of whom who know each other and I guess it's easy to slip over to the dark side. One of the reasons I'm so obnoxious in the book is to be sure I don't get invited to the same parties. In my life, the smartest decisions and most important decisions I've made are made when there are no other options available when I've shut every other door. And in some ways, I want to make sure that when the TV show gets canceled, I won't be able to do the Fiji Water party route and hanging out at the Beard House. That's not going to be happening.

Well in Miami I saw you hanging out with Guy Fieri?
On one hand, it's a hell of a lot of fun beating up on him. I do mean every word. Certainly if you can't make fun of Guy Fieri, comedy is pretty much dead. But I don't hate the guy and I was surprised to find him at my table, I thought it only fair, since I had just made fun of him a lot in his own hometown, I thought it was right he get a little back. So I gave him the opportunity to judge the death match of fish on the beach with Eric Ripert. I was reasonably sure I wouldn't be taking home the gold.

You had mentioned some of the boring adjectives. What adjectives would you like to see retired from the criticism lexicon?
I'm guilty of all of them. Any time you start forming the word unctuous, sublime, crunchy, it's time to hang up your hat. It's hard. You'll see on my show more and more I just look at the camera and say, "Boy, that's really good."

Other words it has been noticed you use with regularity are douchebag, asshole and fuck.
Yes, I read [Esquire restaurant writer] John Mariani's response. Those are perfectly fine words. I talk the way I talk. I write the way I talk. If you don't like it, don't invite me to your party. Few things are more beautiful to me than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Hearing Joe Pesci talk in that movie is like listening to Charlie Parker.

I think it worthwhile to note that Mariani is referred to unflatteringly in the book and here you have—weeks before it comes out—the book suddenly appears on as a review without ever mentioning that I talked about him unflatteringly in the book. Again, worth mentioning. In maybe the first or second graf: "This guy just attacked me and all my works." Some statement like that would have been appropriate but I guess it's completely consistent with a long and inglorious career. [NB: The post in question seems not, actually, to appear as a review of Medium Raw.]

I can tell you this: I've got a lot of pats on the back and I expect a lot of food baskets from Midwestern states over the next few months when this book comes out because a lot of people were waiting for someone to say something about this prick.

The coastal critic establishment won't be sending you that many baskets.
I doubt it very much. Listen, what's grotesque about this is that [Mariani's behavior] isn't a secret to anyone. Everyone in the business knows this and has known this for years. All of his peers knows how he does his business and how he operates. The only people who don't know are his readers.

Would you dismiss the entire professional class of critics? Is that mode of criticism over?
I have to say we have to embrace this brave new world. It's all about websites and bloggers. I think most chefs have learned to embrace it and been savvy. It was a shock to the system and nobody likes to see their name with the word asshole next to it written on a bathroom wall, but that's the way it is.

I think in the end, it is part of the democratization of the restaurant business. I love making fun of bloggers, but they're the first resource to reach out to when we're researching my show when I go off to a city I've never been before. I look to the local food bloggers first. That's the future. If you're doing an article on what's new and happening in the fine dining restaurant world, would you go Alan Richman or [New York Times critic] Sam Sifton or me for that matter? I wouldn't. Any line cook at any of the Momofuku restaurants probably knows a hell of a lot more about what is going on than any of us. I think the blogosphere is the future. It's agonizing to watch the established food media try to deal with that. It's like watching your grandparents trying to breakdance. It's sad.

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