Yesterday author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain took to the blog for his Travel Channel show, “No Reservations,” and in a few quick, vitriolic paragraphs railed on the James Beard Awards, the journalism component of this annual event,* and then the entire enterprise of food writing, which he apparently hates. He calls it:
“a profession whose vast majority spend their hours and days writing about “kicky new muffin recipes” , ” Pie: The Next Big Thing” or attending launches for bottled water, restaurant openings, and anywhere they can fill their plastic lined pockets with free food and swag.”
As someone who has posted lousy pictures of refused cookies to document my approach to freebies, I took offense with Bourdain’s characterization. So did Kat Kinsman, the editor of CNN’s Eatocracy blog, who fired back. She wrote that his accusations of
“promiscuous freebie-grabbing and inconsequential subject matter amongst the entire food writing world made my … heart sink. First of all, because Anthony Bourdain, a writer and food authority I’ve always held in great esteem, believed it enough to write it, and second, because many of his fans will think this to be gospel.”
The conversation quickly moved to Twitter, where Kinsman and Bourdain rallied back and forth about the real source of his dyspepsia — Esquire magazine restaurant writer John Mariani, who has allegedly demanded free meals, travel and lodging from many businesses over the years. (Mariani denies it.) Calling Mariani the “blight on your [expletive] profession,” Bourdain exhorted CNN to “do some reporting.”
In fact, the questions of Mariani’s ethics have been widely reported, and a Google search on his name reveals countless accusations about his methodology. (The only time I ever saw him in action was at an Atlanta restaurant eating with that restaurant’s publicist, which makes me think he wasn’t exactly getting the Average Joe experience.)
As far as Bourdain goes, I’ve interviewed him a couple of times and enjoyed his quick wit. I first spoke with him soon after the release of “Kitchen Confidential,” the memoir that made him a star. He made a few jokey comments about the Mexican guys in his kitchen, and I remember wondering if there was, if not a little bit of racism, then paternalism in his tone. So I used the semi-offensive term “amigos” to see how he’d react. He quickly corrected me. I thought: here’s a real champion of working people, of what really goes down in a kitchen and in life. Like many others, I fell for the funny, angry integrity of his message. Man crush.
And now Bourdain seems little more than a coarse loudmouth to me.
If I were to interview him again, I’d ask these questions:
* Disclosure: Like Eatocracy’s Kat Kinsman, I sit on the journalism committee for the James Beard Foundation.