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Bourdain belches on food writers, Eatocracy bites back

Anthony Bourdain in 2004 (AJC Staff)

Anthony Bourdain in 2004 (AJC Staff)

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:

  1. Does he pay for all the food he consumes in restaurants for his television shows? If not, is the medium of television so different that the food he eats is considered a prop? Or maybe the restaurant featured is so excited for the exposure that they gladly prepare the food free of charge? I can find no disclaimer on the website.
  2. Can he name any other food writers who he thinks shakes down restaurants for free food? Has he ever confronted them? How did they respond?
  3. How does he handle gifts from the kitchen when he dines out on tour? Accept them gratefully (because he’s a star) and let his handlers not adjust the bill because he doesn’t deal with money?
  4. And, finally: What the hell is wrong with muffin recipes? I [expletive] love muffin recipes.

* Disclosure: Like Eatocracy’s Kat Kinsman, I sit on the journalism committee for the James Beard Foundation.

69 comments Add your comment

Art

March 29th, 2011
1:43 pm

Good piece John.I like the muffin [expletive]. Anthony Bourdain is the food equivalent of a shock jock or at least that’s the character he portrays… and like anyone who plays on the edge, every now and then, they fall off the wrong side; I think he did this time.

Jenn B

March 29th, 2011
1:49 pm

I think Tony’s just working too hard to keep his “street cred”. I love him and his show (the episode in Lebanon was incredible) but I take him with a grain of salt. He constantly rails on “celebrity chef’s” and the like but he is one. In an attempt to not became that which he derides he’s got to play the bad boy, rebel.

Reds

March 29th, 2011
2:29 pm

I love Tony. He’s the bad boy chef. I’ve loved him since Kitchen confidential. But… I have to agree that he likely has taken on more of a persona than keeping it real.

Bill

March 29th, 2011
2:49 pm

Bourdain may feel like he is in a position to say things most chefs can’t say or are afraid to say so he comes across a bit harsh trying to even things out I think. Bourdain & crew generally seem to celebrate the dining experience and put it in context with the surrounding culture rather than evaluate it in an effort to influence readers. To me, that is an important distinction between what he does and what food critics do and whether free food is seen as gracious or seen as a way to influence the outcome.

Wilton

March 29th, 2011
3:44 pm

In all honesty, who gives a rat’s vagina what Anthony Bourdain thinks?

Ramona Clef

March 29th, 2011
3:45 pm

Agree with Reds, above. Kitchen Confidential worked great as a memoir, full of ego and bombast and loads of fun to read. But that was 11 years ago and the bad-boy thing doesn’t work as well once you’re no longer an outsider. Enough already with the cigarettes, the swearing and the silly boots. I would prefer that he simply work on his own journalism; let readers and viewers decide whose work they prefer.

Josh H

March 29th, 2011
3:58 pm

Mr. Kessler, You shouldn’t take offense – not many actually consider you a food writer. My only question is did you spend more time copying-and-pasting or looking for the worst picture of Tony you could find and reasonably publish?

Shockadow

March 29th, 2011
4:33 pm

The fact is, Tony Bourdain has trasnscended food journalism. He is more revered as a booze swilling, cigarette puffing badass who is prone to dabbling in the local drugs of choice as well. The food is secondary, being relegated to “Food Porn” photos on his twitter page. Sure, he eats, but his star shines because of his curmudgeony additude
Regardless of his methods or motives, he commands attention. Being a Shock Jock isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. At least it’s interesting.

Kay

March 29th, 2011
4:34 pm

This really shows me how much of an outsider I am. I’ve only seen the guy on TV once and he stuck me as a bombastic boor.

Peter

March 29th, 2011
5:01 pm

Please ……Anthony Bourdain pays for his food, via the show…… He talks about how much this will cost his producer constantly on the show.

Yes as one here said he is more than a food critic….he also teaches history about the area’s he visits as well, and frankly is interesting.

chacha

March 29th, 2011
5:22 pm

Enter your comments here

Jadzia

March 29th, 2011
5:22 pm

Tony Bourdain isn’t a celebrity chef – he doesn’t own a restaurant, nor do cooking shows for FoodTV. He is a TV celebrity with chef credentials and experience. Look at our own hometown Alton Brown. He is a TV celebrity, never ran a professional kitchen, nor owns a restaurant. Yet they both give some of the best “food tv” out there.
Is Bourdain really that far off? Most of the “restaurant” publications in Atlanta are jut PR-paid advertisement. YELP uses mafia like extortion on restaurants they deem “needing their help.” You’ve got local chefs like our AngryChef ranting and getting published..is that food journalism?

chacha

March 29th, 2011
5:27 pm

Sometimes Anthony looks like he has partied all night and into next week, but I enjoy his show. Not so much for the food that is presented, but the locations, cultures, and the local people he seeks out in his travels. That means more to me than John Kessler’s constant articles about the restaurants on Buford Hwy!!

Edward

March 29th, 2011
5:50 pm

Bourdain has always come across as a poseur to me. His “foodie” credentials are suspect.

Anthony bourdain

March 29th, 2011
6:08 pm

Answers to your questions:

1) Yes.We pay. Whether in restaurants, food stalls or homes. At worst, we do our very best to try– until it becomes a matter of offending our host

2)No. There have been equally bad offenders over the years. But none as prominent or long running. And my dyspepsia stems from the fact that this “widely reported” story has in fact not been seriously looked at–when it would be ridiculously easy to do so. We are Not simply talking about perks or comped meals. A few hours calling random well known chefs for anecdotes would
crack open a whole can of worms.

3) I prefer to pay for meals at restaurants when I go out. And always do my best to try–even at friends places. There are restaurants I love I don’t go to any more because they insist on comping me. It’s embarrassing. If I go back, I’m afraid they’ll think I expect to be comped again. Not so much a matter of principle but vanity. I just don’t want to look like “that guy”having endured that sort for years. When comped, I usually tip the floor what I would have paid for the meal. This hopefully dissuaded the restaurant from doing it again.

Anthony bourdain

March 29th, 2011
6:24 pm

Would be happy to answer your questions for the record.
Call me anytime, John.

deegee

March 29th, 2011
6:30 pm

He’s hot. He’s entertaining. He’s making an observation about some people he has met along the way. If the shoe don’t fit, don’t wear it.

BTW, I saw an episode where he is in Mexico as a guest of the family of one of his friends that happens to be working here in the US illegally. He has respect for the Mexican illegal immigrant worker and their plight.

Barman

March 29th, 2011
6:48 pm

I think you might be taking things a little too seriously if you let what Anthony Bourdain says bother you! And YES John we believe you when you say you don’t take anything for free. That is what expense accounts are for!

Dave

March 29th, 2011
6:53 pm

I like Tony.
I like John.
Why can’t they be friends?

Hypocrite Hunter

March 29th, 2011
6:54 pm

“Would be happy to answer your questions for the record.
Call me anytime, John.”

Sounds like an opportunity knocking.

Cump Sherman

March 29th, 2011
9:10 pm

I thought ‘amigo” was Spanish for “friend.” In what p.c. universe does it offend?

JASon

March 29th, 2011
9:16 pm

I agree with you, John, that this is a little presumptuous of Tony. These comments are always very harsh on the surface, but ultimately not meant to offend anyone. He’s trying to get something written about him because his show sucks now. It used to be a great cultural experience now he just promotes restaurants. So ultimately he’s not much different than those he is criticizing. You testing him with the “amigos” comment, however, was pathetic. You’re proud of that? You are not a cool person

John Kessler

March 29th, 2011
9:55 pm

I can verify the above comments were indeed from Anthony Bourdain. I spoke with him earlier tonight, and I’ll get a post up tomorrow morning.
Jason, Cump – It’s not that I’m proud of that comment (and it didn’t figure in any way into the first story) and it’s not that I planned to test or entrap him. But I’ve worked in a number of kitchens where the Mexican cooks and crew were universally referred to as “the amigos,” and I always found the term paternalistic. I just wanted to make sure he was talking about individuals rather than ethnic stereotypes. I liked his message and wanted to make sure he was really the person of good character he seemed to be.
More tomorrow.

hirsutedawg

March 29th, 2011
9:56 pm

I agree with Bill. I would much rather watch “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel than any of the cutsey/smug twits on the Food Network. And how about a shout out for Adam Richman on “Man vs Food” I love that guy!

E

March 29th, 2011
10:15 pm

Classy response from the chef. I like the show, but I can’t call myself a fan because of HUGE hipster following that he has. If hipsters like him, there must be something wrong with him.

[...] See the article here: Anthony Bourdain in 2004 (AJC Staff) – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

alan

March 29th, 2011
11:31 pm

He is a pretentious “hero” of the working class., with his pronouncements. He acts as if he were a tough guy, talking about his drinking and eating habits on the show. Bourdain is so full of himself that the s**t comes out of his mouth instead of his rectum. I’ve stopped watching him this year, there is only so much bulls**t I can take. Wish he would go back to Lebanon as he was so intrigued with being there during the war.

Muffin

March 29th, 2011
11:42 pm

i don’t have much of an opinion on Anthony other than his funny quips on Top Chef but after reading his blog I would like to say MY MOM GREW UP IN COLUMBUS GA AND ATE POSSUM, because they were poor and she said “they didn’t know any better”. her father died in the mid 30’s when she was a young girl and this is what they were relegated to. i don’t judge her. i’m just glad i never had to (and hopefully won’t ever have to because i think possums are cute. so there, judge me on that).

N-GA

March 30th, 2011
7:18 am

It is really unfortunate that those within the industry are reluctant to “eat their own”. Right here in Atlanta there was a radio show that “reviewed” restaurants…for years. They called themselves the Chef and the Fat Man. Their modus operandi was to contact a restaurant, let them know who they were, then make reservations contingent upon the meal being entirely free….from appetizers to desserts. They arrived in a limo (comped, too) and never panned a single restaurant. Of course no fine dining establishment ever let them in the door (as far as I know). But they lasted for a long time because no one exposed them for the freeloaders they were.

Johnny

March 30th, 2011
9:44 am

Since Anthony Bourdain has chimed in and put to rest all your wailing about him not paying out of pocket, I think it’s about time all the AJC “critics” do the same, if their meals are paid for by the AJC directly or indirectly. ie: expense accounts that is reimbursed. They also need to state their bio, background in the service industry, whether they are a cook, server, manager, chef/owner, culinary grad, etc. Having a blog, getting freebies from PR people and dining at restaurants frequently have no worth. What makes them an authority to speak and write about food. Because their egos are through the roof as if they were someone with real world experience. I read the medical journal, does that make me an authority on medicine and ability to perform surgery? If you grill Anthony Bourdain about his credentials just be ready to be grilled yourself.

Kar

March 30th, 2011
10:22 am

I think it’s partly that he sees himself as a throwback to twenty-thirty years ago when most chefs were one step away from parole violations in terms of rough behavior, having a macho personoa and a foul mouth to maintain authority in the kitchen. I remember one of his biggest rants were special orders and special requests so I can see him continually griping at the industry.

He’s never claimed to be anything but a journeyman chef at most so it’s not like he ever had aspirations of winning the Beard award.

Funny, I think he’s mellowed in recent years since he got remarried and had a child but that’s just me.

observer 1

March 30th, 2011
11:20 am

I agree with Kar. i went to Les Halles back in the 90’s, it was nothing special, especially for NYC. He’s a professional jackass, like Howard Stern, Glen Beck, and others. It’s just what he does. The subject matter and accuracy of his rants are tertiary to self-aggrandizement, page views and re-tweets.

Grasshopper

March 30th, 2011
11:50 am

Hey amigos,

It’s hard for me to take any one seriously who still thinks puffing a nasty cigarette makes you a ‘bad boy.’

Kar

March 30th, 2011
11:59 am

Grasshopper, that’s an old pic. He gave up smoking when he had a daughter. Said he was tired of going down 20 stories to smoke outside the apartment.

1164mgc

March 30th, 2011
12:01 pm

One question I’d ask him – or any other “chefs” you see on tv shows (because you mostly do not see them in restaurants) is WHY they smoke?????????? You’re killing the taste of food! And I’ve noticed, since becoming a vegetarian, that I can actually taste food better and distinguish flavors better than when I was eating meat, which coats your mouth with its fat so other flavors are muted. I’m not promoting vegetarianism, but I am sure that effect is similar to people who smoke, which is that it probably hinders a person’s ability to fully taste the food they’re eating.

Grasshopper

March 30th, 2011
12:11 pm

‘Said he was tired of going down 20 stories to smoke outside the apartment.’

I guess that’s a reason you would expect from him.

Kar

March 30th, 2011
12:12 pm

1164mgc, for the same reason many firefighters light up as soon as the fire’s been put out. They feel that it helps them to unwind from crisis mode, be it a three-alarm in a warehouse or at the grill station when you’re already in the weeds.

1164mgc

March 30th, 2011
12:30 pm

Kar – yet smoking inhibits a person’s ability to taste food correctly, thereby inhibiting their ability to do their job correctly. I know smokers want to “wind down” – fact is, non-smokers need to “wind down” too and use other methods that don’t inhibit their ability to do their job.

Not Impressed

March 30th, 2011
12:33 pm

I’ve eaten both locations of his NYC restaurant, and I can see why he doesn’t like food critics, aside from wanting free stuff. At one we were packed in like sardines, and at both the food was disappointing, and overpriced even for Manhattan.

Kar

March 30th, 2011
12:38 pm

1164mgc, I understand what you’re saying but I’m telling you what I’ve heard firefighters and cooks say they do even though they’re told the same thing your’e saying day in and day out.

1164mgc

March 30th, 2011
12:48 pm

Kar – so then they need to come up with a better excuse because if they are told this day in and day out, it’s not sinking in. When I see cooks standing outside the back door of a restaurant smoking, I go to another establishment. I know others that do the same. IMO, they are not able to put out the best food simply because they aren’t able to taste it correctly.

Dave

March 30th, 2011
3:44 pm

He wears a thumb ring. Nuff said.

observer 1

March 30th, 2011
4:00 pm

1164mgc I share your disdain for smoking. However you should just give up on eating out if you are that offended by smoking cooks. I have 30 yrs in the industry and can tell you a huge majority of cooks smoke profusely. And also, I simply don’t believe you would be enough of a douche not enter a restaurant just because you saw a cook smoking.

Josh H

March 30th, 2011
4:07 pm

I’m worried you might have blown it, Mr. Kessler. Your story had a chance at super-regional, maybe even major-blog/minor-national traction, but me’s afraid you miss-timed the news cycle. If you publish now you’ll only be riding aftershocks.

Carla

March 30th, 2011
5:13 pm

Long time fan of Anthony…I read his blogs every week for top chef and no res. Pretty cool he showed up here to set the record straight. If you read the blog about the beard award you would maybe have a better understanding of his point. Just saying

John Kessler

March 30th, 2011
6:22 pm

Carla – Cool. Hey, since Bourdain answered the questions himself, I’m chewing over the interview and will post something perhaps less newsy but more thoughtful about the points he made in his post.

1164mgc

March 30th, 2011
7:29 pm

Well I suppose I AM “enough of a douche” but I can tell you for a fact that I’m not the only one. I know a lot of cooks smoke – hence the question in the first place. But actually SEEING it before you eat makes you question the quality you’ll be getting. Too many other places around to risk it.

sansho1

March 30th, 2011
8:28 pm

If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, the concept of the smoking cook becomes easy to understand. You’ve just spent the last three hours sweating out a rush. You are quite literally in a hurry that entire time. Everything has to be fast and has to be right, and it’s well over 100 degrees if you’re bent over a flat top grill or a fryer. So, as soon as it’s over, you dive out the back door to feel a cool breeze and decompress, and a cigarette (no non-smoker will get this) is a physiological aide to that process. It also signifies to your coworkers that you’re taking this seven minutes, and taking every bit of it, and then you’ll get back in the weeds. In short, it’s a hard job, so lay off.

E

March 30th, 2011
8:39 pm

I remember working for a food purveyor back in the late 90s. In the elevator leading to service entrance to one of the Buckhead Life restaurants, there was a “wanted” poster with Kessler’s info on it. It offered a bounty to any employee recognizing him in the restaurant. I still remember the description: overweight with a pony tail. In other words, the critics in this city were legit back then, and I think they are today.

E

March 30th, 2011
8:44 pm

The above was a response to Johnny. I admit my time as an “insider” with trendy restaurants has long passed, that my point still stands.