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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


March 30th, 2011
8:45 pm

“but” my point still stands. I gotta stop drinking and posting…sorry.


March 30th, 2011
11:38 pm

John, I follow u too. LOL! I don’t know him personally…but I admire someone who is willing to back up what they say…and I always admire the person who listens. So, can’t wait to see what is posted tomorrow!


March 31st, 2011
12:08 am

About 4 years ago I had Anthony Bourdain dine in a restaurant I was managing and he was gracious and tipped fairly well. I also helped a friend (whom is a wine maker) this past week at an event in Atlanta and recognized Mr. Kessler when he came over to taste our wine. I did notice that his badge (we needed stinking badges) was turned backwards so you could not read his name or “media” didn’t think that was an accident. Maybe both of these guys have a valid point.


March 31st, 2011
1:28 pm

I love Bourdain’s show and am glad to see him respond to the article in a non local paper. I wonder if he googles his name regularly to find out what people are saying about him.

But no one is perfect and I personally have had no problem with Kessler’s reviews or way of conducting business. I don’t take reviews as gospel but as an introduction to a restaurant I might want to sample.

ANyone else think that Travel Channel has better food shows than the Food Channel itself? Except Alton Brown and a couple of other shows, hard to respect what is on the Food Channel.


March 31st, 2011
2:47 pm

You know what? I have worked in the food industry since age 7 (Actually since age 4 but my dad didn’t start paying me until I was 7. I am 45 and still negotiating with him on that point). After my initial training in my dad’s restuarants and outdoor festival services, I have since worked as a personal chef, short order cook, banquet cook, caterer, line cook at a Michelin starred establishment.

After that very long-winded cv introduction, I have one thing to say to you James Beard people who are critizing Mr. Bourdain:


Honestly, in the greater scheme of things, you are really not very important.

That is all.

John Mariani

March 31st, 2011
3:47 pm

Anthony Bourdain’s answers to your wholly legitimate questions —that he does “his best” to pay for his meal and hotels and “prefers to pay for his meals at restaurants”–become laughable to anyone who can manage to sit through any episode of his “No Reservations” show till the end, where, when the credits roll, there are always several hotels and restaurants under “OUR THANKS GO TO. . .,” who are his hosts, including in Las Vegas NYNY Hotel-Casino, Bouchon and Mesa Grill; in Miami, the Raleigh Hotel and Norman Van Aken; in New Jersey, Mountain Creek Ski Resort; and in Malaysia, Malaysian Airlines . If anyone believes anything Bourdain spews, then I’ve got a job for Charlie Sheen as a good spokesman for Mental Health.

Anthony bourdain

March 31st, 2011
4:56 pm

That’s what is called a Nixonian non-denial denial.
Do you or do you not actively solicit free shit from the subjects of your reviews?
Have you ever received free meals, services, FAMILY VACATIONS,or other things of value from the subjects of your reviews? Please itemize. I will if you will.

Anthony bourdain

March 31st, 2011
5:00 pm

Bob Lape. Party of two.


March 31st, 2011
8:30 pm

Nathan Glen

April 1st, 2011
3:36 am

The response is what? Tony does it too?
Poor defense.
Obviously Mariani is watching No Reservations to the end.
Seems that disclosure from both parties is reasonable. Almost as if there was code of ethics.
Oops. There is:
Thanks Mariani for confirming that Tony does disclose his hosts. Than was helpful.

If I were doing PR for Marian I would recommend:
1. Don’t respond to Bourdain’s jabs and it will blow over
2. Turn this into a pissing match so to increase your visibility and profit from the popularity of Bourdain.

john mariani

April 1st, 2011
9:23 am

With regard to all future Bourdain rants, I think it would be easier for me just to respond ‘LIAR. LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!” and have blog editors cut and paste it to whatever they like. Then again, I’d prefer actually to sit down alone with Anthony–whom I’ve never met–and have a drink to get all this goofiness behind us. No arm wrestling!
(By the way, one need not watch any TV show inn its entirety if it’s streamed: all you do is track all the way to the end.)

Nathan Glenn

April 1st, 2011
11:41 am

True. I suppose you could track to the credits, occasionally stopping for the steamy arm wrestling action. Next thing you know your on the internet offering to buy daqueries for guy that you have never met.


April 1st, 2011
1:33 pm

Tony’s winning.

michael symon

April 2nd, 2011
8:57 pm

just for the record when tony ate at lola for no res he paid & tipped as for mr. mariani..not to mention tb is not reviewing restaurants he is highlighting them ….big f’n difference


April 2nd, 2011
9:57 pm

Someone please make Anthony Bourdain go away. Slimy, repetitive Lou Reed-wannabe who is so painfully self-concious he is impossible to watch. Ugly in an uninteresting way.


April 3rd, 2011
8:46 pm

@michael symon: waitaminute..are you telling me there is a big f’n difference between bourdain ‘highlighting’ your restaurant and mariani writing a ‘review’ about it? like one is biased and the other isnt? or maybe one shill brings business and the other doesnt?

the entire restaurant industry..with its chefs, reviewers, punters and lately bloggers…(i dont know where bourdain fits in, but i am sure its someplace snug)…is a happy incestuous family. when one of you cries ‘uncle’(in this case, i am guessing achatz), the rest of you take sides. riveting. this feels exactly like television’s real housewives. someone should pitch bravo this idea. but came from a faustian bargain.

[...] was joined by the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s John Kessler, and in Kessler’s post’s comments, Esquire food writer John Mariani, who’s reputed to be demanding and a mooch, leaps into the fray [...]

tim cohen

April 5th, 2011
12:26 am

they are both useful idiots whom still live in a Timex world!


April 5th, 2011
2:09 am

Enter your comments here

Bourdain is cool, but still treats the 3rd world like some whacked out gi in the jungles of nam — far too removed to really get his finger in the pie. Hype does not make up for these boorish obvious like duh! ikkyleaks.
He squibbed on the real confidential and important issues in the first book and continues to target the easy shots
Very hush hush not.