On February 20, 2011, I went to Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” show at the Gallo Center in Modesto, CA. Ironically, reservations were required. The show sold out two months in advance, and additional tickets were sold to allow an audience to watch the show on closed circuit television at a nearby theater. Both were firsts for the young Gallo Center, which opened its doors in September of 2007.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a man who is known for his crass, cynical, and very outspoken judgments. I did expect to laugh at the comedy routine that has appeared in his books-making fun of the various Food Network stars and other famed people of the food world.
I also expected to hear more of the producer-induced misery from his show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel; his trials in hanging with the locals and eating whatever unwashed part of the animal they serve so as not to offend his hosts. Or how he absolutely detests when his producers make him play tourist, eat nachos, and drink snow cone margaritas. (I’m willing to bet there is a direct correlation between the amount of misery Bourdain is forced to suffer and snark his way through, and the show’s ratings.)
He delivered all of this, and more, in a very entertaining and impressive two-hour monologue. I particularly liked his message about being good ambassadors as Americans when we travel abroad. Not to mention his approach to food safety in his travels (Jumbalaya at the chain hotel’s buffet in 100˚ weather hundreds of miles away from the ocean = bad, food cart with 20 locals lined up for lunch, no matter what is being served = good).
What I did not expect, however, is that I actually got to know him a little better. As a whole person that is, not just another Disney villain painted in harsh lines of black, gray, and red.
Besides starring in his own show, Bourdain also appears regularly on various other food-related shows such as Bravo’s “Top Chef” (a favorite in our house). He has always been painted as a quick-to-insult, brutally honest judge that you do not want to prepare a bad dish for, no matter how creative the insults.
He has very strong feelings about food, how it should be prepared, and viewed, and he isn’t afraid to make offensive comments. Even if that means later having to apologize upon receipt of a friendly fruit basket and card asking him very politely to back the heck off (not his exact words of course).
I recently read his book “Kitchen Confidential,” a very well written description of the “culinary underbelly”. Bourdain describes what really goes on behind those swinging double doors in the steamy world of fire, metal, and flesh, the very antithesis to “mama’s kitchen.” It is a very masculine world with a language of its own, a language not understood by the tourists, i.e. customers and non-kitchen workers.
The life of a chef and a rock star are barely indistinguishable in this book, which is very much how they are seen now. I love how he makes fun of the “celebrity chef” phenomena, and yet I’m convinced he had as much to do with bringing that about as Alice Waters had in causing up-and-coming chef’s to spout out their pledge of allegiance to seasonal, local, and organic every chance they get.
What is interesting to me is that in all the glorious rebellion he describes in the life of chef and his crew, Bourdain freely admits to the drugs and food snitching in his younger days, the intense machismo, but when he describes the typical casual sexuality of his co-workers, his role in (or out) of those relationships is conspicuously absent. I think there may have been one or two sentences, about halfway through the book, which reveal the missing piece of the puzzle. Apparently at some point in his career, Tony got married. (I must admit I wiki-ed to find out that he was married to his high school girlfriend for twenty years before divorcing and later remarrying.)
In the show he spoke very openly about his young Italian wife, who spends a full hour every day in martial arts training, which I’m sure is completely unnecessary since she is a) Italian, b) a wife, and c) a mother. Together they have a 3 1/2 year old daughter, who is the reason he appears on the cover of his newest book in a suit and tie.
So Mr. Traveling Man has begun one of the scariest, and most fulfilling of all his worldwide adventures. He has become a father. The newest member of his audience, little Miss Ariane, has made Mr. Bourdain a man with reservations, and I like him that much more for it.