Posted by: dinaguillen | June 10, 2009

Why I Heart Anthony Bourdain, Dina’s Perspective

Word is getting out that Michelle and I have this thing for Anthony Bourdain.  We were interviewed by the Sacramento Bee yesterday, and one of the first questions we were asked was about this Bourdain obsession we have. 

I actually did think Michelle and I were two of his biggest fans.  What I learned during Bourdain’s lecture was that we’re not even close to being obsessed.  That man Michelle referred to in her post – the one with the tattoo of Bourdain’s face that covered his entire thigh?  That’s obsessed.  The people who were nodding fervently to every word that came out of Bourdain’s mouth as if he were a preacher (although this preacher loves to drop the F bomb every chance he gets) – they were obsessed. 

What we have is complete, total and utter admiration for this man.    Okay, yes, there is the lust factor.  But besides the fact that Bourdain is easy on the eyes, he also writes brilliantly, cooks with integrity, eats and travels with such respect for the food and culture, and has the personality of a rock star.  He has had my full attention for a long time.

So The Day comes.  My cousin Odette and I go to watch Anthony Bourdain speak at the Flint Center and the man did not disappoint.  His respect for food, for humanity, and for the world’s many cultures were showcased in his lecture.  He began by simply sauntering on stage and immediately railing on Alice Waters.  He had recently participated in a panel discussion with her, and while he agrees with 90 percent of what she says and believes in, it was the 10 percent he disagrees with that got him going. 

During the panel discussion, Waters had mentioned her deep conviction that everyone should eat organic.  When asked what those with less means should do if they can’t afford organic, Waters replied that they should perhaps give up their third pair of Nikes.  Bourdain’s fire was lit.  And he vented in front of us for a good half hour, discoursing with brilliant wit and humor how out of touch Waters is with the everyday working person who is just trying to get any kind of healthy food on the table.  I live in the Sacramento area, where tent cities are an everyday reminder that many people are barely getting by, so I was really disappointed to hear that Waters made that comment, especially since I have admired her for a long time.  But Bourdain was more than just disappointed in her, and I especially loved that Waters’ comments irked him so much that he didn’t care he was in Waters’ backyard with her famous (and yes, incredibly wonderful) restaurant Chez Panisse just minutes away. 

He then moves on to relay how Waters says she only cooks with the finest quality ingredients.  You can tell Bourdain is just getting started now, as he proclaims that any moron (actually, I think he dropped some more F bombs while describing the moron) can prepare a filet mignon or lobster.  He dares cooks everywhere to try taking a pig snout or a piece of tripe and turning it into something mouthwateringly delicious and tender.  Bourdain smiles big and finishes with “it’s about taking the second best shit and turning it into something wonderful.”  He is in his element now, as he is speaking offal.  Bourdain’s life is an ode to offal, and in his travels, he has definitely had his share of them.  I think it is what fascinates most people as they watch him extol the incredible flavors derived from roasted marrow bones, and it is certainly the most asked type of question he receives, as is evident when he opens up the lecture to questions from the audience.

Bourdain’s lecture went on for almost two entertaining hours, and he covered several topics – too many to go into here.  Besides, I’m sure Michelle and I will bring it up over and over as we digest his thoughts and assess how they impact our lives, our cooking club, our blog, our writing, and our cooking.  But one last topic that really hit home with me was when he began talking about vegetarians.  I always thought Bourdain had such disdain for vegetarians because they simply didn’t eat meat – specifically pork – one of Bourdain’s most beloved meals.

But once again, his respect for food and people, culture and humanity became a focal point.  He described several incidents while traveling where families would save their funds for a month just to serve him a meal with meat.  They would present it to him with such pride and honor, whether it be duck, or lamb, or goat, or goat parts.  And as he eats these meals with the same reverence it was presented to him, Bourdain wonders how vegetarians can be in those same situations.  He looks at us with incredulity, drops a few more F bombs, and wonders if vegetarians refuse these meals while in the same breath requesting a spinach salad instead. 

After hearing that last story, I am reminded once again why I have been obsessed admired this man for so long.  His respect for people and cultures around the world, and for their cuisine – cuisine that many people would pinch their noses and turn their heads at – is truly admirable.  And he brings it all into my world by communicating it brilliantly and humorously through his books and his television show.  In fact, one person in the audience reminds Bourdain that he has stated many times how he plans to live in Vietnam for one year, and asks him when that is going to happen.  Bourdain quickly looks at the audience and answers when the fans stop watching his show and it gets cancelled.  It may be awhile before he gets to make that move.

As the lecture ended, and everyone was leaving the auditorium, Odette and I stayed in our seats to share our thoughts on Bourdain’s lecture (umm, we loved it).  As we got up to leave, we noticed about 15 to 20 people congregating at the left side of the stage.  Odette and I looked at each other, whispered incredulously “you don’t think he’s coming back out?!!!” and we quickly made our way to join the small group.  Sure enough, Anthony Bourdain had taken off his jacket and sauntered back out (I know I keep using that word – sauntered – but that’s what he does.  Really well.)  to sign books and talk to us.  He was incredibly kind and generous with his time, signed my copy of Les Halles cookbook, and as I ogled him with awe in the most undignified way (I’m so sorry Mr. Bourdain), it occurred to me that I was face to face with a man I have seriously (okay, nearly obsessively) admired for over ten years.  I broke out with the biggest grin on my face, and it was at that point Odette took our picture. 

 Dina and Anthony

Thank you Odette for sharing in this great evening.  It was one of the most fun evenings ever, and I loved that we enjoyed it together.

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