February 20, 2011

Pass the #@%$! Puppy Heads. A Night with Anthony Bourdain

For Valentine’s Day we scored tickets to see Anthony Bourdain at the Keswick Theater.  Bourdain is the host of No Reservations and author of many bestselling books including Kitchen Confidential. Some might recognize him as one of the judges on Top Chef too.

We had no idea what to expect from the show since Bourdain is not an entertainer per se and thought he just might tell stories or show pictures and video from his trips.

It ended up being a food-based comedy show filled with rants, advice and his two favorite words – douche and the f-word.  Bourdain is a man with strong opinions and he weaved in funny stories to make points about how we eat and cultures around the world.

He started the show with a no holds barred attack on the Food Network and so-called celebrity chefs.  He does not like Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee and I assume others who have become stars without laboring at chefs like he did for 28 years (and are not good cooks in his view). He does respect Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis.

He despises fake Italian (and fake Mexican) restaurants such as Olive Garden, which goes out of its way to mess things up.  Italian food is simple food and places like Olive Garden make it complicated and turn it into fake Italian.

In fact, Bourdain said many Italian places try to overcook and mess up good simple food.  Aspiring chefs should listen to his Italian restaurant test.  “Don’t bother opening up a restaurant if your goal is make better food than your Italian grandmother.  You’ll just mess it up.”

A highlight of the night was Bourdain’s Travel Tips.

1. Be grateful you are American.  Having an American passport means you have it better than everyone else on earth.  Be grateful.

2. Make the most of it.  Don’t go to the Hard Rock or Starbucks.  You should be ashamed if you wait in line at stupid places where locals laugh at you.  Try something new.

3. Dress appropriately.  He told a story of a teenager dressed in short shorts with her you-know-whats hanging out during Ramadan at the revered Blue Mosgue in Istanbul.  Don't be an idiot who disrespects the culture.

4. Observe local customs.  At least make the effort to understand and adhere to local customs.  It’s their culture and they are proud of their customs.  Don’t be an ignorant douche.

5. Eat what they are good at.  He loves street food and laughs at people who are afraid because they might get sick.  There is a reason why the street vendor line is long – its good and people don’t get sick.  Otherwise there would not be a line!  You get sick eating things they do not know how to make such as pasta Bolognese in India.

6. Don’t ask a concierge for a place to eat.  The concierge will recommend places where they think you want to eat, which means a place with at least some “American” on the menu.

7. You’re an ambassador of the U.S.  Don’t be a jerk.  Respect the other country as they have pride in their food and culture.  Food tells us about a region, its history and how the people have evolved.  Respect it.

8. Drink heavily.  You get a sense of the culture and the people when drinking.  Everyone relaxes and lets down their guard down a bit.  He said Russians drink a ton of vodka (two shots for breakfast, 5-7 shots for lunch and another 15-17 for dinner).  A 90 year old Russian grandma will drink you under the table, throw you over her shoulder and drive you home.

The night was filled with other funny stories and advice.  One piece of advice to remember is to compliment a sushi chef on the rice not the fish since they spend years learning how to perfect the rice.

The best punch line was when Bourdain discussed eating the food that a different culture prizes.  He doesn’t eat dog or cat since in our culture they are pets and part of the family. But, if he is was in a remote village as a special guest and they served a bunch of puppy heads?  Well, pass the @!$%# puppy heads.

It was a pleasure to hear Bourdain talk about his experiences traveling the world and encouraging people to try new things and explore their own curiosities.  We live in an awesome world so get out and try it!

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