Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why the French Don't Suck...and We Sometimes Do

Anthony Bourdain is what we in show business would call a quadruple threat: a skilled chef, an excellent writer, a lively TV host and a superb cultural critic and bon vivant. If you can't catch him smoking and drinking live on his own barstool at Siberia (also one of my favorite bars) you usually can see him smoking and drinking on his TV show NO RESERVATIONS. True to form, he started off his show in Paris by getting loaded at an illegal absynthe bar.

In Paris, Bourdain stayed in the same hotel room where Oscar Wilde's toxic corpse was found, visited the old Les Halles and some remarkable restaurants that cut to the heart of French cuisine: while the greedy royals were taking all the select foods for themselves, the people of France made culinary art from the nasty bits. In France, Bourdain observed, meals are a dialogue between the Cook and the diner. In France, he noted, food is important.

Which brings us back to the good ol' USA, and the Food Network, where revenue is important. More to the point THE FABULOUS FOOD NETWORK AWARDS! Blogging on Michael Ruhlman's blog, Bourdain posted a hilarious yet quite serious critique of the awards. "You have to ask yourself WHAT were they THINKING?," Bourdain writes. "So some brain dead douche bags from Ad Sales and "creative" got together and cooked up this hybrid, fur-bearing catfish of a beast, this jackalope of a High Concept. Fine. That's what they do. But who green lit this monstrosity? Did no one raise their voice and and say, "Boss...boss..Can we really DO this to our talent?"

First and foremost, Bourdain is a chef, and his empathy is rightly placed with his fellow kitchen colonels. How must it have felt for Rachel Ray to feign enthusiasm while presenting the award for "Best Appliance"? he asks. "Do Emeril and Bobby, who, whatever you think of their shows, BUILT that fucking network, deserve to be pimped out with such casual disregard? Does anyone deserve to run the Gauntlet of Shame that was the red carpet, forced to waddle past the California Raisins and Tony the Tiger and a bunch of other corporate Big Heads? ...Emeril always the good soldier, sweated dutifully through his obligations, wondering privately, no doubt, what he had done to deserve this."

Would this ever happen in France? It's disheartening to me that on one hand, Bourdain had to devote a TV show In Paris to convincing American viewers that the French, one of the greatest food cultures the planet will ever know, "don't suck," while having to write about the crass, ass-backwards pimping out of food as entertainment embodied by the Food Network in the U.S. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for food, chefs and the kitchen as entertainment, but when it revolves around just that--food, chefs and the kitchen.

"There's a famous story where Robert Mitchum walks into studio head David O Selznick's office, pulls down his pants and takes a crap on his white carpet," Bourdain writes. "I hope Emeril is pinching a loaf right now."--F

No comments: