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Food Network chef smackdown: Bourdain v.s Deen

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There’s a hissy fit going on in celebrity chef TV land that makes the occasional sparring between wine bloggers seem like a love-in. Seems that Anthony Bourdain gave an interview to TV Guide, in which he called Paula Deen “The worst, most dangerous person [in] America,” accused her of having “unholy connections with evil corporations” and, as if that’s not enough, added the ultimate putdown for a chef: “her food is f—ing bad for you.”

Then Anthony told us what he really thinks about the Food Network’s Guy Fieri. “I look at Guy Fieri and I just think, ‘Jesus, I’m glad that’s not me.’” But wait, there’s more! Anthony on Rachel Ray: “Does she even cook anymore? I don’t know why she bothers.” And, last but not least, the Bourdman on Sandra Lee, also a Food Network star (whose boyfriend happens to be Andrew Cuomo, the Governator of New York). “Don’t mess with her…I hate her works on this planet…”.

Meow!

It didn’t take long for Frank Bruni to get his two cents in. The New York Times’ restaurant critic slammed Anthony for his “gratuitous schoolyard-crass putdown[s]” and accused him of  “moralizing and snobbery,” because he [Anthony] is a “self-appointed sophisticate” who thinks the Food Network cooks are “rubes.”

The whole thing is funny. For once, I’m glad I’m not involved. Been there, done that. But it does raise important issues, since obesity is a huge [no pun intended] problem in the U.S. Anthony is essentially saying the Food Network is the television version of a greasyspoon diner whose cooks show an already fat nation how to get even fatter. Whereas he, Anthony, is more of an Alice Waters kind of guy–eat healthy and green. There’s certainly truth to that. The main problem, of course, with Anthony’s elitism (if we can call it that) is that it costs more–a lot more–to eat along an Alice Waters’ line than to eat Paula Deen’s bacon cheeseburgers between two donuts. That was the essence of Frank Bruni’s criticism of Anthony–that Anthony was insensitive to poor people. (Incidentally, Anthony kinda-sorta apologized to poor Paula yesterday in this radio interview. Also yesterday, Paula Deen, who seems like a real nice southern lady to me, finally fired back at Anthony. He “needs to get a life,” she told the New York Post’s Page Six.)

Well, there is a split between the Whole Foods crowd and the Penny Saver shoppers when it comes to food, and we have the same kind of split here in the wine industry. It’s only to be expected, because we have that split in America with any consumable good. If you’re a Paula Deen person, you drive a Chevy or a Ford pickup. If you’re an Anthony Bourdain person, you drive a BMW, or maybe a Prius. Rachel Ray’s people drink Two Buck Chuck; Anthony’s look to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. That’s just the way it is–but at least we in the wine biz don’t get down in the mud like Anthony did. We’re much too civilized for that!

  1. I know, I, personally, would never insult a wine blogger.

  2. Chuck Hayward says:

    Not sure about the Napa cab/Bourdain connection. Much too pedestrian and just as evil in the eyes of that crowd. Think they are more of an Italian nebbiolo crowd myself….

  3. Ron, yes, you never would. You’re probably the sweetest, most affectionate blogger out there!

  4. Having watched a good deal of Mr. Bourdain’s program over the last few years, his nutritional intake can be called “healthy” only in comparison to the “heart-attack on a plate” fare of Ms. Deen. The combination of vast amounts of meat (specifically pork, with which Mr. B has quite the obsession), the copious quantities of anything deep-fried and the table-busting quantities displayed on his program is mind (and waistline) blowing.

    I realize that a certain amount of the food being shown is for the effect needed on a TV program and that there’s a certain amount of “sample one of everything” on the restaurant’s menu so as to get a feel for the place and what the residents of the exotic locale eat everyday. But if you watch his program, you begin to wonder after a while, “How does he stay so (relatively) thin?” Given the vast amounts of food shown being consumed on the show, I’d expect him to be much heavier. Perhaps Mr. B has the metabolism to support that intake, but the majority of America doesn’t.

    In the end, people make the choices they want — and we are a Fast Food Nation, where the majority of people drink their $5 bottles of whatever is on sale at the supermarket. If they decide they want something better, then better choices are available to them — but it’s up to the consumer to decide what’s best for them.

    If you don’t like it, don’t eat/drink/watch it. There’s always another channel, another winery, another recipe (hey, maybe we don’t have to use half a pound of butter!) and another way to experience life.

  5. Anthony Bourdain is a bully. It is the basis of his shtick and it makes him more interesting to a certain type of watcher. So is Gordon Ramsay.

    Are there wine industry equivalents? What about the ScoreRevolutionists who never miss an opportunity to insult those who review wines in ways they don’t like? What about Jon Bonne who frequently describes those who disagree with him a s “apologists”? Was Steve Heimoff engaging in similar behavior in his criticism of Jim Laube? And did the Hosemaster ever step over the line?

    Of course, they all did exceed someone’s limits. It’s always hard to be critical without doing that, and thus winding up in a cat fight, food fight or Twitter Tiff. Bourdain goes too far for my taste, but we all offend someone at some point. If we did not, we would be offering opinions but versions of white bread. Sorry Wonder.

  6. This is like criticizing Elmer Fudd for shooting at rabbits. It’s what he does. (Except reverse roles as regards the whole healthy carrot-eating aspect, natch.)

    But I always get a kick when some elites scold other elites for their elitist attitude toward the honest, corn-sugared corporate death food that hardworking poor folk with whom neither of them associate simply MUST eat, the poor dears, don’t you know. Bacon-wrapped pancake whopper or heirloom arugula, no middle ground, ever!

  7. Charlie, Puff Daddy,

    I tried to walk right up to “the line,” threaten to go over it, pull back, then put my toe on it, almost cross it…make folks cringe. That’s satire. Bourdain is, indeed, a bully, but it’s an act. As was the HoseMaster. As is Paula Deen.

    More and more the Food Network is the World Wrestling Federation. Only uglier.

  8. I guess I pay too much attention to the talking heads, but someone has to explain to me how we have one in three Americans who are obese and one in four Americans who suffer from hunger. I saw a clip on a church handing out food to the needy and they were mostly obese, making me wonder if we are double counting. Maybe these problems all are caused by the Food Network causing too many people to be thinking about food all the time.

  9. Pretty disappointing, Steve, to see you agreeing with the lazy and tired notion that eating crap food is automatically cheaper.

  10. I look at Bourdain with his douchey thumbrings and I just think: “I’m glad that’s not me”.
    It seems he has only one adjective for the food he tastes: “good”.
    I usually pay my bills during his show and wait for Zimmmern.
    There are pills for Bourdain’s kind of misanthropy.

  11. Bourdain lost almost all credibility in my eyes when I saw him drinking a Heinekin. He gained some measure of it back with his writing contribution the the HBO series “Treme”.

  12. It comes down to a cult of personality.

  13. Scott Mahon says:

    Steve,

    The fun of Bourdain is that his claim to fame, the semi-autobiographical, Kitchen Confidential, exposed the seedier side to NYC’s restaurant scene while simultaneously admitting to being part of that dark side. His current TV star rants are much of the same. As for the pissing matches in the wine industry, its probably far too risk averse than for anyone to try to market themselves as the villain for exposure. I’m more interested in when someone with little to risk will write the Bourdain style book on wine production and its dirty little secrets.

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