Last night, Anthony Bourdain and Chef Eric Ripert (of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations and Bravo’s Top Chef, respectively) took the stage at Clowes to talk about their lives in the food industry. Neither my dad (who was my date for the evening) nor I were entirely sure what to expect, but the event was more-or-less a delightful chat between lifelong friends.
Mr. Bourdain began by explaining to the packed house that they normally have an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” type mediator to bounce questions off them. Since it was just the two of them on stage that night, they would be taking a more “abrasive, inquisitorial approach” to the proceedings.
The two friends started by taking some jabs at each other: Bourdain questioned Ripert’s immigration status and Ripert asked Bourdain if he can still use the “Chef” title, considering the cable star hasn’t worked in a restaurant in a decade. Ripert also asked him what it was he actually did for a living; Bourdain couldn’t think of a good answer.
This back-and-forth teasing was woven throughout the program. It’s the kind of prodding that only works in a very old friendship and it was enjoyable rather than awkward to listen to their tête-à-tête.
The two friends discussed a variety of issues in the culinary world, including the significance of the slow food movement, the dangers of overfishing and the importance of using every part of the animal. There were a few other points that especially resonated with me.
One, Bourdain talked about needing to bring back mandatory home ec to American high schools so all young adults have some basic cooking skills. It goes beyond just being able to cook and eat healthier, more enjoyable meals. In his words, “I think every person, before they start having sex, should know how to make their lover an omelet.”
On a different note, he declared the Olive Garden and fake Mexican restaurants to be the worst things about the culinary world. The phrase, “Burn, baby burn” was used.
The other point came from Ripert. He was asked about his criticism of Gordon Ramsey and the popular show Hell’s Kitchen. In perhaps his only harsh words of the night (Bourdain cheerily explained to the audience that, unlike himself, his friend still had a reputation to uphold), Ripert talked about his dislike of the “old school” way of running a kitchen; namely, yelling and screaming and generally treating your staff like crap.
He admitted that he began his career treating his staff like that and it not only alienated his employees, but brought his own enthusiasm down as well. In essence, his problem with Hell’s Kitchen is how it glorifies that way of treating people. As someone who has worked in kitchens like that (with bosses like that), I can really appreciate Ripert standing up for a new, more constructive way of running restaurants.
Perhaps the only qualms I have with the event were logistic things. For one, we were in the 1st balcony and they kept all the lights on, which was extremely distracting. Far too often, it was hard to understand them on stage. If anything, these problems fall on Clowes management rather than the two guests.
Mr. Bourdain’s tendency for profanity popped up less often then I had expected, but it was more prevalent as the night went on (and as he kept drinking the local Sunking beer that was provided). The second to last question of the night was from a very sweet little girl who asked what jobs the two men had wanted when they were little. Ripert said either a chef or a forest ranger. Bourdain looked her right in the face and said, “Playing bass in a fucking rock band.” The very last question was posed by the girl’s mother, who asked if he said the F-word in front of his own child. After pausing, Bourdain just said, “Yes.”
3 1/2 out of 5 stars