Anthony Bourdain, the irascible celebrity chef, writer, television host, and world traveler, is bringing his schtick to Brooklyn, with a one night stand at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House in June. That’s right, BAM, the place where Isabella Rossellini shows films while dressed in giant animal costumes and Sir Patrick Stewart plays Macbeth. In Brooklyn, where food is the new rock ‘n roll, Bourdain, one of the planet’s biggest culinary rock stars, is sure to tear the roof off the sucka.
The press release promises Bourdain will share “candid, and often hysterical, insights about his life’s work and travels including an open question and answer session with the audience.” While Bourdain hasn’t exactly staked out an official position on Brooklyn’s food scene, can we read the tea leaves to predict what he might have to say about the borough’s polarizing (or as the haters would say ‘precious’) embrace of ‘good food,’ and all that is fresh, local and artisanal?
In his latest book, Medium Raw: A Bloody valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, Bourdain writes:
“As incisively pointed out in the documentary Food Inc.,’ an overwhelmingly large percentage of ‘new,’ ‘healthy,’ and ‘organic’ alternative food products are actually owned by the same parent companies that scared us into the organic aisle in the first place. ‘They got you comin’ and goin’’ has never been truer.”
Does that mean the man who loathes pretension thinks it best to buy from local farmers and producers, people you know and trust, rather than making choices based on a label stamped on a package with a cartoon of a farm? Certainly he’d approve of the throngs jockeying for the latest seasonal produce at Brooklyn’s farmers markets. No?
Also in Medium Raw, he writes:
“PETA doesn’t want stressed animals to be cruelly crowded into sheds, ankle-deep in their own crap, because they don’t want any animals to die-ever-and basically think chickens should, in time, gain the right to vote. I don’t want animals stressed or crowded or treated cruelly or inhumanely because that makes them probably less delicious.”
OK, so maybe he doesn’t give much of a shit about the happiness of the animals he eats, or the environmental impact of industrial-scale meat production, but he cares about quality, and he thinks humanely-raised animals taste better. Then he wouldn’t deign to roll his eyes at butcher shops like Fleisher’s, Marlow & Daughter and The Meat Hook, which all traffic exclusively in pastured, locally-raised animals, right?
And in a conversation with Leonard Lopate on Lopate’s WNYC talk radio show last spring he admitted to demonizing Ronald McDonald to his daughter:
“I tried to terrorize her. They have no problem messing with the minds of young children. How hard is it to scare a three year old? So yeah I managed to terrify my daughter and demonize fast food and make it scary and not cool.”
If he’s willing to risk visiting a plague of 3am screaming toddler nightmares on his house to keep his daughter away from the golden arches, the man is clearly not down with industrial-scale fast food. Does that mean Bourdain would endorse the meticulous approach to sourcing good ingredients and to making the highest quality food while staying true to one’s own culinary vision rather than catering to mass market tastes, that has been embraced by Brooklyn’s best chefs?
Perhaps the most telling insight into Bourdain’s thoughts on Brooklyn’s food culture can be gleaned from a conversation he had with esteemed food writer, Grub Street founder, slightly-scary meat lover and unrepentant Brooklyn-basher Josh Ozersky on a 2010 episode of No Reservations.
Ozersky: The thing I can’t stand is all these bearded Brooklyn restauranteurs creating little mom ‘n pop places. Some of them are good, but basically, they’ve got that same priggish, smarmy vibe that you get from the Park Slope stroller moms. They’ve got to constantly preen and boast about their grass-fed beef and how everything…like at Franny’s you can’t have a knife and fork when you eat the pizza because it’s all about moms caring and sharing…
Bourdain:…What is this, a restaurant for stroller moms?
Ozersky: That’s exactly what it is.
Bourdain: I’m a stroller mom. But how’s my kid supposed to eat pizza?
Ozersky: Ha ha ha. These are all like hipster dads with tattoos who have their kids listen to Rage Against the machine and that sort of thing. They have these restaurants that they start…they train for two years…
Bourdain: Because they care? Caring and sharing?
Ozersky: Yeah. The caring and sharing.
Bourdain: They care and share what? Chlamydia? What? What are we sharing?
Ozersky: Ha ha ha. But seriously, they have some kind of culinary training. A lot of these guys worked for Mario or Eric or somebody like that…
Bourdain: So what’s wrong with that? They’re bringing enlightenment to the outer boroughs. They’re serving good stuff. I mean, when Dan Barber does it, it’s OK? So what’s the big deal if you go visit a place in Brooklyn and there are a few strollers there?
Will Bourdain use his appearance at BAM to drop a Sate of the Union speech on the status of Brooklyn in global culinary affairs? Doubtful, but he’s sure to serve up some laughs.
And Tony – stop by Franny’s after the show for one of the city’s best pizzas. Bring the kid. We think you’ll like it.