Anthony Bourdain: Unreserved (cont’d)

A quick recap of last week’s archived transcript of my interview with Anthony Bourdain: Rachael Ray “is closer to Paris Hilton than to Julia Child.” Also, “Ina Garten makes decent, good, quick to prepare unthreatening food that any home cook could make.” As for Sandra Lee, “that is just pure evil. I put her right up there with Ted Bundy.”

The Bourdain interview from 2007 continues:

VM: Are we watching food shows just to watch?

AB: I think maybe even a majority of people are, in fact, just watching. It’s like the salads at McDonald’s. You know, nobody eats them but they feel thinner knowing that they’re there. “Well, it’s nice to know I can have a healthier salad, not that I’m gonna.” But it makes you feel better about going to McDonald’s and much the same way you feel better about the Cheetos you’re working on when you’re watching someone actually cook something a little bit better on TV. I think though that on balance enough people, even if it’s a minority of people who watch the Food Network, are actually raising their expectations and knowledge of what food is, particularly their expectations. When they walk into a restaurant they’re willing to try new or different things. They know a little better. There are higher expectations. If only that it has increased the status of chefs and the kind of pride and unit pride in the kitchen, you know, it’s better for everybody. Nobody spits in the soup in kitchens anymore. That would be unthinkable. There’s a pride. You’re getting a better educated [cook]. A proud kitchen is a good kitchen and just by virtue of raising the prestige of chefs and cooks, and of the profession, that’s been a good thing for diners. And I think, let’s face it, as I wrote on [Michael] Ruhlman’s site, it really doesn’t matter why we first started eating sushi. It changed the world for the better when we did start eating sushi.

VM: To go back to your original post on the Food Network. You ever hear back from them about it?

AB: Not from them directly, no. I’ve heard from a couple of their people though. What I’ve been hearing is a lot of them—I heard from a few people who were at the Food Network Awards and they described it as a mortifying, deeply embarrassing experience for all involved and pretty much thought it was pretty funny. The guy at Dinner Impossible, a guy heard from a producer of his who was—they’ve been a really good sport about it.

Listen, the Food Network knows they suck. They know what they do. They exclusively stated their business model is to get away from these annoying chefs, these demanding, annoying chefs. It’s working. That award ceremony that I complained about was their second-highest rated show they ever had.

I understand why they do what they do, and it’s good for business for them and their shareholders and frankly it’s good for business for me. I just don’t have to like it.

VM: Do you watch Hell’s Kitchen by any chance?

AB: I’m good friends with Gordon [Ramsay]. I really loved Boiling Point. I think Kitchen Nightmares in England, the British show he made, is really the best show of its kind. I was really hooked on the [2006] season of Hell’s Kitchen. This one is just awful. It’s embarrassing. None of these bed-wetters would be a viable candidate for employment in any restaurant I’ve ever heard of.

VM: But the winner of this show is going to run a restaurant.

AB: They couldn’t run a popsickle stand. And it is immediately apparent to anyone that they larded the group with—they picked them for purposes of drama. It’s so juiced for conflict and drama. You don’t see the food. I kind of feel bad for Gordon who is extremely cool. I see this as kind of like, you know, a Mario and Alton Brown. These are three really, really smart, incredibly talented guys who are capable of doing so, so much better. It’s amazing how much good Mario and Alton have done and how many good shows Ramsey has done. But I think it really caught up with him this year. He looks silly up there.

VM: How bothered are you on the show by Aaron, the large, 48-year-old Asian chef who is constantly crying?

AB: If he walked into any restaurant I’ve ever worked in, he wouldn’t have made it five minutes. If he started crying his first hour, I’m saying, “Listen, you know, I’m real sorry things haven’t worked out, clean out your locker, and get the fuck out.” It’s an alternate reality show. It’s not a reality show. Again it suffers by comparison with Top Chef, which I think is an excellent show. I’m on it, by the way, I’m one of the judges. But I really enjoyed doing the show. I really enjoy watching the show. I think it’s fair. I think it’s all about the food. For every success of a dumb competition show, a reality show, it opens the door for somebody to do something better. I mean, if it wasn’t for all the dumb shows on Food Network, I probably wouldn’t have one on Travel.

VM: In Bill Buford’s profile of Ramsay in the New Yorker, Ramsay says the whole point of these shows is to get people into his restaurant.

AB: The people who watch the show are not eating at his restaurant. Absolutely not. I think the idea of the show is to make enough money making the shows so that he can afford to funnel it into the restaurant business, his American ventures, which is very sensible. I mean, I understand why he’s doing what he does, and God knows he deserves to make a lot of money, and it’s working out well for him, and he doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody at this point in his career. It’s not a show I would have done. I was offered the Brit version and politely declined.

Read the conclusion to the interview next week.

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