October 19, 2011

Soup to Nuts: Boeuf de Bourdain

Some foodies here still have a beef with celebrity chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, who ruffled feathers last year with remarks about a respected Portland restaurateur.

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Anthony Bourdain

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WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $52 to $62

INFO: porttix.com


"The Layover," his new show that premieres Nov. 21 on the Travel Channel:

"It's sort of my version of a very tired concept. But instead of the best of or the top 10, these are things that I like in these cities that are typical and unique to these cities that I really think you should go to. If you have three days to eat in Rome, Cacio e Pepe, that's a dish that you shouldn't miss. It's a Roman specialty that Romans like, and if you were to ask a Roman the one dish you should eat in Rome, that might be the answer that you get back.

The local food movement and the obesity epidemic:

"For whatever reason, we find ourselves in a world where restaurants have to think about sustainability. This is not a concept that came up much 10 or 15 years ago, so I think it's a positive development, whatever is behind it. I'm not going to go crazy about it. I don't think you should make people feel bad about where they buy their food. I think it's a better idea to make people feel bad about what they eat, and what they choose to cook and what they choose to feed their children. I think it's probably legitimate to shame and ridicule people there, because it's clearly a crisis."

Fast-food options:

"I think anyone who's trying to make affordable good food out of good ingredients as an alternative to the fast-food industry is on the side of the angels. Any small, struggling mom-and-pop restaurant making real food as best they can, whether it's healthy or not, as long as it's not processed, is on the side of the angels. I'm not suggesting that we should start banning cheese or butter. Those are good things."

School gardens:

"That's not gonna work. It's all nice. Listen, it's great to have those alternatives, but I grew up in the Kennedy years when you had the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and it was like, 'You'd better run across that, and if you can't, I want to know the reason, jumbo.' It wasn't an 'everybody wins, everybody's beautiful' culture. It was still OK to mock people. I think a little bit of that might be helpful at this point. You know, it's not OK. It's not OK to die at 48 or to take 15 minutes to get out of your car. I'm sympathetic to people who are in that position. I don't think they should be demonized. But I don't think we should be sending a message, given the state of our nation, that it's OK or charming or funny to eat a double cheeseburger with bacon, cheese and a fried egg in between two Krispy Kreme donuts. That's a little irresponsible."

How he stays in shape:

"I have to think about it these days. I struggle. My whole crew, you know, we eat in Italy for two weeks followed by France, we'll put on 10 or 12 pounds. So I try to schedule a show in southeast Asia after that. I try to move. If I don't exercise, I stay active, and if I'm eating a big meal tonight, I'm not having a big lunch tomorrow. I try to pace myself. I don't always eat healthy food, but it's part of the big picture. I'm not just joylessly filling up. I'm never sitting on the couch eating Doritos, watching TV."

Places he'd still like to go for "No Reservations":

"The Congo, but there are security concerns. Iran. We're hoping to shoot in Libya this year. Myanmar, I'd love to see the government change and shoot there. If we haven't been there already, chances are there's been a political or security concern, or I just haven't figured out what my point of view is and what angle we're going to use. I'd like to shoot in Philadelphia, I just haven't figured out an angle."

Getting approached by fans all the time:

"It beats working. I mean, I spent 28 years of my life standing next to a deep fryer in one restaurant or another in New York. I could hardly start complaining about somebody wants an autograph in an airport, you know? I know what work is. I know what it's like to stand on your feet 16 hours a day and still go home to a morass of endless debt and fear. So, on balance, I have no right to complain about anything. I have the best job in the world, and the fact that people give a (expletive) at all about my autograph or picture or anything else can only be a good thing. I'm grateful."

Anthony Bourdain is on the phone, talking about the live show he's bringing to Portland in November and how fans in the audience will be able to ask him anything they want.

"I like hard questions. I like confrontational questions," he said. "To me, the worst-case scenario is I get the same old, 'Gee, what's the grossest thing you ever ate' question. Or 'Where are you going to eat after this?'

"I'd rather get somebody who really disagrees with me and challenges me."

Sensing an opening, it seems a good time to broach a touchy subject that people around here are still grumbling about: The Maine episode of "No Reservations," which Bourdain filmed in January 2010 and aired later that year on the Travel Channel. Bourdain visited J's Oyster and Street and Co. in Portland, then headed up the coast to Conte's and Primo in Rockland and a bean supper in Milo.

If comments on social media are any indication, Mainers sure know how to hold a grudge. While some loved Bourdain's view of Maine through the eyes of his cameraman Zach Zamboni (who grew up in Milo), many others are still wondering more than a year after the show aired: Why wasn't Portland more prominent in the show, given its growing reputation as a food town? Why didn't Bourdain go to (fill in the blank) restaurant in Portland? And why was he so mean to restaurateur Dana Street when they were having dinner at his Portland restaurant, Street and Co.?

Bourdain apparently gets this kind of reaction a lot.

He's sure he missed a lot of great places in Portland -- he always does -- but he's not in the business of featuring the "best" restaurant in town or doing any kind of comprehensive overview of a city, he said. The Maine show was a personal essay that "was about Zach and Zach's favorite places, and his view of Maine, period."

"Whether I was fair to Portland, of course, I wasn't," Bourdain said. "I'm not making a show that any tourism board is going to be happy with because it's incomplete, it's point-of-view. It comes from how much I had to drink that day and who I'm with, and in this case, is was the Zach Zamboni show."

Bourdain fell head over heels for J's Oyster, where he held court with the staff and scarfed down steamers dipped in butter, a treat that he said is getting harder to find in New Jersey and New York. J's, Bourdain said, is the kind of place he wishes he had in his own neighborhood.

"To me, J's Oyster bar is a place that I loved within two seconds of walking in the door," he said. "I loved the people there. I loved the people who worked there, I loved the crowd, l loved the food, I loved the look. I loved everything about the place. I wanted to move in upstairs."

So, what happened at Street and Co.?


In the show's voice-over, Bourdain called the restaurant's atmosphere "kind of dull, actually. Why Zach brought me here, I'm not sure."

The next scene shows Bourdain at a table with Dana Street and his fishmonger. A female server walks up to the table and says, "Welcome to Street and Co."

Street quietly replies: "You keep saying that. You said that three times already."

Bourdain's voice-over returns: "After two minutes with this guy, I can already tell it must be difficult to work in this place."

Bourdain said it was his impression that Street was "less than polite" to the server, even "dismissive" of her, and it rubbed him the wrong way at a time when he was already feeling "cranky."

(Continued on page 2)

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