Earlier today, the Guardian held a live chat with Anthony Bourdain on its website. Numerous members of the British populace clamored to ask him questions. Among them was Paul Levy, a writer who is best known for inflicting the word “foodie” upon the world as the co-author of The Official Foodie Handbook, published in 1984. Levy, whose profile photo on the Guardian site brings to mind both an aged Truman Capote and a dyspeptic Pekingese, asked Bourdain the following:
Aren’t you just a bit ashamed of the picture you paint of the bad-boy chef, when you’ve never worked in anything like a first-rate restaurant yourself? No kitchen like the ones you describe could possibly produce anything EXCEPT the crap you write about — as Jeffrey Steingarten was the first to point out.
To which Bourdain replied:
Ashamed? No. Why would I be? I wrote frankly and as honestly as I could about my own not particularly distinguished career. I made point of highlighting the fact that not all kitchens are like my own and have, if anything, been reverential towards my more accomplished colleagues. To suggest that writing about the particular language and subculture of cooking in an unvarnished way is “macho” — as you have elsewhere — is to fundamentally misunderstand the subject. It is always dismaying when people such as yourself, who claim to love food, have so little regard for or understanding of the people who actually cook it. … Writing about food and cooking has long ago moved on from the kind of over-romanticized, fetishistic, elitist twaddle now relegated to marginalized writers of a certain age. There is nothing inherently “macho” by the way about meat-centric cooking — or bad language in the kitchen as you have wrongheadedly suggested elsewhere. Those who suggest this are usually, it is worth noting, mostly old white men. Brush off the cat hair.
On a less twaddly note, Bourdain seems to have his priorities firmly in check these days: Asked if he would prefer Scarlett Johansson or a “nice bowl of cassoulet and a cheeky bottle of rouge,” he responded, “Cassoulet. Nothing personal, but I’m all about family, rainbows and unicorns these days. And duck fat.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2010