At this point in their respective careers, Anthony Bourdain and David Chang can do their brotherly cynics act in their sleep. So their appearance last night at the 92Y, where they took to the stage for a discussion with Budd Mishkin, wasn’t so much a show as a rerun of a show, one in which the audience knew when to expect the F-bombs to drop, the Alice Waters digs to surface, and the “Who, me?” rags-to-riches tales to be rehashed. But give Chang and Bourdain credit: Even though they didn’t cover any new territory last night, they gave a fairly amusing tour of the land they long ago colonized.
Introduced by Mishkin as the Mick and Keith of the food world, Chang and Bourdain spent an hour and a half answering questions posed by both Mishkin and the audience. Amid much rehashing of their respective life stories — Bourdain’s pre-bestseller burn-out (“I had no plans to live past 30”) and Chang’s ramen epiphany in Japan — there were the by now rote slams on Alice Waters (“Did you see the photos of [her] kitchen in Vanity Fair?” Bourdain asked. “You’re telling me I should be working on a farm right now and that’s your kitchen?”) and Alan Richman (“D-O-U-C-H-E-B-A-G,” quoth Bourdain).
But there was also some interesting stuff, despite Mishkin’s overly reverential tone and marshmallow questions. When asked what he thinks about chefs who seem hungry to expand their empires, Chang responded that “the chef-driven restaurant has proven it doesn’t work anymore. If Cru can’t … then it doesn’t work. There’s a generation of chefs 35 to 42 years old who don’t have restaurants anymore. It just doesn’t make money. As you get bigger, you have to feed this beast. … I’m not going to say no to an opportunity that’s going to make some more money … but there is a breaking point. It has negatively affected New York restaurants: People eat better as a whole, but creativity is dying.”
Along the same lines, when asked about the current burger-joint epidemic, Chang said, “We don’t need every restaurant to be a Shake Shack. No more hamburgers, no more steakhouses. Hamburgers are delicious, but if everyone starts to open hamburger restaurants, what happens to everyone else, to the creativity?”
That said, Bourdain, responding to Mishkin’s observation that Americans have become more obsessed with their meals, said that “we’re catching up with the European and Asian tradition. You have some understanding of what’s on your plate. … The more we eat, the more we appreciate it. For all of the silliness that comes with it, that’s a good thing.”
Speaking of Bourdain and his worldview, fans of No Reservations will be pleased to learn that the show will be heading into less well-trod territory in the future: Bourdain revealed that planned locations include Congo, Cuba, Haiti, and Kurdistan. “A lot of the places we thought we couldn’t shoot in, we can shoot in,” Bourdain explained, describing them as “moral gray areas.”
Closer to home, Bourdain went into throes of ecstasy describing his love of Eataly: “We went in there and [my wife’s] stuttering, looking around and saying, ‘Oh my god, oh my god.’ It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe. It’s yet another seemingly doomed, completely risk-taking Batali project that works. And they’re delivering in a month. Holy fuck.”
Chang was a little more measured in his response: “I haven’t been.”
On the subject of places a little farther off the radar, Chang, responding to an audience question, said that his favorite “hidden gem” was Kaijitsu, a Shojin restaurant on East 9th Street, while Bourdain gave a shout-out to Flushing’s Xi’an Famous Foods.
And Bourdain also gave an unintentional shout-out to the territory he covered long ago and absolutely doesn’t want to revisit any time soon: “That whole damn fish on Monday,” he groaned, “is gonna be on my fucking headstone.”