An audience of 1,260, including occasionally squealing coeds and mesmerized chefs, got exactly the Tony they expected — opinionated, witty, impassioned, worldly, and wielding a comic's timing for when to drop the f-bomb. Those who've read his latest book “Medium Raw” already knew the targets of his wrath. Chain restaurants: “I become filled with boiling rage every time I drive by an Olive Garden. Do we have time to torch that fucking joint? If I were king there would be bonfires across America.” Guy Fieri. “He's forty years old. It's time to lose the sunglasses!” Food bloggers. “The Internet is one big, white bathroom wall where anyone can write. … Now we fetishize food — eating your meal while blogging about it, taking pictures, Tweeting — ‘course one!’”
Bourdain understands the mockability of his own profession. Food porn. Travel porn. The snobbery than can separate those who eat at Per Se from those who can't, and a reverse-snobbery contingent that searches for the crummiest and most obscure places to write about. It's only a matter of time, Bourdain says, before food writers become corrupted by the process, when they can't appreciate a meal or an experience without analyzing it. “Food is part of a larger and more complete context than eating in restaurants and talking about it on the computer,” he says.
He posits a larger view. “Food is telling you a story — it's a primal expression. I don't know if the meal is the answer to world peace, but it helps.” On this point, he urges the audience to practice respect when traveling, to eat what is offered, to honor the gesture of hospitality, to participate in the experience. “Curiosity is the greatest of virtues. This is something to aspire to when you travel, and I would advise you to make the most of it. Don't take pictures of each other in front of a Starbucks in Shanghai. Don't go to the Hard Rock CafAc in Tokyo. In many ways you are an ambassador and some people will make decisions on Americans based on you to some extent.”
He favors legalizing pot. “It will be great for food,” he says, getting a laugh about the sales potential for stoner food — “whimsical, intensely flavored, evocative.” Yes to the surge in offal evangelism. Yes to bacon, “a gateway dish” for vegetarians. Yes to books besides his own bestsellers. His favorite authors include Hunter S. Thompson, first read at age 13 and transformative; George Orwell essays, Graham Greene, Joan Didion and Daniel Woodrell.
Now that he's completed more than 100 episodes of his Emmy-winning series “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, Bourdain finds himself in the enviable position of casting about for new locations by using favorite films as a launching point. He can throw out anecdotes about eating and drinking in countries nearly everywhere, meshing rants with affectionate codicils. He voice softens noticeably when talking about his 3-year old daughter Ariane and her eating habits. But he returns repeatedly to sly outrage. “The crimes committed against Mexican food!” Nachos and snow-cone margaritas are aberrations not seen in Mexico. Alice Waters and her kitchen porn in Vanity Fair magazine. Vegetarians and Gwyneth Paltrow. Chili's.
Much of this is “Medium Raw” live, in the familiar imploring baritone that holds an audience rapt for two hours. Then comes a dessert-laden reception and a crush of fans wanting autographs and pictures. Bourdain accepts the adulation with gracious ease and a beer. And then he flies off to Springfield, Massachusetts for more.