“Tonight is a bad night to eat out in Cincinnati.”
What an accurate opening line for Anthony Bourdain’s show at the Aronoff last night. Just walking in, I saw several prominent local chefs, wine experts, spirits experts, food writers, food bloggers and just plain old fans, all gathered in a nearly sold-out theater to hear Bourdain speak.
Of course, if you’ve read Kitchen Confidential, you’d know not to eat out on a Sunday anyway.
Tony (can I call him Tony?) was not a disappointment, and his fans in attendance last night– I doubt there was anyone in the room who was only a passing fan– seemed to enjoy his regurgitation of a good portion of Medium Raw, based simply on the fact that the audience applauded nearly every familiar story, and responded (audibly) to Tony’s rhetorical questions.
The first hour was a brief recap of some of the more entertaining stories within the book– his creepy encounter with Sandra Lee, a fruit basket from Rachael Ray, his opinions on vegetarianism (which is based around travel– how can you be a polite guest in another country if you don’t eat what is being offered?), and his hatred of what the Food Network has become. It’s obvious he does the same presentation in every city: at one point, while discussing Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown” and the idea that Bobby could probably make chili better than “anyone in the room– especially here”– a joke about Cincinnati chili– he was thrown off when he was booed, but kept trucking right through his presentation. If you’ve read the book but didn’t attend the show, you didn’t miss much. If you attended the show but hadn’t read the book, about 80% of the book will be very familiar to you. He’s actually a much better speaker than writer– though he became famous based on his writing. Occasionally his writing can seem overwrought (he refers to baby eels in the book as “whispering secrets”– oy), but his oral storytelling style is conversational and authentic.
Bourdain really shined in the Q&A portion– though he seemed a bit ill at ease (probably because the questions could be anything–literally. I’d be nervous, too!). He lit up when he talked about Vietnam, which he says is his favorite place in the world, and some of his other Asian travels. He lit up, too, when talking about his daughter and his wife (which, if you’ve read the Sandra Lee story, is someone with whom I would not want to, uh, mess with). He got a good laugh from a guy who bet on how many f-bombs he’d drop (94 by the time the guy got up to ask his question; more by the time the hour was done). Several people asked him for travel advice (one young woman wanted to be a travel writer and was going to London to study, but wanted advice about traveling on a budget. His advice? Don’t start out in London), and several others asked about favorite dangerous moments (the massage in Uzbekistan), least favorite foods (colon of a boar)– some of the same questions in my contest post. He loved talking about travel.
And his view of travel is simple: experience what the locals experience. Honor other cultures. Don’t go to Planet Hollywood in Taiwan; eat street food from a street vendor. If you go to Uzbekistan and are offered the choicest delicacy– eat it. If you see a place with a bunch of Americans, don’t go in. If you’re the only American there? That’s a good sign. Don’t do the tour buses. Go off the Rick Steves walking tour. Discover things on your own.
Several times, Bourdain stated that he was a curious person, which is why he loves “the best job in the world”. I took away a newfound respect for my own curiosity, and the hope that others in the audience were inspired to travel and to eat and to be curious themselves, and not settle to just live life by reading books or watching TV shows, but to really experience it.