Before Anthony Bourdain Visits Dallas, He Chats with City of Ate About Bad Food Critics and Evil Truffle Oil
Anthony Bourdain comes to Dallas this Thursday, visiting the Majestic Theater to share what will no doubt be candid and curse-filled insights into his life's work, travels and food. Since City of Ate is sponsoring the event, I spoke to Bourdain recently, asking about his new show, the food scene in Dallas, his thoughts on food critics and more.
City of Ate: Didn't you hear that Dallas is a dining nowhereville? Why are you coming to Dallas?
I have no opinion about the Dallas food culture because I'm just completely pig ignorant on the subject. I just don't know one way or the other to say anything even remotely intelligent about the Dallas dining scene because I don't know. I'm coming to do a show.
Have you been here before?
I've been through on these tiny dysfunctional book tours or speaking events. I've never been in town long enough to learn anything.
What are you going to eat while you're here?
I'll be eating the Pringles out of the mini-bar.
What would make you consider coming to Dallas to tape one of your new shows?
If I can find an angle like a person or a story or a perspective that drew me in above and beyond just good food. Is there some unique aspect about Dallas' cuisine that sets it apart, that is unique to Dallas as opposed to Houston or Austin or Kansas City or Paris and New York. Or do I have a really good friend in Dallas that would show me some really fucked up honky-tonks and dive bars and just sort of low impact casual joints that would be strange and wonderful.
We've got some honky-tonks.
I do like a good bar.
Katharine Shilcutt, the food critic at the Houston Press, recently published a review lamenting her fellow diners who sent back dishes that were cooked properly but not to their liking. Fish, for instance, cooked to a perfect translucent doneness was sent back by one diner. Another sent back a dish because their foods touched on their plate. At the end of her review she got this veal steak that was over cooked. She wanted to find fault with the restaurant, but she realized the chef was just doing what most of his diners were asking for.
That's not a problem that's unique for sure. In the perfect world the chef says listen -- are you here to eat my food?
If I show up and I want my scallops cooked this way and I don't want them touching my vegetables that's fine. That's called the Cheesecake Factory. But if I'm coming into a Dean Fearing restaurant, I'm here to eat Dean Fearing's food. OK? I'm not telling him where I want my scallops or how I want them cooked. I want them the way Dean thinks I should try them because I've heard he's good. A lot of people have said he's good over the years -- therefore, I'm going to put my faith in him. Good or bad, I'm going to put my faith in the chef. That's what it's about.
I'm saying that as a customer, not just a chef. That's the way I eat. You know, I go into a restaurant with a reputation and they ask, what do you want to eat? And I say, what are you good at? They know better than me.
But you're on TV and have an opportunity to educate and influence diners ...
Something like this ... is an act of slow seduction. It's tough to get people out of old attitudes. It was a really important moment when people started eating sushi. It was a big deal. I was raised thinking raw fish -- are you out of your mind? But at some point in my life, somehow, it seemed like a good idea. So there was then and then there's now.
I'm not going to sneer at people or mock them or make them feel bad about themselves for their attitudes toward food. But I sympathize with a chef that has to deal with that -- who's trying to raise their game and trying to do things as well as they can and their customers haven't caught up with them yet or learned to trust them.
Let's face it. In a lot of cases the chef doesn't deserve their trust. Certainly, in my life, I've bullied my customers into eating something that they probably would have been better off not eating. So, we're all growing up together you know? Chefs and customers alike.
In your first book you mention eating your first oysters in France. Oysters: North or South?
North. I've learned to appreciate oysters from the South and I've had them all over, but I mean come on. If the first woman you ever slept with you was a brunette and it was fantastic, well then it kind of makes an impression on you.
Ever think you'll go back there and re-create that experience with the cigarettes and the paper bag?
I did on a cooks tour with my brother, in 2001 and I might do it again in a year or two.
I love when a food experience takes you back in time and ...
That's what's so transformative and so great about food. You might forget your first girlfriend's face, but you remember what was playing on the radio and you remember the smell.
Tell me about your new show.
Unlike No Reservations it will be useful. Like No Reservations it will be snarky, dark, evil and personal.
You'll actually be able to go and do everything you see in the show. In No Reservations, chances are you're probably not going up the Amazon, or bungee jumping or having dinner with Bill Murray.
How long is each layover?
I'm there in real time for 48 hours, so we shot my portions in 48 hours.
Do you think a viewer would really be able to recreate that experience in two days?
No, but I think the viewer could pick out a few things from the show that appeal. And I think they would go home spectacularly happy, saying, "Thank God I did what that asshole Bourdain suggested, because otherwise I really would have had a crappy time in Rome."
Did you shoot in Rome?
We shot in a lot of hub cities. Hong Kong Singapore Miami, Amsterdam, London, Rome.