A war of words is escalating between everyone’s favorite food personality, Anthony Bourdain and Alan Richman.
Bourdain is the host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Alan Richman writes about food for GQ. He is an elitist with contempt for the restaurant industry, most people who work in that industry, celebrity chefs, and most diners. He famously angered the foodie community when he tore post-Katrina New Orleans’ food and people to shreds in a recent article. He has also been critical of celebrity chefs who aren’t actually cooking in the kitchens in their restaurants, which is absurd.
When he wrote about New Orleans he criticized and stereotyped the people living in New Orleans calling them “crooks and cooks” and questioned the term “Creole” stating that “I have never met one (a Creole person) and suspect they are a faerie folk, like leprechauns, rather than an indigenous race. The myth is that once, long ago, Creoles existed.” He went on to rip almost every place he ate at to shreds, including Galatorie’s, Bayona and Herbsaint, some of the most respected and beloved restaurants in the City. He then bashed the reputation of New Orleans as a food destination by stating that “I’m not certain the cuisine was ever as good as its reputation, in part because the people who have consumed, evaluated, and admired it likely weren’t sober enough at the time of ingestion to know what they were eating.” The food community was obviously outraged.
Richman also doesn’t like when celebrity chefs aren’t in their kitchens. The fact that it is impossible for someone to be in more than one place at a time appears to be lost on him. One of his 30 restaurant commandments states that “Restaurants where the famous celebrity chef has taken the night off should post a notice, similar to the ones seen in Broadway theaters: ‘The role of our highly publicized head chef will be played tonight by sous-chef Willie Norkin, who took one semester of home economics and can’t cook.'”
He rips all of these Vegas outposts of other celebrity chef restaurants as “knock-offs.” A knock off implies that it is fake which is not what these places are. My feeling is that as long as the people they employ can execute the food to their standards its the same as if they are there. Cooking is rarely elevated to an art form. Its a craft that can be taught to people who, with skill and experience, can make it the same as say Mario Batali or Bobby Flay. The celebrity chef is there to lend name recognition and marketing, come up with the concept, and create the menu.
As a result Richman’s…well…douchebaggery he was nominated for a Golden Clog for “The Douchebag” which is the award given for the best example of twisted, repressed, or compromised “I’d rather be making lemon bundt cake with My Cat, Mr. Mufflesworth” journalist who actually HATES food and hates the people who make food even more. The Golden Clogs are food awards that are the brainchild of buddies Anthony Bourdain and one of the best food writers in the Country, Michael Ruhlman. The Douchebag The nominees (in their words) were:
Alan Richman – For taking a big dump on New Orleans at the worst possible time and for his totally disingenuous piece on celebrity chefs not being behind the stove when Alan chooses to dine.
John Mariani for continuing to be John Mariani and do what he does so well. Which is–apparently–get free stuff (Mariani is a food writer too)
Bob Lape–“Do I have to pay for that?” (Lape, according to a google search, is a food critic in Ohio)
Regina Schrambling for her deranged, embittered–yet fascinating–gastropoda.com, where she raves and rags on her former employers–(and Mario Batali) like an ex-lover-turned-bag lady.
The award went to Richman and he didn’t take too kindly to this much deserved award so he set out to get Bourdain, and he failed miserably. He decided to write a review of Brasserie Les Halles, the restaurant that Bourdian is most associated with. What Richman wrote was quite possibly the worst restaurant review I have ever read.
He said that Les Halles reminded him of the “grubby spots I used to visit in Paris, the ones that titillated me because they appeared to be in violation of health codes.” As if to insinuate that Les Halles looks like some place in violation of health codes (I have been there and it is actually very nice and clean). He then spends a few paragraphs of the “review” by laying into Bourdain, who doesn’t even work there.
The worst part of the review is that he is trying to “get” Bourdain with a bad review of a restaurant that he barely has anything to do with. His role is “consultant” which I assume to mean that he gets a nice check every once in a while because by virtue of his name being associated with the restaurant Les Halles generates a ton more business than they otherwise would have. Want proof? Just watch the No Reservations episode where Bourdain returns to Les Halles to work for a day. He is shocked at how many covers (restaurant jargon for customers) they do in a night since he left. In fact they are doing twice as many, all of which probably are a result of Bourdain’s rise to prominence.
Bourdain has never put himself out there as a celebrity chef like Batali or Flay. He has always maintained that he was a decent chef who shifted gears and became a writer then a TV personality. His only cookbook is the Les Halles cookbook (and its a good one). Richman is so pissed off about being called a douchebag by Bourdain that the sole reason for him eating at Les Halles is to rip Bourdain and the restaurant to shreds, which is, in my opinion, unethical. As a food critic or a journalist you are supposed to go into a restaurant unbiased and ready to provide an objective review. Richman went in with the article already written in his mind.
After two dinners at Les Halles, here is my take. It is a good restaurant serving great food for that price range. If Les Halles was in Milwaukee it would make the top restaurant list every year. In New York, the restaurant capital of the world where diners are more fickle it probably wouldn’t crack the top 100. Both meals I ate there were great. The cassoulet was out of this world as was a rabbit dish. The hangar steak and frites were some of the best I have had (It was way better than Thomas Keller’s version at Bouchon). I found staff to be friendly and the atmosphere to be fun. The Milwaukee equivalent would easily be Coquette Cafe, which also has some great French food at reasonable prices.
Bourdin responded by saying “It was like being mauled by Gumby.”
In a war between Bourdain and Richman lay your money on Bourdain.