How do I love thee, Tony? Let me count the ways. I love your hair; I love your eyes. I love your tall/skinny/sexy self. I love the way your eyes twinkle when you’re being mean, the way your skin crinkles when you smile and laugh. I love your passion for good food, your scorn of bad food, your biting wit. I love that Sandra Lee makes you want to poke out your own eyes. I love your desire to be a good guest, no matter where you are and no matter what you are offered to eat or drink. I love that you freely admit that cooking is an Unglamorous Job, despite all the media’s efforts to have us believe otherwise. I love that when you ate in our restaurant, you took the time to come back to the kitchen and hang out with your people–cooks. We would not have been nearly as proud of ourselves if the President Himself had complimented us on our cooking, but we knew that you knew exactly what you were talking about when you told Rhys that his bratwurst was wonderful. That the collards were amazing. When you told me that you loved your chocolate stout cake.
So, you might have gathered that I saw Tony Bourdain recently. Yes, The Beloved got us tickets–sometimes the man can Take a Hint–to see him speak at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. I had no idea what to expect, but as he talked, he said exactly the kind of things I would have expected to come out of his mouth if I had expected something.
First of all, he didn’t wear shoes. He had on beige socks. He came out drinking a long neck Some Kind Of Beer. I settled in to enjoy the ride.
He talked about a lot of things. He made fun of most of the Food Network “stars.” He spoke with passion about respecting culture and cuisines and people. About being a conscious traveler. He touched on how he is getting in touch with his granola side a little, now that he has a daughter. He has kind of decided that Rachael Ray might be a little cool while he held Sandra Lee up as poster child for All That is Wrong with Food Today.
At this point, I could piggy back off of that last sentence and go on a long, impassioned rant about what I hate about Food Network, Good Eats notwithstanding. I shan’t though–mainly because I’ve already ranted about the FN people at great length. What I will say is that I actually felt a rising sense of helplessness, revulsion and sadness as I watched Sandra Lee, now the First Lady of New York, make that Kwanzaa cake. It was so offensive on so many levels, that it’s hard to know where to begin. All I will say is that, my head just exploded all over my monitor in solidarity with my Kwanzaa-Celebrating Friends.
There’s even a tribute video, and it is Well Worth Watching:I mean, when anyone who doesn’t really know what a holiday is all about starts randomly throwing Items together in celebration of Said Holiday, they need to be smacked. Hard. It would be like throwing all the ingredients available in the kosher aisle of the grocery store on top of some unwilling naked cake and having it magically a)represent Hanukkah, and b)taste good.
Let me just stop there. I have to extricate myself from this toxic swirl of Sandra Lee-induced horror. I think I might need the Full Silkwood. And to think, I just wanted to tell you about Tony. Rest assured that he, too, is horrified by Sandra Lee and her Ilk.
So, while driving home from Tony, I was both thrilled that I had seen him and a little saddened that his message reaches comparatively few people. I mean, he’s basically preaching to the choir when he does these talks. Anyway, here’s the message, as I heard it, anyway:
- Cook and eat real food.
- Be as culturally true to the dish as you can be.
- People who visit Tokyo just to get the Hard Rock Tee Shirt shouldn’t travel. Ever.
- When outside of your native country, never eat at a place that has tour buses waiting outside.
It’s a strong message. It’s a valid message. It’s a message that we need to hear. But it gets drowned out by the white noise of the Food Network. Or we watch Tony on his show while mindlessly downing cheese puffs or after just coming home from a lovely evening of EYEtalian Food courtesy of Olive Garden.
In a way, Tony’s is a voice crying in the wilderness. I would go so far as to say that Tony Bourdain is to food what Al Gore is to the environment. Al travels around giving his low-key-yet-disturbing PowerPoint Presentation about global warming, and his audience all go home in their Hummers, leaving them idling in the parking lot with the family while they duck into the liquor store for Night Cap Fixin’s.
Al and Tony are making the hard sell, but very few people are buying. Yet they keep doing it–traveling the country and the world to spread their message. And everyone who hears them keeps doing the same old thing.
I don’t mean that everyone should turn into Alice Waters and Ed Begley, Jr.’s love children (now There’s a picture), but I think little changes can add up to a huge difference.
So, reeling from Food Network Madness and seething over Hummer Sightings, I knew that I needed some Serious Mind Detoxing. For Real. Fortunately, the state farmers’ market is always good for what ails you, and was exactly the right medicine. We had already decided that we’d be going to the farmers’ market the next morning, but after Tony, it was no longer an “it’ll be fun to go…” It was a Full Fledged, “We Need to go…”
See what I mean?