Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bourdain Backlash?

Let me start this out by saying, as I have said before, I am all about Anthony Bourdain. I like the books, the shows, the Top Chef guest judging spots, whatever. I read pretty much any interview with him I can find.

But I can't help but wonder whether he's getting a little overexposed and, as a result, when the backlash will begin in earnest. I know he's promoting the new season of No Reservations right now, but I've read a whole bunch of interviews with him lately. This, plus the Food Network rerun of A Cook's Tour, makes me think that there might just be a little too much Tony out there for some more finicky and whiny viewers.

(I'm also on a general backlash watch these days, after reading something, I think on Pajiba, about how the Internet encourages backlash to begin before trends, or stars, really even get going. It seems true.)

Anyway, when I ran across this Onion AV Club interview this morning, I thought: somebody's got to be complaining about his constant presence. I was right - a couple of commenters were all "He's so obnoxious. Go away." Case in point:
(by commenter wammer)
His show just rings false to me. His tone never seems to be "look what you could do if you ever travel here," but more "look what I'm doing and you could if you weren't such a work-a-day square."

And one made a predictable and (to me) pretentiously annoying argument about No Reservations being so colonial...look at us, trying the "ethnic" foods, etc. etc. I have no patience for that, but I'm not surprised that it's out there.

What I was surprised about, though, was that there wasn't more complaining. Overall, out of almost 400 comments, I'd say about 90% of them ranged from mildly positive to glowing and worshipful. I think this maybe sums it up:
(by commenter pepto)
I want to hate this guy, based purely on the hype surrounding his Cult of Personality, but I am finding it difficult.

Even wammer, the negative commenter quoted above, changed his mind and decided to give Bourdain another chance based on other commenters' arguments. When does that happen?

I'm not looking for a backlash, but I am kind of wondering when it's going to happen. I'm pleasantly surprised by Bourdain's ability to sustain popularity.

Anyway. It's a solid interview, and I pulled a few quotes I liked, some of which are pretty consistent with his usual messages, and some of which were drawn out by the interviewer:

When asked about his first oyster experience - the one he talks about in Kitchen Confidential - and how things would be different for him if he hadn't enjoyed the oyster:
Yeah, who knows. That's a really good question. I'm not sure how fundamentally that would have changed me, whether it would have turned me away from food later.

On his least favorite celeb chefs, Ray Ray and Sandra Lee:
Maybe when I'm harsh on Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee, it's because I think they compare poorly to Julia Child, who I really thought was an advocate for the forces of good and enlightenment.

On physical decline:
I think, technically, male palates start to decline very early anyway, around 27 or 28. That's what God made salt for.

On the role of the celebrity chef and the recent quick evolution of the public palate:
Now, for the very first time, a chef like Mario Batali or David Chang can sit around, have a couple of cocktails, and decide what the next hot menu item is going to be. "Next year, it's gonna be pork bellies or pig tails." And more often than not, they're right. They can make that happen because people trust them and are interested in what they think is good.

On current trends:
As "food nerdism" reaches ever more extreme heights, people are looking for the "most authentic" at least as often as they look for the best.

Overall, really great reading. I'd skip the comments, though, unless you've got all day.


Anonymous said...

Ho hum. You realize, of course that all this stuff was going on before the Internet, only there weren't so many food personalities known on a national or global level (due obviously to the lack of easy exposure, not lack of people with talent). As for your comment about people who don't gloat over these overblown food egos, I'd say they simply aren't as easily impressed by something that isn't all that impressive, and aren't blind followers.

I've spent 25+ years in the food business and what one food guru calls the next big thing is simply what he/she feels like promoting for some immaterial/unimportant (to anyone other than their sponsors, etc.) reason (e.g., they want to sell more of it or think they can get more exposure by making the prediction). At some point in time, every food/dish is going to be "hot". It took decades to get people to eat what always did and will make the most sense (sustainably and healthy, and those with true talent can make it taste good), mostly because it had to be "hot" before they would do it.


Kit Pollard said...

CH - I feel like your comment may not be an entirely appropriate response to my post. Maybe you misread something I was saying.

My points were:
1. I like Bourdain. I find him entertaining. His show is different from a lot of what's on right now - partly because he does stick to his guns more than some other TV personalities. I'm glad for him that he's got an audience.

2. This interview included some interesting quotes. Some of them were related to other things I've heard Bourdain say, and some of them were new to me. I posted the ones I found most interesting.

3. There's a general trend (and I'm not specifically talking about anything food-related here) to bash anything that seems like a new trend. I didn't go too far into it, except to link to Pajiba. But the deal is that there are people who feel cooler when they dislike things that are popular. These people have a tendency to jump on anything that seems like a popular trend, declaring it "over" even before it really starts. Because it's cool to be all "I listened to that band before they got radio play, but now they're too mainstream. Sellouts."

That attitude annoys me to no end. My primary point was: Bourdain is a hugely popular personality, even with people who regularly read the onion AV club (not necessarily foodies, but certainly prime candidates for hipster anti-popular snobbery). It's pleasantly surprising to see that Bourdain hasn't suffered much backlash, despite his popularity. But I'm sure it's coming.

Although, I don't know. Please don't take this the wrong way, but you sound like you have a bit of foodie AND hipster snobbery in you.

Me, I just like food and I'm fascinated by trends and the way culture evolves. So I like analyzing what's hot and how it got there, rather than rolling my eyes at it because it's not actually new.

Anonymous said...

Comments are for other points of view. Accept them for what they are. Just because people don't agree with you doesn't mean they all have a "hipper-than-though" attitude... maybe they simply have other priorities/experiences.

Sorry, but didn't have time to read the full interview you refer to. I'm sure it has some interesting nuggets.


Kit Pollard said...

I'm all for other points of view - believe me. I love a good civil debate.

I just didn't think the points in your comment were relevant to the points in my post. Which may mean I didn't clearly communicate what I was trying to say, or maybe it means your experiences lead you to read something into the post that wasn't there. Or maybe it means both, I don't know.

But the last sentence of your original comment does sound a little foodie holier-than-thou.

Anonymous said...

Talk about reading things into something that aren't there!

Demeaning any point of view that doesn't mirror yours will result in zero "civil debate," and could lead to the impression that blogs are really about simply legitimizing the views/egos of those who host them.

Kit Pollard said...

I'm not trying to be demeaning. I don't think it's uncivil to say that we're not having a coherent conversation, since we're addressing different points.

I also don't think it's uncivil to say that I think you have a certain tone.

I write this blog to share my point of view (and sometimes to write something out so I can figure out what I think about something myself). I truly don't care if readers disagree with me, and if they do and want to talk to me about their own views, great. I'd love to hear more about your years in the food industry and the perspective that's given you. I'm sure you have a lot to share.

But if I disagree with something you say or if I have an observation about how you say it, I'm not going to hold back.

As I said, I welcome civil debate. But I don't enjoy petty arguing. It gets me worked up, and online bickering is not worth actually stressing over.

Is there a truce here that could be called?


Related Posts with Thumbnails