by Patricia Grandjean
Feb 11, 2011
03:57 PMBox Office
Q & A: Anthony Bourdain
(page 3 of 4)
You're a TV personality now. How do you deal with that?
When you join the circus, y'know, it's ridiculous to pretend you're anything but circus folk. I can live with it. It's easier than standing behind a griddle. It's allowed me the opportunity to travel anywhere I want to in the world, to work with friends, to make, to write, to shoot, to score and to edit a show any way that I want. I think I can live with the indignity.
I wanted to ask you about your writing too, because you had a book out in 2010, Medium Raw. You've talked a lot about how you feel about other culinary personalities. But I'm curious about what you think of the caliber of food writing you see out there, in general.
I think any honest broker of opinion is worth listening to.Obviously, I get cranky when people are dishonest. It may be naive of me, but people who settle personal hash with food writing—when they're supposedly honest critics—angers me. Prominent food writers who accept things of value from their subjects, or worse, solicit things of value from their subjects, I have nothing but contempt for.
Are there people whose writing that you particularly admire?
Most of them are dead! [laughs] Yes, Jim Harrison—actually, he's still alive and doing great work, A.J. Liebling was a great writer about food. Harold McGee is a terrific writer; Sam Sifton is doing a good job at The New York Times, and honest, which is always refreshing. I think however we may feel about it, the blogosphere has sort of supplanted conventional print journalism, or is well on its way. Y'know, it doesn't matter whether a blogger gives a fair sense of your restaurant or not. That's who's going to be helping people decide whether to eat at your restaurant in the future.
To your mind, what should a good piece of writing about food accomplish?
I think it should be like much of the best of travel writing—I think it should be a personal essay, where the writer declares—or lets you know pretty much up front—who they are, where they're coming from, what their prejudices are, and then takes you on a trip with them. I think the finest travel writing does that; it doesn't claim to be a detached, omniscient observer. It's somebody with a point-of-view, telling you about their experience. You can either accept it or reject it ti whatever extent you choose. I find that valuable and interesting. I'm very interested in what's cooking—but I'm also very interested in who's cooking it and why. And what the room smells like when whomever's eating it ate it.
I think food is part of a larger context, and I think we risk slipping into perversion when we set that aside to the extent that it seems to exist in a vacuum.
What's great about the blogosphere for writers is that you can write as concisely or expressively as you want about the journey . . . whereas it's getting harder in print because you don't have that freedom.
Yeah. How can The New York Times, even with a 7,000-word article on Singapore and seafood, compete with a blogger who's been living there for 10 years, doing nothing but blogging about Singapore and seafood? The reader of the future—even of the present!—reads and analyzes in a different way than people of my generation used to. People who scan the Web now, looking for restaurant reviews, are very quickly able to discern, to reach some kind of consensus and extract the information they're lokking for in much the same way we see kids taking to video games that the older generation can't. Young people read differently and can look at a page full of opinions ranging from crackpot to astute, and get some kind of consensus.
Medium Raw takes on a number of topics, of course, but one I found compelling was the difficulty of finding a good hamburger.
Well, there are moe good hamburgers than ever, it's just that they cost $28! And I have to say I'm disturbed that the overwhelming majority of hamburgers consumed in this country are apparently treated with cleaning products. I just think that that's a little outrageous.
You've also expressed negative feelings about vegetarianism.
I just think it's impolite. It shuts you off from any number of eating experiences . . . as Dan Barber has pointed out brilliantly, it denies the basic nature of our landscape and our environment, which was created so that animals could graze. And as a traveler, it's the notion that one could travel and not be curious about everything and not accept everything that's offered.
Me, I just find vegan cuisine inedible.
I've had good vegan cuisine in India . . . but not too many other places.