Symphony Hall was a bit more profane than usual on Friday night with the arrival of Anthony Bourdain, somewhat infamous chef, TV personality, author, and dropper of F-bombs. The host of The Travel Channel's No Reservations, Bourdain is currently traveling around the country on his "Guts and Glory" tour, speaking live about his experiences - and about how Paula Deen is bad for America. The latter topic filled up the early part of his talk as he presented images of some of her most terrifying dishes, like deep-fried lasagna. "What the f***," he exclaimed, flabbergasted that anyone would willfully ruin Italian food, which can be easy and amazing.
More frightening than fried lasagna, though, was Deen's "Lady's Brunch Burger," a burger topped with bacon and fried eggs and served between two glazed donuts. A lot of what Bourdain said during this segment was obscured by the laughter of what appeared to be a sold-out crowd, but his facial expressions and the images on the projector screen really communicated all the necessary information.
Bourdain spoke nearly non-stop for an impressively energetic two hours, allowing for some audience questions at the end. Once he had thoroughly trounced Deen for spending years selling diabetes and now selling the drugs for it, he mainly focused on a "so you want to do what I do" premise, presenting some of the funniest and most cringe-worthy moments from his show and explaining what kind of challenges the job entails, not just for him but for the whole crew. One of his producers, for example, ended up on camera for the first time ever when she had a leech stuck to her back upper thigh. As Bourdain removed it, it was clear that the producer was wearing her underwear inside out.
Showing that there's more to it than fun and games and eating weird things, Bourdain also talked at length about always remembering the importance of food. It can play a huge cultural and political role that might not be apparent at first. When Bourdain's crew was in Egypt, for example, there was a common bean dish, foul, that was widely available, but their Egypt-based crew members tried to steer them away from filming it, finally expressly prohibiting it. Someone on Bourdain's crew faked diarrhea to distract the Egyptians while the rest of the crew filmed a quick segment, thinking that they were just highlighting a staple that was perhaps a little unglamorous. There was really more to it than they knew, though. Due to food shortages and political uprisings, that was really the only thing that many people were eating at that point, so to highlight it on a travel show alongside all the delicacies in other places could be a major issue of cultural insensitivity.
The Q&A segment at the end revealed that Bourdain doesn't feel like he's done justice to every country he's featured. He admitted that Greece, for example, was just a bad episode, and he'd like to give it another shot. "Speaking of places that got screwed over," asked an audience member, "what about Boston?" The Boston episode aired in April 2011 and mostly focused on Southie, apparently disappointing people who were expecting to see more tourist destinations and high-end downtown restaurants. (Coppa and Toro chef Jamie Bissonnette, for one, was not a fan of the episode, calling Bourdain a "f****** prick" for going to "f****** dive bars in Southie" and then saying that Boston "doesn't have any good f****** restaurants.") Bourdain had no apology for the Boston episode, though; it's not the tourist spots that he's looking to visit. Plenty of cities have similarly amazing high-end food, but it's the signature dishes and hidden hotspots that are worth putting on television. Outside of the show, though, there are a lot of places in town that he'd like to visit; he just hasn't had time yet. Craigie on Main tops the list.
And there's always one person that makes everyone groan during a Q&A. One man didn't have a question; he just wanted to thank Bourdain for being inspirational. And he wanted to offer him a handmade gift. "Security?" called Bourdain, seemingly only half-joking, but he allowed the man to bring a mysterious trinket up to the stage. It was unidentifiable from the nosebleed section, and Bourdain quickly put it aside and moved on.
Overall, the night was a great balance of his signature attitude and somewhat R-rated humor (including tips on successfully doing drugs on television) and some real depth as well. The tour continues through May with stops in a variety of cities in the US and Canada.
· All coverage of Anthony Bourdain on Eater [~EBOS~]