Last night, hubby and I had the pleasure of attending “An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert” at Clowes Hall on the lovely campus of Butler University. I saw this event touted in Indianapolis Monthly a few months ago and immediately clipped the item and taped it to my desk at eye-level so I’d remember to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale. Good thing I did, too — the hall was PACKED. Having lost a lot of faith in the local food scene in light of the recent downtown cupcake controversy (a whole other blog entry to come), it was somehow heartening for me to see such a huge number of passionate fellow foodies turning out for this occasion.
I’ve been a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s ever since I got my hands on a copy of his opus, “Kitchen Confidential,” years ago. (I could kick myself for forgetting to bring it along; of course, there was a booksigning session after the show. Duh.) Anthony’s behind-the-scenes glimpse into the steamy, seedy underbelly of the New York restaurant world is a must-read for anyone considering a career in the culinary arts. Don’t be fooled by what you see on Food Network; for most, the life of a chef is a difficult, terribly unglamorous proposition literally full of blood, sweat and tears.
I must confess, I don’t watch Anthony’s Travel Channel show “No Reservations” religiously, but I make sure to set the DVR when he’s visiting a destination I’m interested in. Such as the recent 100th episode filmed in Paris with Eric Ripert — the dishes and restaurants featured made my mouth absolutely water.
In so much as Anthony Bourdain is a rock-and-roll chef, French born and bred Eric Ripert is a rock-star chef of another ilk – earning all kinds of accolades at his NYC-stationed Le Bernardin, easily regarded one of the best restaurants in the country, if not the world. While Ripert does have his own show on PBS called “Avec Eric,” he’s perhaps gaining the most recognition and popularity thanks to his frequent guest judging appearances on “Top Chef.” He’s cute, charming and got a killer French accent.
Hubby and I weren’t sure what to expect from this event format-wise, but were both plenty amped about it. There was a great buzz among the audience before our culinary idols even took the stage, and the excitement was palpable. I half expected to see some half-crazed women rushing the stage to throw their panties. I was tempted. Heck, I think even hubby was tempted.
The duo was introduced right on time and took the floor, set up living-room style with a couple comfy chairs flanked by ferns. A small table in between held an iced selection of local Sun King beers (awesome product placement on their part), which Anthony and Eric took turns cracking into as the evening rolled along.
Anthony Bourdain is one long, tall, lanky drink of water. He’s got to be 6’ 3”, but I doubt the guy weighs more than 175 soaking wet. He isn’t what you’d call classically handsome, but damn, he is ruggedly sexy. He came out dressed in jeans, white shirt, sport coat and his trademark dusty cowboy boots, looking like a renegade who’s decided to make an effort to clean up and look respectable, but not too much. Ripert, on the other hand, cut a dashing figure in a dark gray Armani suit and white shirt, but still managed to appear totally comfortable, casual and not at all the French chef with an attitude he has every right to be.
Together, Anthony and Eric have a terrific rapport and banter back and forth with plenty of well-meaning digs and teasing like good friends do. It’s all very amusing to observe, as if you’re eavesdropping on the two of them carrying on heated, philosophical discussions over pints at their favorite tavern.
The “discussion” started by Anthony interviewing his buddy Eric with a series of playfully skewering questions, even going so far as to touch upon Eric’s recent dressing down of Gordon Ramsay for his use of bullying tactics to instill fear and worship. Eric’s much more a believer in treating underlings with respect and earning their praise through inspiration, not intimidation. Well said, my man. I couldn’t agree more. In the small handful of professional kitchens I’ve had the privilege of working in, I’ve never seen an executive chef throw plates or call anyone a donkey.
Ripert then returned the favor with his own interrogation, looking every bit the prosecutor, asking Anthony to state his age for the record (54, btw) and asking him to define exactly what his job is. It was all in good fun, and the audience enjoyed plenty of laughs as a result.
Hot-seat questions completed, Anthony and Eric both took a chair and leapt into a lively conversation covering a variety of food-related topics including sustainable-fishing and snout-to-tail practices, the dumbing down of ethnic cuisines in America (particularly Olive Garden-variety Italian – Anthony’s wife is a native of Sardinia and this is obviously a hot-button topic for him), what country you’d like to die in, the movement toward localvore products, and the importance of honing a set of basic cooking skills (bring back home ec classes!!). Anthony is sure the world would be a better place if prior to having sex with a new partner, you also have the talent and the wherewithal to prepare a proper omelet for him or her in the morning.
The two play off each other like comedians with perfect timing. Charming Ripert comes across as thoughtful, intelligent and intense, while the abrasive Bourdain lightens the mood with his no-holds-barred-style delivery of opinions sprinkled with curses and bold assessments. He’s brutally honest in his views, but even so, he still comes across as a nice guy. A nice guy who’s not afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind, and doesn’t care who he pisses off. He loathes Rachael Ray, and don’t even get him started on poor Alice Waters.
Anthony and Eric each have a young child at home and their views on American fast food, McDonalds in particular, are hilarious. As you’d imagine, these fine chefs would rather die than feed their kids a Happy Meal, and Anthony admits he’s not above resorting to scare tactics to prevent his daughter from developing a taste for McFries, etc. For instance, Anthony and his wife will stand outside their daughter’s bedroom door loudly discussing Ronald McDonald’s alleged involvement in the mysterious disappearances of small children. He also suggests bundling a favorite doll’s head in a hamburger wrapper for the child to discover in hopes that the ensuing trauma will scar her into eschewing McDonalds forever.
After an hour or so of back-and-forth talk, Anthony and Eric opened up the floor to questions from the audience. With the number of events these guys do, you can be sure they’ve seen and heard it all before. I had been racking my brain all week, trying to come up with an utterly original query that would make the two of them fall back in amazement, compliment me on my insight and then invite hubby and I out to drinks after the show to continue our dazzling exchange. I came up with nada. I did mentally formulate a few mealy-mouthed questions that I thought were somewhat intellectual, but the two of them managed to cock-block me by hitting upon every item I was thinking of asking about within the framework of their conversation. Sigh. So I just sat back and listened, hoping some local yokel wouldn’t embarrass us all with some inanely stupid comment or request.
The questions were pretty much what you’d expect – people asking for NY restaurant suggestions, commentary on whether or not to go to culinary school, who’s your favorite blah, blah, blah. The best question, in my opinion, was the last one of the evening before time ran out, asked by a young lady who couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old. She was curious about what each chef had wanted to be when he grew up. Anthony said he’d wanted to play bass for a funk band, but Eric, oddly enough, had visions of becoming a park ranger if his chef career didn’t work out.
Anthony expressed amazement that the young questioner was even in attendance (and so did I). Her mother then took the mike to ask whether Anthony used the f-word in front of his daughter. He proudly admitted that he did, both in English and Italian.
With that, the dynamic duo of Bourdain and Ripert rose to their feet, waved, and bid us all a fond farewell. I know they must be on the road doing these kinds of events quite frequently and answering the same questions over and over ad infinitum. It’s a testament that they still managed to make the discussion sound fresh and interesting. All in all, a great evening full of laughs and smart insight into all things food.