Sunday, September 21, 2008

Decoding Anthony

"Why don't you write a piece on Tony B?" suggested the guvnor.

It sounded good at that time but when I thought about it, it didn't seem to be that easy. What hasn't been said about that lovable racounteur and rogue that hasn't been already put in print? I needed an And I got one from the "Edge" financial weekly of all places

It reprinted a Forbes list of how much some of the more prominent food personalities made last year from all their whori..I mean, endorsements and hard work. The guvnor's favorite hush puppy, Rachael Ray, came in first at a whopping US$18.5 mio. Next came Gordon " I can't speak without (bleeping) swearing " Ramsay and in the middle were familiar personalities like Ducasse and Batali. Oddly, my hero came in last at US$1.5 mio.

Now that's not anything to scoff at, my friend. But that's not what I envisioned for someone with so much media exposure. And after a bit of thinking, this is what I came up with:

The reason I like, no, I love Bourdain is that he is as cynical as I am but doesn't want to give in to that last vestige of inner gloom that will consign him to eternal torment, or worse..Detroit. So, he maintains that disposition that is akin to Fox Mulder; "I want to believe. Make me a believer. Convince me that somewhere in this crocked-up world, a thin slice of redemption can be found in those slices of beef gently cooking in a bowl of pho on the streets of Hanoi."

Whimsical? Of course, life is whimsy. Bourdain reads that better than anyone on the Food Channel. He's a gadly, and one that has been blessed by the Phyrric curse of a life lived Bacchanally through imbibing, inhaling, snorting and injecting all manner of substances. That combination, which normally fells lesser mortals and turns them into severe opaque embarassments has had the opposite effect on him.

It has granted him godlike insight into, if not the human condition, then the precursor to the fall of Man. He is like Alan Moore's main character in "V for Vendetta". The combination of serums meant to destroy him have created a superhuman instead.They have wrecked his mind, teetering in on the brink of insanity and the cusp of genius.

What does this have to do with one and half million dollars, you ask?

Ask yourself, why hasn't he made more? I mean, he's not exactly raging against the machine, is he? We are now in the fourth season of "No reservations" and he appears in other shows. So, he's a system man, but...

..he sucks at the coddling up to the "Man". His Les Halles cookbook? Know anyone who bought it? Les Halles was never more than a really decent bistro when he helmed it, certaintly not in the class of Les Bernadine or Veritas. He doesn't cook on his shows. The only time I saw him cook was on " A chef's story" where he made a cardiac arrest-inducing duck confit. And I like duck confit.

So, he falls in between. He has charisma but he's not classifiably clean. Weep not for Bourdain, he is annointed and will never go hungry or lapse into abject poverty. But he will never scale the heights of Ramsay because he is not as talented, ruthless or self-esteem challenged. he will continue to look you in the eye, and tell it like he sees it, and sod it if you don't like it. But he wants you to believe, and inside, he wants to as well.

And that's why the dude is the man.


asian-malaysian said...

When Times Bookstore started offering huge discounts on Les Halles cookbook, I know a VP from Sime Darby who bought it for his mother- because he thought it was witty. His mother has yet to actually attempt any of the recipes. Still, his recipe was one of those I consulted for my low kai au vin attempt (although I leaned in favour of Rachel Ray's recipe in the end- I wish she was my RPM instructor. ).

The bjjmissionary said...

The genius of Rachael, Jamie and Nigella is that they reach tap into a yearning of Gen Y that wants to cook like their grandparents but don't have the time to tumbuk chili dan bawang all day. A 12 hour workday puts paid to that notion!

Tony B is classically trained but is not an innovator, deconstructor or very good at dumbing it down. Please don't take this as a put-down, asian-malaysian, I'm sure your ayam au vin was superb but most of us are not trained at the CIA and thus need a simpler version

It's the same for me. I can barely cook the simplest of recipes so while Les Halles is a good coffee table book (which I think will remain that way for the VP's mother, those Peri Plus RM10 booklet jobs are way more relevant