So Anthony Bourdain the enfant terrible of the celebrity chef world lashed out at repeat victims: the Food Network stable of stars – specifically Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and Guy Fieri. Bourdain’s contempt and disdain for the cable TV personalities is nothing new. He seems to pride himself on loathing folks like Ray or Lee whose culinary skills are questionable.
With Deen, his beef (no pun intended) was her extravagant love of calories, butter, batter and all things fattening that contribute to the growing obesity population in the United States. This is a very serious problem in our country that overlaps with socio-economic and racial issues as well. Bourdain’s ire at Deen’s push for food that is obviously unhealthy could be seen as something admirable.
Or, he could be seen as a mean old grouch.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Anthony Bourdain’s crazy show No Reservations, and own the DVD’s and watch them like crazy (though I find the scripted “jokey” parts of the show to be really lame and hokey). I also read his books and except for the novels (which are pretty terrible), he’s an amazing food and travel writer – one of the best books I’ve ever read is A Cook’s Tour. Bourdain is exactly the kind of celebrity chef that’s needed on cooking television – his no-nonsense demeanor, coupled with his obvious love of food (not to mention the research his team does in preparation for a show) makes for fantastic television.
But then again, I also love me some Paula Deen. The woman loves butter, need I say more? I’ve watched her show as well and even if her recipes sometimes make my heart hurt just from watching them being made, I get what she’s doing. A lot of her food is Southern cooking or soul food and it’s a cultural thing – a very American slice of culture, and on a country that’s kinda low on home-grown culture, American cuisine should be celebrated. And in Deen’s defense, sometimes (rarely, but sometimes), if something is very rich even for her standards, she’ll let the audience know that her food isn’t for “everyday.”
I think Bourdain should criticize the way we eat, the way we market food, the way we feed our kids and the way we raise/grow our food. But there’s a way to do it without sounding really mean. And Paula Deen? She’s like someone’s lovely aunt, and sort of an easy target. His peppery assessments of Ray, Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri don’t as mean because Deen’s public persona of a kind, loving mother makes it seem like Bourdain’s being a bully.
I won’t declare a winner, because obviously both of them are winners. Dean gets to do the talk-show rounds, rally her soccer mom army and raise her ratings, while to Bourdain’s hipster and punk-rock Epicureans, he’ll always remain a lovable iconoclast.