For those of you that missed last night's premiere of Anthony Bourdain's new talk show, At the Table, don't worry--not only did you not miss anything of importance, but you are perhaps better off for having not sat through one of the worst hours of television in recent memory. At his best, Anthony Bourdain is the celebration of what all cooks could and perhaps should dream of one day becoming--a semi-distinguished, retired chef traipsing the world over for a great meal, all the while sharing the ambience of a great meal with friends both new and old. In the Spain and Japan episodes of No Reservations, it felt like he had finally let go of his sordid past, the need for shots of him and his obligatory beer and iconic cigarette. We saw a man that had done his time as a cook, who had studied and learned a great deal of what makes a good cook a great chef, someone who had taken this knowledge and moved on to something more promising and less exhausting. In these episodes, it really seemed like there is life after cooking. Apparently, that wasn't good enough.
Whether or not Bourdain himself or the Travel Channel is responsible for this new (or perhaps simply more intimate) look at the life of a retired chef and one-time bad boy is uncertain, but regardless, someone seriously needs to stand up and reconsider this course of action that's been taken. I should clarify that I wasn't at all surprised to see a new evolution in Travel Channel's love for Anthony Bourdain, simply disappointed. That he could open the show with a question of whether or not supposedly spending $1800 on dinner for two was shameful, while sitting with Ted Allen and Bill Bryson at WD-50 over a multi-course, high-ticket dinner, was just plain tacky. It's not as if people watch his other shows and think him anything less than a celebrity--who else would spend $2000 on a Hawaiian shirt before going to eat papaya-filled hot dogs? So, why the act?
Given that he has been treated to chef's table meals at Morimoto in Japan, Arzak in Spain, Bouchon in Las Vegas and so on, I find stories of the most disgusting things someone has done in a restaurant (discussed on the talk show last night) to be rather inappropriate. Why? Because it makes the rest of us, restaurant corporate jockeys, cooks, chefs, restaurant professionals, those of us who go to work everyday, sober, focused and ready for action, seem like the bad guys. Would he do those things today, in any of the restaurants to which the doors are so kindly opened? Then why bring it up in the first place. It's not like he promoted the fact that people don't already feel threatened by making a special request for fear that one of the cooks will spit in their food, so don't perpetuate the myth even further. Don't create a subculture of restaurant-goers that revel in making a mockery of a restaurant or other establishment's reputation simply for the sake of shock value. You're 50 years old Tony—please let it go! That is not what made you so interesting. IT WAS THE HONESTY from where you spoke that reached out to us originally.
Perhaps I'm being a bit overzealous, but the show frustrated me. As someone who relies on this industry - at this point, I can barely afford to provide for my family the way I would like, let alone a private tasting menu at WD-50 with four of my close friends. At a time when restaurants and their owners, chefs, farmers, purveyors and television alike are doing everything possible to make food a legitimate, sustainable, desirable medium for expression, highlighting the negative just seems pointless.
In his most recent post, blogger line cook 415 waxes on the question of why cooks do what they do day after day while enduring harsh working conditions, exhaustion and an overall lack of praise. Amongst his list of answers that cannot be simplified to just one, he says that we cook to make others happy, that we're hospitable--and this is coming from a line cook! Even crazier is that it's true. We work in this industry because we're good at it, because we love it, because it's our job. What we don't need is a retired celebrity drunk who's upset that the good old days of the Ramones and blowing lines in the kitchen are over making our job any harder.
It's already hard enough. Tony, say goodbye to Hollywood and come home. I REALLY wanted to like this show.