“I’m sorry to say I might be in love with you,” a woman says, leaning into the microphone. She’s the second (seemingly) rational person in ten minutes to publicly declare her affections to Anthony Bourdain, the silver-haired chef with the hips of a 13-year-old girl and the mouth of Keith Richards.
Despite his undying hatred of celebrity-chef culture, Bourdain, still affiliated with French bistro chainlet Les Halles, has reached Emeril-like levels of popularity. Tickets to what was essentially a book-promo talk on Wednesday night sold for $28 a pop, and most of the 1,490 seats at Lisner Auditorium were full. Known best for Kitchen Confidential, his best-selling 2001 exposé on the knife-flinging, drug-addled subculture of restaurant kitchens, Bourdain now eats his way around the world for Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, his show on the Travel Channel. (A picture-heavy book based on the series was just released.)
Though Bourdain has long given up heroin (“the most interesting thing about me”), recently kicked his chain-smoking habit (“Pardon me," he hacked. "My lungs are for s—”), and just became a new husband and dad (sorry, gals), he’s still a culinary badass who can coax whooping cheers from a roomful of buttoned-down foodies with proclamations like this: “Who is Cat Cora?! Did they grow her in a petri dish?” Read on for more of his musings.
On the Washington food scene: “It’s getting good, clearly. Michel Richard is one of the great chefs in the country, far and away. José [Andrés] is a giant. And Scott Bryan popping up in Virginia and Eric Ripert sneaking into town—that’s good.”
On Ben’s Chili Bowl: I didn’t make it to Ben’s last night [after the Capital Food Fight], but I’m a fan of any ground meats of indeterminate substance. . . . It’s happy food for me.”
On dealing with his child’s inevitable cravings for McDonald’s: “If you wrap liver or broccoli in a McDonald’s wrapper, your kid will like it more. I’m thinking chocolate-dipped steel wool. I look forward to issuing that propaganda. Have I mentioned the Colonel? They found some kids in his basement freezer.”
Food trend he’d most like to see go away: “Molecular gastronomy. So serious and painful. If you’re using laser beams and printing edible menus, get over yourself. Unless you’re Ferran [Adria].”
His sure-fire hangover cure: “Roll a really good joint and huff that before you get out of bed. Then have a cold Coca-Cola. Then have something like cold Kung Pao chicken or some very spicy leftovers. The trilogy of opulence.”
On the inner workings of Top Chef, on which he was a judge: “Judges are totally isolated from the chefs. They’re really careful. Those guys live in a gulag—no TV, no Internet, no cookbooks. The worst food of the week gets you kicked off. It’s not ‘She’s blond with a nice rack—good for ratings.’ It doesn’t work that way.
On the outcome of the last season of Top Chef: “Hung richly deserved to win. Not even close. Who cares that he didn’t help clean up the truffle oil? How many nice-guy chefs do you know?”
On the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten: “She knows how to cook. Her mashed potatoes are dead-on professional. I can’t believe she’s still on [the Food Network].”
On Nigella Lawson: “I love Nigella, tearing off hunks of fatty pork. I was at dinner with Nigella and a bunch of guys, and we were all trying to out-macho each other, like ‘I’ve eaten a live cobra heart!’ Nigella has been rubbing her lips and says, ‘When I was in Spain, they aborted a pig for me and roasted the fetus. Soooo good.”
On Sandra Lee: “Charles Manson and Betty Crocker’s love child. She gets that glassy Squeaky Fromme look when she’s talking about her tablescapes. I want to call security.”
His favorite food-movie moment: “ The Ratatouille epiphany scene. It’s the best food movie ever made. It’s amazing that it took an animated rat to get chefs right.”
His advice to vegetarians: “Try bacon. It’s the gateway protein.”
His advice to a poor, Pop-Tart- and Cocoa Puff- eating GW student: “Smoke less weed, man.”