Anthony Bourdain & Eric Ripert at the Paramount

For about a year and a half, the only question people seemed interested in asking me was, “Is Tony working tonight?” I never really said what I wanted to say, “If you knew Tony as well as you’re acting like you do, you would know where he was because it’s on TV.”*

Last night at Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater, I shared the audience with a sizeable chunk of the people who would have asked me that question when I was at work at Les Halles [those were the ones who stood and screamed every time Bourdain said anything] and a mix of staff from local restaurants, people who really like drinking, and fans of Top Chef. This diverse group of people was united for two hours and 45 minutes for a discussion with chefs Anthony Bourdain [Les Halles, No Reservations] and Eric Ripert [Le Bernardin, Avec Eric] about the food and restaurant business.

The Bourdain/Ripert talk was the last fall event in a “Food, Wine & Film Culinary Series” created by the Paramount’s marketing director Tami Keaveny, who also happens to be the co-owner of Tavola [drool]. The series includes events such as a dinner and discussion with Peter Chang and a newly-announced appearance by Tom Colicchio [Gramercy Tavern, Top Chef] in March 2012.

Bourdain began the night by playing interrogator to Ripert’s witness, grilling him on all things food. Questions ranged from simple to controversial: “Why do you hate Gordon Ramsay [Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares]?” was one of the first, and Ripert’s answer was perfect. “His show is borderline racist and violent,” said Ripert. Who wants to be humiliated in their own kitchen, and why would you ever treat your staff that way? The distaste by both of them for this reality show was apparent; however, what shocked me was their mutual appreciation for Top Chef, a show on which they both frequently judge. They divulged that it often takes anywhere from three to seven hours for the judges to come to a conclusion that viewers find out after a short commercial break. Bourdain’s drink of choice during deliberation: Hendrick’s Gin & tonic. Ripert’s? Tequila. White. Neat.

When the two chefs switched roles and Bourdain took the stand, Ripert wasted no time asking, “What’s your problem with Paula Deen?” Bourdain’s answer was priceless. “Is there anything funny or ironic about diabetes? …My show comes with a parental advisory. All I’m suggesting is maybe Paula’s should, too.” Other notable rants included a fiery bashing of the Olive Garden for “deliberately spreading ignorance” of a beautiful food culture.

The topics of the night were: sustainability, localism, the meaning of the word “organic,” and molecular gastronomy, followed by a brief intermission and a Q&A. Without a doubt, the chefs’ personalities complemented one another. Ripert was sincere and endearing, so much so that when asked “When was your best moment as a chef?” and his response was, “I like to think it will be tomorrow,” no one doubted his answer. Bourdain was lanky, obscene, and forthcoming, just as you’d expect if you’ve ever watched his show or worked at his restaurant [on one notable afternoon at Les Halles, he shamelessly proclaimed to a party we were serving that offered him a drink that he was “entirely too f***ed up last night” to consider even a taste of wine]. It made for an entertaining night, both because of the personalities on stage and the personalities in the crowd [I wrote at the top of my notes, “everyone here is drunk!”].

Here are some of my interesting takeaways from the show, a discussion that I believe struck the perfect balance of information and entertainment:

  • Truffle oil is a lie: Bourdain asked Ripert if he cooked with truffle oil, and Ripert’s answer was a violent “no.” The crowd seemed shocked because we’ve been conditioned to believe that truffle oil turns a $5 dish into a $50 one; but in fact, truffle oil isn’t real. It’s laboratory-made, purely chemical and never comes in contact with a truffle mushroom. In fact, many chefs have completely stopped using it.
  • Les Halles is just “good”: When asked if he ever worked in a “great restaurant,” Bourdain responded that he actually hadn’t. He considers Les Halles to be the most authentic brasserie in the city, but not the “best.” It’s just “good,” but that’s all he could ask for [maybe it would be the best if we didn’t have to wear those horrible uniforms?].
  • “Organic” is not for rich people: Ripert suggested [as we all already know] that Americans eat entirely too much protein – loading our plates with steaks and chicken 2 meals per day, every day. If we simply modified our diets to include more grains and vegetables and less t-bone [and no, you don’t need meat every day], more people would be able to afford safer, organic options. We’ve been so conditioned to think we need so much meat that we become overwhelmed with the cost of supplementing it with a tomato that may cost 30 cents more but lacks genetically modified seeds or pesticides resting within.
  • David Chang [Momofuku] on the economy: Bourdain brought up David Chang, who proposed that the economic crisis would actually be good for America’s health. Why? Because restaurant chefs would have to start incorporating cheaper ingredients – more grains and vegetables – cutting back on portion sizes and the amount of meat proteins served. I commented to Shaun that although this might be true on the chef end, I believe the consumer response to the economic crisis is to skip the quinoa at Le Bernardin and opt for the all-you-can-eat salad and pasta and breadsticks at Olive Garden. We equate “value” with “size” in this country, after all.
  • Foam is not here to stay. According to Ripert, this molecular gastronomy favorite “looks like frog saliva.”
We also learned that Ripert has no “guilty pleasures” because he tries to enjoy each thing he eats to the fullest, but if he does get hit with a late-night craving he goes for the chorizo. On the other hand, Bourdain often gets struck with overwhelming cravings for the mac-and-cheese from KFC or Popeye’s. “I f***king love that shit,” he yelled, as he described obscuring his face with a hoodie and running a few blocks late at night to pick some up, only to have his photo snapped by a fan as he walked out the door holding his bag of cheesy bounty. He doesn’t plan to pass this habit along to his daughter; however, and advocates for “scaring” children away from McDonalds. Why not tell them that the clown was responsible for the murder and dismemberment of young children? If McDonalds can manipulate them in, parents should be able to manipulate them away.
*“Also, tourist, 5% is not an appropriate tip. If you can’t afford to tip off of the value of the Cotes-du-Rhone and the Coq au Vin, don’t order it.

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Categories: C-Ville, Food


Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: Tumblr:


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