And to a packed crowd of acolytes at the Fox Theatre, Bourdain minced, sauteed and sliced up poor Guy Fieri. He then mocked a vast array of foodie trends, from self-satisfied vegans ("I don't want to beat up vegans but I'm gonna!") to chefs baring bacon tattoos to the silly concept of "farm to table" to the evils of gluten. ("Apparently, it's a national security threat," he joked.) He also figured Adam Richman's former Travel Channel show "Man vs. Food" is actually a recruiting tool for ISIS. (More on that later.)
But at the same time, as seen on his Emmy-winning travelogue shows "No Reservations" on Travel and his current "Parts Unknown" on CNN, he is a man who respects his guests from all over the world, who is insatiably curious and never turns down what is offered him. If you watch him on screen, he never complains about what he eats, whether he likes it or not. (Yes, even a warthog colon: "I had a pretty good idea what was coming next.") Why?
He likened this to going to his grandmother for Thanksgiving, where the Butterball turkey is dry and overcooked, the same salty gravy from the jar, the stuffing is Stove Top and the cranberry sauce has the markings still from the can. He never complains. He's in her home. He eats what she's given him and has seconds. That's respect.
Bourdain loves his job and how can he complain? He travels the world, sampling cultures and foods from Beirut to Peru, from South Africa to South Korea. "My career," he joked, "is proof there is no God."
He said some of the nicest people he's ever met are from overseas, including, of all places, Iran. "Governments are not their people," he said, to applause.
He marvels that 15 years ago, he was a broke chef being chased by the IRS. After several hit TV shows and best-selling books, he can now pocket more than $50,000 just by talking on stage for 90 minutes.
Sure, he spent an absurd amount of time targeting the easiest of targets: Guy Fieri, the embodiment of Food Network's cult of personality. He admires the guy's pluck, just not his look, his style, his general state of being. He said when he took off, post "Food Network Star," Food Network thought it could generate stars on its own and dumped the likes of Mario Batali. But the farm team never really materialized. He knows that Guy is on several shows for the Food Network but couldn't help but wonder why they are hitting the bottom of the barrel with "Guy's Grocery Games."
And while this has nothing to do with Richman himself, Bourdain seriously wonders if this is simply positive propaganda for the likes of ISIS.
Personally, he said having an eight-year-old daughter has made him grow up. He was able to shed the Ramones t-shirts and leather jackets and act (a bit) more like a mature human being.
"You are no longer the star of the movie," he noted. "Everything revolves around the child. Everything."
He also notes the irony that his mixed martial arts fighter wife Ottavia Busia is always on a high-protein, low-carb diet. That means she frequently can't eat what he makes or consumes.
His daughter Ariane is obsessed with Atlanta's own Alton Brown. He told her about how he tricked Brown into visiting the strip club the Clermont Lounge. He also received a reprimand from Ariane's school after she began telling that story to her classmates.
And he said he finds it annoying how obsessed her second-grade classmates were about "Bizarre Foods" guy Andrew Zimmern and kept asking him about Zimmern's odd food fetishes. The story got rather profane but involved repeated references to president Richard Nixon's more casual first name.
He is also of mixed feelings about the celebrity chef phenomenon of the past two decades. While it has brought out excesses and absurdities, it has also made people more willing to try unusual foods, to respect the chef's palate. "The customer is not always right," Bourdain said. "You don't go to your dentist and neurologist and say, 'You know, I have some ideas!' "
During the Q&A session, Bourdain readily admitted his guilty pleasure is going to "the Colonel," as he calls Kentucky Fried Chicken. Not for the chicken, mind you. "It's the mac and cheese!" he said. And when fans catch him there, he likens it to being recognized leaving a porn shop.
After the show, I asked a few fans and they enjoyed the experience. "A great balance about the challenges with food," said Hunter Bradley, of Dunwoody, and a long-time fan. "We have to be grateful of what we have. We can't be high falutin'."
He was also aware (as was I) that this was a highly lucrative engagement for Bourdain.
"I did the math on number of seats, price and production costs," Bradley said, "and somebody's making out like a bandit. Good for him!"
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