Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

The phenomenon of the celebrity chef was evident Thursday night when Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert joined forces at Clowes Hall. The event was sold-out; the crowd was a mix of well-heeled, privileged foodies from the shiny suburb just north of Indy and sandaled, Whole Foods-shopping, granola types. When I first heard news of this event I was surprised to find it would not include a cooking demonstration, or even a discussion of culinary technique -- and indeed, there were no spatulas or whisks used in this program. In fact, aside from the two couches and coffee table onstage, the only prop was an over-sized bucket of iced beer, the contents of which facilitated the two-hour conversation about food between these two celebrity chefs.

Initially, I was dubious about the idea of hearing these two men talk about food. I wondered if I could connect with them. After all, just because a person can cook, or can cook on TV, doesn't necessarily mean that what he has to say is worth listening to. But Bourdain and Ripert did have something special to offer. There was a genuine affection and a natural chemistry between the two men that made for an engaging and lively discussion. Also, their contrasting personalities played off each other nicely. Ripert's calm and thoughtful manner was the perfect foil for Bourdain's gregarious, unedited and provocative persona.

Some of the more noteworthy moments of the evening came when Bourdain let loose. He took on The Olive Garden (for bastardizing Italian food), and chef Gordon Ramsey (for his punishing ways on the show "Hell's Kitchen"). Bourdain's most entertaining tirade was when he took on one of the more cherished icons of the foodie world, Alice Waters. I heard Waters speak at the Indianapolis Museum of Art a year or two ago, and I remember her mentioning a program that would promote organic school lunches. Bourdain concurred that Water's goal of organic school lunches is laudable, but then put things in perspective by pragmatically suggesting that before funds are directed towards making sure a child's lunch is organic (complete with a flower vase decorating the table!), those funds should first go towards making sure the child can read.

I hadn't expected this non-cooking program about food to be so enjoyable. As I left, I reflected on how the two men, especially Bourdain, connected so well with the audience. Both men, despite being in the spotlight, were able to be themselves onstage. Each came across as comfortable in his own skin. This ease lent them a natural magnetism, and reminded me of what a precious gift self-expression is -- how the ability to express oneself facilitates connections -- and isn't that what we're all looking for, anyway? Bourdain and Ripert made for a fun night -- and this without consuming a single calorie.

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