Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Evening With Anthony Bourdain, Philadelphia, PA

I've been a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain ever since he first appeared on Food Network's "A Cook's Tour" back in 2002.  Maybe "fan" is an understatement because, let's face it...if he lived within 500 miles of Tampa, I'd probably be stalking him. He is to Sweet Polly what Justin Bieber is to 12-year-old girls (and, yes...I'll be the first to admit that I'm waaaaay too old for this!). 

It all started back in July of last year when I learned that my beloved would be bringing his "An Evening With Anthony Bourdain" show to Mahaffey Theater in November...and, that in addition to general admission tickets, a limited number of VIP tickets were being sold (which included a backstage meet-and-greet and book signing opportunity). After racing to Ticketmaster's site at warp speed, I quickly discerned that the VIP tickets were long gone.  At that point, I morphed into full-on sulk mode and told Underdog that it would only make me angry to be so close and yet so far away...and if the proletariate tickets were the only ones I could get my hands on, I didn't even want to go. 

After diving into a phone booth and donning his superhero cape, Underdog scoured the web for other upcoming venues and quickly determined that VIP seating was still available for the Valentine's Day show in Philadelphia.  The tickets were procured along with my pinky swear that a Valentine's week trip to Philly and New York City would cover the spousal unit's arse 100% for Christmas, my birthday AND Valentine's Day...thus the trip planning began.  Seven long months later, the dream finally came to fruition.

Tony's one-man-show took place at the Keswick Theater, which holds around 1,300 people and provided a nice intimacy level.  UD must've swiped the tickets about 7 seconds after they went on sale because we wound up in the second row.  Sweet!  Mr. B (who was familiarly dressed in faded jeans, western boots, a black tee and a jacket) emerged onto the stage right on time with minimal fanfare.  Sorry...no flash photography was allowed in the theater (boo!).

The event was actually quite entertaining, starting out with some clearly well rehearsed stand-up comedy routine-esque jokes (delivered pretty well for a non-comedian) and anecdotes about Food Network and its "stars".  What we learned:
  • Tony doesn't hate Rachel Ray or Emeril nearly as much as we thought he did.
  • He respects Food Network even less than we thought he did ("Anyone who can spray Cheez Whiz on a Triscuit meets their requirements for the position of Show Host").
  • Sandra Lee is uber-creepy...something I have long suspected, but which UD turns a blind eye to because she has a nice "oven rack".
  • He thinks Ina Garten and Giada know their stuff (even if Giada does have a big head and having dinner with Ina would be about as exciting as watching paint dry).
  • That the Food Network decided (via focus groups, polls, or whatever) that America pretty much perceived Bobby Flay to be a supercilious prick, so they decided to satisfy the People of this Great Land by forcing him into lovable submission via having his ass routinely (and ostensibly) kicked by relative amateurs in various podunk towns in the U.S. "Let's face it...do you really think you can beat Bobby Flay in a Chili Cookoff???"
  • Food Network's Adam Richman (Man vs. Food) who hoovers down the most disgusting examples of our country's "cuisine" in epic portions (with a timer going, no less) to prove himself worthy of a t-shirt (or immortality in the form of having his photo stapled to a crusty, paneled restaurant wall) by sheer virtue of shoving 10,000 calories down his gullet in 20 minutes, is revolting.  But we already knew that.
  • Last but not least...he actually has a modicum of respect (okay...more than a modicum of respect) for Andrew Zimmern. We all know he's just a wannabe...but AB admires him because he eats squirming bugs, jiggly brains, fecal laden membranes, etc., sober.  Sorry...I don't think so. Zimmern's  heart never seems to be in it when he's snarfing mealworms and I'm simply not convinced he's doing it for the right reasons (please pardon me for channeling "The Bachelor"). *coughcoattailridercough*
Moving forward, he touched on his travels, food in other cultures, and respect.  What we learned:
  • Arguably, the finest food in the world can be found in San Sebastian, Spain.
  • When visiting other cultures and dining as a guest, heartily snort whatever dish is proudly presented...even if it's the last (and heavily impacted) 12 inches of a wildebeest's lower intestine. It's a gesture of gratitude and respect.  I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment...therefore, I think I should steer clear of locales and situations where wildebeest ass is likely to be served.  Far be it from me to create some sort of international incident...I learned my lesson while trying to photograph the pastry case at Laduree in Paris and have the "Ugly American" certificate to prove it.
  • If he had to eat one nation's food for the rest of his life, Japanese is the one he'd never tire of.
Wrapping up, he shared his views on U.S. food culture and how pathetic it is (but we already knew that).  Michelle Obama's efforts as far as setting a nutritional example were praised, as were sustainable farming and steering the youngstahs clear of "the Clown, the Crown, and Colonel" at all costs (with various prospective "scare tactics" discussed for accomplishing the latter...funny stuff!). 

The final two segments were really where his passion shone through and it became clear that he is not just a pretty, privileged, aging party boy noshing and drinking his way through life (albiet, he was quick to admit that there is an element of that in him..and isn't that why we love him??), but he is also a culinary, epicurean and nutritional advocate with strong views regarding food and culture.  Did I mention he abhors Olive Garden??  Sigh.  Just when I thought the crush couldn't deepen any further.  <3

About 30 minuteds of audience Q & A followed, which I really enjoyed because it was completely spontaneous.  He was funny, engaging and exactly what you would imagine he would be like unrehearsed...but maybe a tiny bit less arrogant and a lot more compassionate than one might expect.  He was real. 

After the Q&A, the plebes were herded away and the VIP book signing and photo op began.  UD and I were near the end of the verylong line (somehow, I had envisoned myself being in an elite group of around 60...while, in actuality, there were more like 200 VIP ticket holders), but it moved along quickly.  Reps integrated the group with note pads and Sharpies so everyone could write down how they wished to have their respective books personalized when they reached AB's table, where he very graciously chatted and posed for photos with every individual who came through the line with no outward sign of being as tortured as he almost certainly was.  He did have beer, though...and with beer comes tolerance. Proof that he will write pretty much anything you desire can be viewed below (my request was accommodated with only a slight snort and the hint of a rolled eye):

This event was funny, enlightening and a must for anyone who enjoys Bourdain's books and television show...good times!  And look at the tolerance being displayed, in spite of the fact that I was gushing and babbling incoherently like prepubescent fourth-grader. Ugh.

Thank you for the best Valentine's Day present evah, Underdog. I love you!