Bourdain and Baltimore make peace at foodie event

Food critic and TV host works to smooth tensions over past slights saying: 'I want Baltimore to like me'

  • Anthony Bourdain caused some upset with his Baltimore episode of "No Reservations," but he's ready to return to the city for his event at the Hippodrome.
Anthony Bourdain caused some upset with his Baltimore episode… (The Travel Channel )
May 23, 2010|By Richard Gorelick, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Anthony Bourdain is famous for his ground-shifting "Kitchen Confidential" book, for his fearless food travels on his "No Reservations" cable show, and for being a charming loudmouth. His friend Eric Ripert is famous foremost for being a great chef, and, more recently, for his own frequent seatings at the "Top Chef" judges' table. But would two white-haired chefs sitting around talking make for a satisfying evening at the theater?

That's what people wanted to know when the Hippodrome announced "An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert," the first in a planned series of food-and-wine events the theater intends to make part of its expanded programming. But with generously plated portions of insider insight and industry gossip, along with enough quotable lines and belly laughs to keep a Broadway show running for years along, the evening was a satisfying success.

Only anyone coming to witness a confrontation between Bourdain and an audience member about his perceived lack of love for the city of Baltimore, however, would have been disappointed. The Bourdain vs. Baltimore debate was resolved very early on, long before the audience got its turn with the microphone. The Baltimore question came to Bourdain as a soft lob from the evening's deft and deferential host, WWMX's Reagan Warfield, and Bourdain's return was really so satisfying in its honesty and logic that the matter was essentially closed.

In it, Bourdain basically amplified the recent comments made for this newspaper, genuine regret for the disparaging comments made about Baltimore in "Kitchen: Confidential" (I was an "ignonorant, pathetic junkie") and a defense of the Baltimore episode of "No Reservations."

"They're personal essays," Bourdain said, "not fair and balanced reporting." Bourdain acknowledged that his admiration for "The Wire" -- "the greatest program in the history of television" -- directly inspired his choice for the episode's dining partners, performers on "The Wire" who took the chef to locations far off the traditional 'best-of" lists.

Resolving this early seemed to relax the audience as much as the chefs, who turned their attention to topics ranging from the cult of pitfalls for chefs of ratings-driven television and the strenuous "Top Chef" judging sessions (up to five hours, said Ripert) to the unyielding criticism of their own cooking from their own wives.

Good and clear questions from Warfield, including a few pre-submitted by local chefs Bryan Voltaggio and Jesse Sandlin, and then those from audience members kept the discussion from lingering too long either in industry intricacies or in television gossip.

Even a pat question about overcoming obstacles revealed that it was the soigné Ripert, and not the rambunctious Bourdain, who had to work at resolving temper issues, which involved much screaming and plate-throwing at subordinates. Ripert's explanation of the difference between French and American styles of kitchen management were illuminating, and Bourdain's first-hand account of the Le Bernadin's courtly kitchen atmosphere was generous and moving.

Underpinning the evening's raucous humor and foodie fodder was the depth of feeling between Bourdain and Ripert. The joy of the evening was in gaining access to a beautiful friendship, and a distinct pleasure was in watching Ripert laugh at Bourdain's quick jokes and gorgeous anecdotes, hardly any of which can be repeated here. (No one in the audience will be able to look at Paula Dean, not to mention Mrs. Butterworth, the same way again.)

Throughout the evening Ripert seemed not only to understand but even relish the role of foil. Late in the evening, though, when a few of his own quips earned what were arguably huge the evening's biggest audience responses, Ripert freely admitted being pleased, a revealing moment of how healthy competition can help sustain a friendship.

After the show, and moments before joining premium-ticket audience members at the post-show "Foodie Experience" event, Bourdain expressed relief about the warm Hippodrome reception and admitted what most of us expected all along -- "Yeah, I want Baltimore to like me."

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