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Bourdain, You Lovable Bastard.

By L. Stolpman in Food on Apr 27, 2010 3:20PM

Image Credit: The Travel Channel

Our opinion of Anthony Bourdain shifted over the course of two hours on Saturday night.

We like and respect Bourdain. We just never found him quite as funny as everyone else did. Sometimes, listening to his (at times) jagged humor reminded us of listening to a drag queen sprinkle a lot of f-bombs and 'bitches' around. We didn't get what was so funny or entertaining about him. But we have always appreciated Bourdain for his intense love of travel and his unique ability to have an acquired taste for everything he eats the first time he eats it. While everyone else is eating something for the tenth time before they understand why anyone eats it at all, Bourdain can pop it into his mouth and immediately recognize why the food is revered or appreciated. So, we liked him when the show started.

Bourdain walked out on to the stage of the Chicago theatre tipping back a beer and was met like a rock star. He opened up by stating that while there would be no Rachael Ray jokes, Sandra Lee was fair game and he relayed a story about running into her (or, rather, Sandra Lee's iron claws running up his spine) at a gathering. Bourdain discussed the diminishing number of trained chefs on the Food Network and the chefs on his own network, the Travel Channel. Bourdain has never been particularly shy about expressing his opinion and the audience heard it all - from Andrew Zimmern to Iron Chef America, nothing and no one was spared. Yet, despite his reputation for disdain or insult, Bourdain never came across as mean spirited and he expressed a fair amount of sincere respect for these other food talents. He waxed philosophical on becoming a father and how he planned on battling the fast food industry's marketing ploys to children - specifically, his three year old daughter. ("Ronald McDonald.... has cooties.")

Two areas of discussion were of particular interest to us. The first was Bourdain's take on Top Chef. Bourdain expressed his utmost respect for the talent and format of the Bravo Network's hit show and stated that it stays true to the rule that the best chef that week wins and the chef who did the worst that week is sent home. His comments on the true appreciation for and evaluation of the quality of the chef's dishes, week by week, made us respect this show even more for its sincere search for talent while also recognizing the competitive rules that sometimes make for a dramatic or unexpected exit of a well-liked contestant.

The second topic was Bourdain's love of travel. It is impossible to listen to him and not want to grab your passport and head out for some remote spot on the globe to eat food from a street vendor. He urged the audience to travel, to be grateful for the opportunity to travel, and to be polite to your hosts. Listening to Bourdain, you realize that it's about so much more than just the food with him. This sarcastic, disdainful bastard loves people. He loves people, their cultures, their hospitality ...and their food. You want to invite him into your home and your culture because you know that he is going to appreciate it and understand immediately what you love about your favorite meal prepared by your mom.

As a speaker, Bourdain is at his most compelling when his snark is peppering his passion instead of driving the discourse. The first half hour of the show, we got the feeling that he was reciting from a future book, that the lines had all been written for print and never quite translated into a different medium. He spoke like his books read - the phrasing was off and the word choice almost editorialized. But as he eased to the massive stage and began to talk about those things for which his passion is so obvious that he almost glows from them like radiation... this is when Bourdain is at his best. It is apparent that Bourdain not only loves his job, but is also grateful for every moment he's given the opportunity to continue doing it.

We left the Chicago Theatre on Saturday night with an increased respect for Bourdain, who proved to be a far more compelling speaker than we anticipated and we woke up this morning with three episodes of No Reservations on the DVR. If you have the opportunity to see Bourdain speak, we recommend it. With no reservations.