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Wednesday, May 1,2013

'Confidential'-ly speaking

Anthony Bourdain dishes on fellow celebrity chefs, farm-to-table dining and why he loves to make fun of hipsters

by Gabrielle Johnson
Photo courtesy CNN
Anthony Bourdain had just returned to New York after spending a week in Spain filming his new CNN show, “Parts Unknown,” when we spoke by phone recently. The bestselling author and culinary world’s sexy, swaggering bęte noire was sitting next to his 6-year-old daughter, who was playing Grand Theft Auto throughout the interview. Not exactly the kind of discipline you’d expect from one of TV’s most high-profile celebrity chefs. 

“I don’t know whether that’s bad parenting or awesome parenting,” Bourdain said, unapologetically. And speaking of unrepentant, Bourdain will fire up the Wharton Center with his sharp tongue and even sharper wit as part of his “Guts and Glory” tour on Tuesday. He will undoubtedly have the audience’s full attention, should be choose to air his highly publicized grievances with fellow celebrity chefs Paula Deen (whom he famously called “the worst, most dangerous person to America”) or Guy Fieri, whose New York restaurant he called a “terror dome” — even if the East Coast counter-culture is ironically enjoying it. 

“I love making fun of hipsters,” Bourdain said. “But they’re good for the restaurant business.” 

Bourdain, 56, shot to the front of the crowded celebrity chef pack after his 2000 book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” was both a commercial and critical hit. He went on to host the travel food show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel for seven years and became a frequent contributor to “Top Chef,” the alpha competition-based kitchen reality show. He further jacked up his public profile earlier this year with the premiere of ABC’s “The Taste,” another reality show tailor-made for gourmands and wannabes, along with the debut of “Parts Unknown.” 

 And 150 VIP ticket holders who still hunger for more Bourdain will get to hear what he has to say in person at a sold-out post-party at Red Haven, one of the Lansing area’s newest and most culinarily ambitious restaurants. Co-owner Nina Santucci said she’s prepared for one of the biggest nights of her career.

 “We´re all super geeked about his visit,” Santucci said. “He was always on the top of our list of dream people to come to our restaurant, but we never thought  he would actually make it.”

Red Haven’s farm-to-table menu changes seasonally, but it makes the most of Michigan’s abbreviated growing season. Red Haven opened last fall after Santucci and her partner, executive chef Anthony Maiale, spent a year taking their talents on the road — literally. Their Purple Carrot food truck was the first iteration of their restaurant. Bourdain expressed admiration for the structure of Red Haven, both from an agricultural standpoint and after being told of Red Haven’s modest beginning. 

“We’ve made an effort to reach out to whoever is doing God’s work out there,” Bourdain said. “I love (restaurants that) transition from food truck to brick and mortar. It’s a low-cost way into the public consciousness. It helps people get started who otherwise wouldn’t be able to start at all. (Celebrity chefs) Paul Qui, Ludo Lefebvre and Roy Choi all started with a food truck. It’s a ballsy thing to do, to have a farm-to-table mentality in Michigan where the agricultural situation is a little less optimal. It’s to be admired.”

While anyone who looks at a map can deduce that growing seasons in Michigan leave a little to be desired, Bourdain encouraged mid-Michigan cooks to look to the French masters for instruction and inspiration in the kitchen. 

“In Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking,’ she explains this is not hard, fancy, or necessarily expensive,” Bourdain said. “(Same with) Jacques Pepin’s ‘La Technique.’ All of these French classics were written by hardworking people who were looking to make the best of second-best ingredients. They are really good examples of approachable technique and non-snobbery. The French, the Italians, the Spanish — they all have a long tradition of making the most out of secondary ingredients.”

As evidenced by the sold-out party at Red Haven — not to mention that Bourdain is even coming to East Lansing — the effect of the foodie culture has not been lost on locals. Senior executive chef Michael Clyne of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center, said he sees the “Food Network Effect” as a good thing. He said blogs, TV shows and entire networks devoted to food encourage amateur gourmands to expand their knowledge and their boundaries when it comes to what they put in their mouths. 

“People who watch (cooking shows) definitely have higher expectations once they’re educated about food,” Clyne said. 

And who’s Bourdain to argue? 

“I cannot complain with the way things are going — there seems to be a more intense interest every year in authentic food,” Bourdain said. “People are more and more adventurous, more and more interested in food. Jonathan Gold (of the Los Angeles Times) pointed out brilliantly: Dining out has become a counter-cultural experience.” 

Shows like “The Great Food Truck Race” have also piqued mid-Michigan’s interest in portable restaurants, Clyne said. 

“There are two food trucks on campus now, that kind of thing has evolved from the Food Network and the response is amazing,” he said. “(Last week) it was freezing, but people were still coming out of their office because they were so excited — ‘It’s a food truck!’”

Clyne acknowledged that some culinary phenomena take their time making it to Lansing. 

“We are probably about three years behind everyone else, but that’s not bad,” he said. “You go to other cities of similar size, population, demographic, and they don’t have any of the stuff that we do. It’s nice that we’re able to be first of the second wave, if you like.”

Clyne named several local restaurants that stand out in the Lansing area’s dining scene —  including Dusty’s Cellar, the English Inn and the Soup Spoon Café — but even Olive Gardens have a place in Americana, according to Bourdain. Last year, an Olive Garden review written by longtime North Dakota food columnist Marilyn Hagerty went viral, and Bourdain confirmed rumors that he will publish Hagerty’s forthcoming book. While a publication date has not been announced, Bourdain’s excitement about the project is evident. 

“It’s a history of dining in that part of America,” he said. “In over 30 years of writing about restaurants, (Hagerty) has cumulatively managed to tell the story of the history of a lot of our communities between New York and LA. It’s fascinating — it will kill snark dead.”

And with that, the frequent flier, ultimate adventurous eater and chef attacker drifted back to the little girl playing the ultra-violent video game beside him. He said she likes to make omelets and ratatouille with him, but didn’t know which way they were leaning that day. Maybe he’ll tell the story someday. 

“Guts and Glory: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain”
7:30 p.m. May 7
Wharton Center
$38-$58
(800) WHARTON
whartoncenter.com

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