Anthony Bourdain is filled with boiling rage whenever he passes an Olive Garden restaurant.
In his speech for the Fredericksburg Forum last Thursday he said he sees food as an attempt at cross-cultural communication and a personal story told by the person handing it to you.
Therefore, when people mess up what should be easy dishes, he gets very angry.
“It pains me to see someone cook an omelet badly,” Bourdain said. “It makes me angry when I see food that I love, especially when they’re simple, good things that we should all be good at or at least all appreciate, [ruined] just deliberately and cynically.”
In Bourdain’s opinion, which he said is reliable at the beginning of his speech due to many years of work as a chef, 90 percent of American restaurants that identify as Italian add too many ingredients to most dishes.
“They work extra hard to fuck up a simple [dish],” he said.
Bourdain used the knowledge of foreign cultures he has accumulated over the past few years to elaborate on food and travel, peppering his ideas with anecdotes from all over the world.
He described how the tradition of hospitality is part of experiencing gastronomy in cultures across the globe, and how a region’s economic and political climate often shape the ingredients that become an integral part of a country’s cuisine.
“They’re saying, this is who I am, this is where I come from,” Bourdain said. “They’re doing so in the expectation that they are feeding you. It’s an essential function. It’s something moms do. They feed other people in the expectation that they will like it.”
For 28 years, Bourdain moved between New York area restaurants.
“My entire adult life, from age 17 to age 44, was spent in one or another small submarine-sized spaces with a bunch of sweaty, tattooed guys,” he said.
He described the discourse between the men, which he said consisted mainly of the repetitive dinging noise that signaled when orders were ready.
“Eight years ago, I was standing next to a deep fryer,” Bourdain said. “I wasn’t making much money. I never had insurance. I never paid rent on time.”
He said he would go to sleep in mortal terror that his landlord, the IRS, or someone else to whom he was indebted would call and demand money he wouldn’t have been able to give.
Despite the hardships that accompanied a lifetime as a chef, he said that when he wrote “Kitchen Confidential” eight years ago, he was enjoying his life.
“Standing there in the kitchen, I was relatively happy compared with the wreckage of the past 28 years,” he said.
Bourdain was absolutely sure of two things when he wrote his first book:
First, that no one outside of the New York tri-state area would read it. Second, that his life was set, and that any dreams of traveling to faraway places to try foods and experience new cultures were doomed to remain dreams.
“Overnight, this little book blows up in my face […] Everything within it seems months, suddenly, from [the] guy who went home every night, deep fat under my finger nails smelling of smoked salmon and garlic, and waking up everyday exhausted,” Bourdain said. “Suddenly, I find myself in the best job on earth.”
Because of the book, which he worked on each morning before going to work, Bourdain gets to travel anywhere he wants, to eat and drink in excess, and to produce a television show.
“I was goddamn grateful,” he said. “I still am. The smell of deep fryer, grease on the griddle—that wasn’t too long ago.”
Bourdain’s evening with the Fredericksburg Forum was part of many speeches he gives each year in cities across America. The night before he was in town, he spoke in New York. The night after, he was headed for Springfield, Mass.
“I do a lot of these,” he said in an interview with the Bullet. “About 40 a year.”
When asked why he went so far out of his way to speak at the Forum, Bourdain said UMW worked hard to persuade him to come.
“I wasn’t able to do it last year, and it’s one of those things that stuck,” he said. “You know, I say no to a lot of ‘em. But these guys were really persistent.”
Joe Yonan, food and travel editor of the Washington Post, moderated the question-and-answer session immediately following Bourdain’s speech. Yonan was the deciding factor in booking Bourdain’s appearance Thursday night, Bourdain told the Bullet.
In the session, Yonan asked questions that the audience submitted before the speech began. One of Bourdain’s most memorable responses tied the evening together, as he answered a question about his favorite vegetarian dish.
After ranting in his speech about how much vegetarians disgusted him, he replied, “Bacon.”