There are a couple of sure things in life. There's the old stand-by, "Death & Taxes." There's day following night. And there's the fact that, when Anthony Bourdain has something to say about anything food related, it will cause a stir within the blogging community.
Recently, it was his guest post at ruhlman.com wherein he revealed that, he is beginning to find The Next Food Network Star pretty compelling. This post comes after bashing the show and much of Food Network for quite sometime. He even had some love for TVFF's Favorite FN Exec® Bob Tuschman and thoughts on JAG (or, as he calls him, "Rambo Junior"):
I find Tuschman's comments refreshingly honest, acknowledging the gruesome reality of network realpolitik over cooking ability with unflinching candor--yet erring on the side of mercy for the devastated JAG. Which, by the way, paints the judges into a real corner:
JAG can't be allowed win. His alleged problems remembering whether or not he's a war hero--or whether he graduated from culinary school could be...controversial. In a bad way. He comes off as an unstable fantasist--already referring to himself in the third person (which is NEVER a good sign). And his overloading of the grill with chicken parts--causing (surprise!) smoke and flame--was something any backyard griller knows to avoid.
Personally, I'm really glad he has arrived at this viewpoint, because I have much the same outlook on what TNFNS is and what it's not. Check out the rest of the post...unless you're not a big fan of some salty language. Obviously, this was a big surprise and it was reflected and recounted in posts here, here and here, as well as many, many other places.
Why is that? Why does he have this ability to send food bloggers (present company included) into a frenzy? The simple answer (and, I believe, the correct one) is that Bourdain is the preeminent food writer around. It's true. His knowledge is unsurpassed, his experiences many and varied and his bona fides fully documented, thanks to his own writings. And all of this is true whether he's talking about food in general, the way restaurants are run or the state of food writing and entertainment. So there is every reason in the world to pay attention to what he says.
But there is another thing about Tony Bourdain that makes not reacting impossible. He is a master at manipulating your expectations. This is only natural. This is what chefs do. They manipulate.
Banish the pejorative nature of that word for a moment. What chefs do...what any artist does...is take the raw materials and manipulate them until they become something else -- something bigger, better or more meaningful than they were before. Rodin manipulated bronze. Picasso manipulated paint.
Bourdain has the dual gifts of being able to manipulate both food and words. And, in both cases, the way the impact is felt is similar. It's all about how that food and those words make you, the observer, feel when you encounter them. In the case of his writing, he revels in confronting the reader with the truth (or the truth as he sees it, I suppose), disquieting and discomforting the way we think about food. And so what better way to up the ante than to recognize and present a point of view on this that the reader never sees coming? Again, none of this is to say that he's waffling or being disingenuous in his beliefs. A true intellectual always challenges his or her own beliefs. There is real value in being a contrarian, even if you are the person you're contradicting.
It's no big surprise to see him in his Ramones t-shirt or hear him talking about the Clash. Punk rock was a backlash, an explicitly and emphatic contradiction of the prevalent music scene. At its best, it was a thoughtful indictment of the status quo and the "go along to get along" crowd. Punk rock is the very essence of Bourdain's writing.
So, when we're hanging on his every word and he offers up a post that plays the rhetorical equivalent of "crack the whip" with our expectations, we're all left off-balance and scrambling to recapture the Anthony Bourdain we thought we knew.
On second thought, maybe he's less like the Clash or the Ramones and more like Bob Dylan, the folk rock poster-boy who confounded both his fans and his critics by embracing electric rock on Bringing It All Back Home, country music with John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline and deeply personal and emotional songwriting with Blood on the Tracks...all within a period of ten years (with a motorcycle accident, possibly the greatest rock song of all time and seven other albums thrown in for good measure).
Regardless of who he most resembles, if you can make comparisons to the Ramones, Clash and Dylan, then there's probably one really good way to characterize someone: