Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Good and Evil, Ripert and Bourdain

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If you were at the Riverside Theater Friday night, you were witness to professional wrestling, or at least wrestling pros, onstage, and the pro-wrestling crowd in the audience. Onstage, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain and his friend Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin traded verbal blows in a friendly roast, “Good vs. Evil.” Offstage, the raucous crowd shouted at the stage at “heel” Bourdain and “face” Ripert, contributing to the atmosphere but not contributing anything to the conversation.

Anthony Bourdain (left) interrogates Eric Ripert at the the Riverside Theater (photo by Doreen Wigderson)

Anthony Bourdain (left) interrogates Eric Ripert at the the Riverside Theater (photo by Doreen Wigderson)

The two food world celebrities took turns interrogating the other, searching for character flaws and hypocrisies, hypocrisy being the greatest sin of our age. You can be an authentic heel like Bourdain and be celebrated, but Ripert’s “evil” are those moments when he falls short of his own standards.

Liberal New Yorker Bourdain attempted to take Ripert to the mat with the observation that former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Jersey Shore’s “Snooki” were welcome at Le Bernardin, but former professional tennis player John McEnroe was banned. Torture, invading Cambodia, and “spreading chlamydia” were okay, but being rude to Ripert while filling in for David Letterman was crossing the line. (Ripert could have retorted, “You don’t have a problem cooking for Ted Nugent.”)

Bourdain definitely got the better of the exchanges. Would Ripert serve a cheeseburger to someone who was playing $300 per plate for a table of ten if they requested it? As Bourdain listed celebrities, Ripert denied each one, even disqualifying Jay-Z as “a Communist” for visiting Cuba. Finally, Bourdain came to Nicolas Sarkozy who gave Ripert a knighthood. Ripert had to concede, yes, Sarkozy would get a cheeseburger if he requested it.

When it was Bourdain’s turn in the chair, Ripert probed Bourdain’s weaknesses in the kitchen, including the first time he attempted to make dinner for his future wife. Bourdain attempted to cook an Italian dish for his native Italian wife, which resulted in a phone call from her to her mother in Italy calling him an idiot. Today Bourdain is only allowed to cook breakfast for his daughter.

Eric Ripert (Photo by Doreen Wigderson)

Eric Ripert (Photo by Doreen Wigderson)

Then there is the drug abuse. Listening to Bourdain, one gets the impression he was the Keith Richards of New York’s mid-level restaurant brunch cooks. But he doesn’t try to sell drugs to his audience, Bourdain said defiantly, authenticity as his armor.

Hypocrisy would be Bourdain’s biggest criticism of Paula Dean, a television celebrity chef known for her fatty, fried concoctions, including a bacon cheeseburger with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. While Dean was pushing food that was clearly awful for the health of the consumers, she was a type 2 diabetes sufferer. She only made her illness public when God told her to, God in the form of a multimillion-dollar contract to endorse products for diabetes sufferers.

But as Ripert points out, Bourdain reserves his ire for some celebrity chefs while backing off on others after meeting them or being friends with them. Emeril Lagasse now gets a pass and Mario Batali is praised. Rachel Ray sends Bourdain fruit baskets. But Guy Fieri causes Bourdain to ask, at what age does Guy start to de-douche?

All of this caused the audience to cheer and applaud and laugh, and frequently jeer. Perhaps the audience was raised watching too many Stadler and Waldorf moments on the Muppet Show. Perhaps the age of Twitter, where Bourdain and Ripert are frequesnt posters, has coarsened our behavior. Or perhaps Milwaukee audiences have just gotten more rude over the years. But really, was it worth it for someone to yell at Ripert from the audience asking him if he’s ever been near a farm?

Television has brought fine dining closer to the masses. Shows like Top Chef and No Reservations have brought many people into the dining rooms and kitchens of some of America’s finest restaurants. But it’s still through the glass of the flat screen, and the culture, sophistication and manners that allows for the culinary creativity is still beyond the reach of the audience of the Riverside.

Bourdain and Ripert met the $300-a-plate-cheeseburger-ordering crowd Friday night. I wondered which left a worse taste in Bourdain’s and Ripert’s mouths, the audience or the Johnny Rockets hamburgers at the airport on their way out of town.

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