Last Night: Anthony Bourdain at the Arsht Center
Better Than: Pounding cheap beers between a soul-crushing double on the saute station.
The evidence, plainly, is undeniable: the best-selling books, the top-rated Travel Channel Show, the Top Chef judging gigs. Hell, even the playbills posted outside the Arsht Center spell out the cold reality in cruel red letters: Anthony Bourdain is a celebrity chef.
But after spending a couple hours with the guy at the Arsht Center on Friday night, this is also impossible to deny: Bourdain, at heart, is still the same grizzled veteran hunched over the burners in Les Halles' grimy kitchen, shaking off a wicked hangover and griping about everyone and everything with passion, wit and impunity.
"You can have a criminal record the length of a kitchen, teardrop tattoos under each eye, lightning bolt SS tats on your neck, and as long as you can make good Eggs Benedict quickly, you've got a job," Bourdain said. "I might look like the kind of guy who you would open fire upon if I was on your front lawn, but if I can cook French, I've got a job. That's why this is a beautiful business."
With affable Miami restaurateur Amir Ben-Zion -- proprietor of Miss Yip, Townhouse Rooftop Lounge and others -- acting as moderator and interviewer, Bourdain sipped Heineken and narrated his journey from culinary student to chef to drug addict to overnight celebrity success.
The brutal honesty and scimitar wit that make Bourdain's writing so great -- and so unusual in a food scribe -- shined through in his conversations at the Arsht Center. "Kitchen Confidential," succeeded, he said, because he "figured no one would read it and truly didn't give a fuck what people thought."
"I mean, let's be honest here. I was a 44-year old guy working the fry station every day. What exactly did I have to lose? My reputation?" Bourdain asked.
Bourdain's first series on the Food Network didn't pan out in the long run because the channel was too obsessed with ratings-grabbing, mindless barbecue specials, Bourdain said.
"They wanted to know why I needed to travel to all these expensive places all over Asia where we can't understand what they're saying. Why can't you just ride a pony around the parking lot and throw a chili tasteoff," Bourdain groused. "Let Bobby Flay have that shit, honestly."
Among the evening's other revelations: Bourdain's favorite American chef is Mario Batali, who joined him for a Miami Book Fair event last night. The hottest New York chef is David Chang. He considers revered French chef Alain Ducasse the most overrated ("You have balls, my friend," Ben-Zion replied). And his favored midnight snack is Cap'N'Crunch. "I like how the milk turns pink as you eat it. Mostly from the cereal cutting the shit out of the top of your mouth."
Before he jumped into a demonstration on the full-sized kitchen onstage of how to whip up a duck confit, Bourdain hammered one of the key themes in his wide-ranging show, "No Reservations": the best food historically comes from the poor and desperate.
"You really think the first person to eat a snail was a chef?" he asked. "No, it was one hungry-ass son of a bitch."
Personal Bias: With my addiction back in full swing thanks to Season Five kicking off in NYC this week, I was pleased to hear that Tony numbers "Top Chef" as a favorite cooking show even when he's not judging. Guilt free television. Ahhhh.
Random Detail: Bourdain also believes Martha Stewart would destroy Rachel Ray in a cage match: "They'd just find a lot of hair and blood on the walls. No contest at all."
By the Way: As of press time, no sightings of Bourdain at his favorite South Beach dive bar. Anyone else make it there later and throw down some whiskey with Bourdain at the Deuce?
-- Tim Elfrink