Tony and Mario vent away in the back room at Borders.Photo: Melissa Hom
Marco Pierre White showed up at Borders last night for a book signing with two friends in tow: Mario Batali and Tony Bourdain. We sat down with the latter two for a few minutes before the event and picked their brains. In true style, Mario sent one of the store’s managers out for a bottle of vodka and some tonic at the start, but as the harried fellow didn’t arrive until the end, this discussion was conducted in cold sobriety.
On Adam Platt
Batali: Platt’s a miserable fuck. He can’t help himself. He doesn’t know what to do in life. He’s not about awarding stars, he’s about taking stars away. You know?! [Laughs.] Don’t get me wrong. I love his writing, I think he’s funny. I like to hang out with his brother [actor Oliver Platt]. But his understanding of the star system is misguided. What’s wrong with having a bunch of three- and four-star restaurants?
Bourdain: I enjoyed his Kobe Club review. I don’t know what you’re complaining about.
Bourdain: No, it was because you were going around shooting your mouth off, saying you were going to get four stars.
On the Big Box restaurants and the Next Big Thing.
Bourdain: The worst [trend] is probably the Big Box restaurants.
Batali: What is that? I don’t go to the Short Hills Mall. Is that here in Manhattan? I just keep hoping for the flavors of northern Africa to come here … of course, a restaurant like that, there are about 50 of us that would support it. It’s not recognizable. There’s no vernacular for the people from the Short Hills Mall, and there’s no reason for them to go, so they can’t figure out why they should.
Bourdain: What we need is a Singaporean hawker center, with one chef selling one dish, with stalls as far as the eye can see selling cheap chicken and rice, char kway teow [stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp and lard] , and those things like they have in Singapore. They’re good, cheap, mom-and-pop … it would be a whole new playing field.
On the Egg Theft
Bourdain: Astro Boy [Marcel Vigneron] is going to get caught when it’s that kind of stuff. Ripping off Muddy Waters is one thing, or Robert Johnson. But ripping off Jimi Hendrix one week later — you know, when nobody else is playing it! But that’s not Astro Boy’s worst crime. It’s that he’s still standing in the foam station and the train has already left. Five years ago.
Batali: Hey, we watched Ilan win by taking the Casa Mono tasting menu and presenting it as his own…
Bourdain: At least he knew who to steal from and wasn’t presenting himself as the future of science. He was falling back on proven successes!
On the Blogosphere.
Batali: It’s amazing, these fucking Websites, these blogs. [Otto co-owner] Jason Denton hasn’t even thought about this pizza restaurant that isn’t even a pizza restaurant across the street from Otto, and he’s getting quoted. I call him and say, “Lips. What are you doing?” and he’s like “I want to tell you, I’m never planning on opening a pizza restaurant … I don’t know what happened on the blog this morning.” Whatever the blog heard is now fact.
Bourdain: I think it’s great. They’ve beaten down the wall, and everybody’s invited to write whatever shit they want about you. It’s democratic.
Batali: I’m not so much about these blogs by anonymous people saying nasty things about you. I think it’s getting pretty stupid. If there’s something interesting, and there’s somebody editing it and taking care of it, I’m down with it. But some of those people are just bit with vituperative anger and just want to rail on you.
Bourdain: It’s inevitable, it’s the tide, there’ s no fighting it. There’s a bunch of these guys that are like Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, whipping out their fucking little cameras, and five minutes after one of them says it’s the greatest, the next will say that’s so last week. That’s inevitable. I go to all those sites and enjoy them, especially when they’re about people I don’t like.
Batali: Well, I don’t like them.