Bourdain Rips Into Beard Awards, Food Writers, and John Mariani (Again)

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Photo: Melissa Hom

A few years back, Anthony Bourdain penned a rant against the James Beard Awards, calling the Beard Foundation a “private dining society, a high-rent memorial to a much disliked crank who-once a year, throws a lavish stroke-and-choke where corporate sponsors can ‘honor’ prominent chefs and restaurant folk at what remains-for better or worse-the ‘Oscars of food’ ceremony” (among other things, he criticized them for not acknowledging “the people who are actually doing the cooking in this country,” i.e. Latinos, and also for not providing a proper kitchen for the chefs who cooked at the ceremony: “It has been decided that in favor of bigger and swankier accomodations for the self congratulatory nearly all-white attendees, that the cooks can take it in their collective poop-chute.”) So has he lightened up now that his radio show with Eric Ripert has been nominated? Not a chance!

On his No Reservations blog, he calls the awards a “self congratulatory goat rodeo/awards ceremony/chef shakedown” and dismisses the evening’s “Ultimate Melting Pot” theme (“I seriously doubt you will see an increase in the number of Mexicans present”), but does manage to admit he’s “pleasantly surprised to find the Beardies even discovering the existence of a sense of humor,” given that they nominated Ruth Bourdain in their new humor category. Does such a nomination “cheapen” the ceremony? Bourdain doesn’t think so.

Coming from a profession whose vast majority spend their hours and days writing about “kicky new muffin recipes”, ” Pie: The Next Big Thing” or attending launches for bottled water, restaurant openings, and anywhere they can fill their plastic lined pockets with free food and swag-the whole notion of someone-anyone-”cheapening” the business sounds like a bunch of old hookers complaining about the new girl who kisses on the lips. When one of the “lions” of the food writing business-and I am NOT talking about Alan Richman-has been famously and openly shaking down the subjects of his “reviews” for free food, drinks, vacations and other things of value for years with absolute impunity, it’s hard to imagine anyone “cheapening” anything about the business. When your gold standard behaves like a shady garbage contractor, and you are complicit in your silence, you can hardly complain.

Safe to say Bourdain is talking about John Mariani here, given the recent charges that Mariani has denied. Anyway, Suvir Saran of Devi, last seen jumping into the middle of the drama between Saveur’s publisher Merri Lee Kingsly and Sam Sifton, gets a word in the comments here, too:

As much as I am happy to support the cause, I also feel it has much still left to do that would make it worthy of much more support and credibility.

There are too many issues in the food industry that need to be raised, discussed, highlighted, challenged, corrected and questioned that the JBF does not find the will to indulge into.

That is what makes it a farce for me at some level.

Meanwhile, Kat Kinsman, who writes for Eatocracy and others, also comments in defense of her fellow food writers: “Plenty of us have read our Britchky and Liebling, same as you. Plenty of us getting dirt under the nails — or at least reporting on the farmers, workers and cooks who do — doing what we can on teeny budgets.”

The Mummy’s Tomb… and Ozark Noir [No Reservations]