Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert took to a San Francisco stage on Friday night, where they made fun of each other and riffed on everything from hipsters to Mission Chinese Food to Paula Deen—some familiar territory with new culinary nuggets tossed in. We spotted the Dapper Diner and Chef Gerard Hirigoyen in attendance, and the Orpheum Theatre appeared to be sold out. La Cocina’s Caleb Zigas was at the backstage VIP after-party, where bites and a cake in the form of a duck press were on offer from AйDa Piroshki, Onigilly, El Huarache Loco and Inticing Creations. Zigas memorably chatted with Bourdain at Dolores Park for his San Francisco episode of The Layover.
The two rather famous best friends wore similar dark suits and their set looked like the boxing matches from the 1940s and 1950s, with one ominous lamp shining over an uncomfortable chair against a dark backdrop. It was a night that was billed as Good vs. Evil, and started out with Bourdain interrogating Ripert. One of the nicest surprises was how well Ripert was able to dish back to his pal Tony with that rather sexy French accent of his.
Bourdain is a personal friend and appeared to take the lead in the two-hour show. He may have had a major hand in writing much of the script—especially telling was the fact that he brought up the question of who would do the actual physical labor if more of our society had access to organic products. This is a refrain we’ve heard before, even when we were filming for his No Reservations show over dinner at Incanto restaurant in 2009. Bourdain is up front that he is a “total hypocrite” and his own daughter, who he referred to as a “little angel” gets organic food all the time. Bourdain’s wife, Ottavia, on the other hand, eats only “mountains of protein and no carbs at all,” because she is a trained fighter. Ottavia is a columnist for Vice magazine and accepted an assignment to eat vegetarian for a week to see if and how it would affect her training ability. Bourdain joined her for two nights of no-meat and came away unimpressed by restaurants that seemed stuck in a glut of serving dishes that had vegetables like broccoli and carrots with tamari, garlic and ginger--a flavor combo that he ranked as dated.
Bourdain and Ripert were in town for a short amount of time before heading to San Jose for a Saturday night show. Later tweets showed that Tony planned on hitting up a 7-11 store to find food to feed Ripert in San Jose. As for where to eat in the City, Bourdain said that he loves having a “crab with the crab fat“ at Swan Oyster Depot and Ripert responded that he wanted to go there with Tony for breakfast [which they apparently did do]. Bourdain also pointed out that the Bay Area has produce that is the envy of the East Coast.
When the talk turned to Alice Waters, Bourdain showed restraint, a gentlemanly move given the recent fire at Chez Panisse. Audience, he’s sure they would get along swimmingly if they met at a party... but do remember, he warned, that Waters chose shark fin soup as her last meal on a panel he did with her and Duff Goldman--a fact that had the audience guffawing. He appeared to have publicly forgiven Waters, as well as other famous food celebs ranging from Rachael Ray to Emeril. Ray sent him a fruit basket, and “how can I not love” someone who made a joke that Mario Batali will loan you a scrunchie if you give him a blow job—-a jab Ray made at a roast for the ponytailed chef.
Ripert got flack from Tony for letting Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, The Situation, and Snooki take their respective spots at the table at his award winning Le Bernardin restaurant. “You gave The Situation and Snooki a kitchen tour, too?” he asked, and Ripert said, “Yes.”
When pushed, Ripert said that tennis star John McEnroe is the one star he would not let dine at his restaurant. “He hurt your feelings!” Bourdain said, as Ripert sheepishly nodded under the bright interrogation lamp. Ripert later said that hipsters are allowed at his restaurant and that guests can take photos of the food at Le Bernardin as long as they don’t use a flash. Bourdain posited that hipsters are “people who are younger than us” and that Ripert felt that the founders of Le Bernardin, Gilbert and Maguy le Coze were hipsters of an earlier era.
Ripert said that he is anti-corkage fee yet also anti-bring-your own wine. He pointed out that Le Bernardin is after all a business (a fair point for any restaurant), and Bourdain said that he thought Le Bernardin had the best sommelier. Ripert waffled a bit on the bring-your-own-wine bit when he conceded that he would be open to guests bringing a great bottle of wine in, but only if they please share a glass with him.
Paula Deen is the one culinary star Bourdain will not forgive, because he is “genuinely appalled by her acts on the planet” which include hyping Southern cooking “into something it’s not.”
Bourdain gave major props to Mission Chinese Food and said that it is rare to see a San Francisco restaurant find such big and immediate success in New York. “I am sure they will take over the world,” he said. Bourdain was aware that Mission Chinese Food plans to next open in Paris, and giggled over the fact that Ripert had to run to the bathroom during his first visit to Mission Chinese, because “he couldn’t handle” how spicy the food was. Clearly Bourdain, given his far flung travels and history of eating dishes like calves brain and pig anus on air makes him the more adventurous eater. Yet Ripert aptly pointed out that Bourdain has not been a kitchen chef in fifteen years. Touché, Monsieur.
One exclusive that Bourdain and Ripert shared with us at the La Cocina meet and greet: they filmed in the mountains of Peru together for Bourdain’s Parts Unknown show on CNN. The series debuted Sunday and viewers can see the friendly pair doing a variety of activities that sound potentially interesting. “We were looking for cacao beans and cooked chicken together, which is a departure for the show,” said Bourdain. “Eric kept telling me, ‘one more mountain’ while I was stumbling around” on their way to find cacao. Bourdain rolled his eyes and laughed as he continued with, “He’s from the Pyrenees, where there’s yodeling and he’s pretty used to all those hills.” Ripert laughed and nodded at this.
They showed a comfort and ease with each other that continued through the meet and greet, where they signed everything from books to body parts while digging into a big plate of La Cocina treats. La Cocina Executive Director Caleb Zigas said that the after party event came about when Bourdain’s production company, Zero Point Zero contacted him. Proceeds from the meet and greet went to La Cocina and Zigas said the party provided an avenue for the La Cocina businesses who have brick and mortar locations. The two hundred or so guests in the green room gawked and took photos of Bourdain and Ripert, and a line snaked around the room for the chance to get autographs.
Inticing Creations baker Kelly Zubal crafted a stunning cake in the shape of a duck press for Bourdain and Ripert. She said that it took her three hours to make and she even brought an edible pen with the hopes of getting a signature on her sweet treat. Zubal confirmed with Bay Area Bites over email that, "Bourdain couldn't believe I made a duck press and wrote 'best cake ever' on it. It now has a place on my cake display area at my cake studio." Sounds like Bourdain was acting more good than evil to us.