You either love him or you hate him, and he doesn’t really care which side you’re on.
Author, “Parts Unknown” host and chef Anthony Bourdain entertained a full house with anecdotes, laughs and plenty of the unapologetic irreverence for which he’s known April 25 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts Moran Theater.
While the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra performed for a dressier crowd next door in Jacoby Hall, Bourdain began his two-and-a-half hour show with what he called “The case against Paula Deen,” displaying a giant photo of the Food Network host with “dead doll eyes” and justifying his 2011 comments to TV Guide that Deen is “the worst, most dangerous person to America” when it comes to cooking personalities.
“The South is the cradle of great American gastronomy,” Bourdain said while showing photos and calorie counts of signature Paula Deen dishes, including The Lady’s Brunch Burger and Deep Fried Stuffing on a Stick. “Did anybody’s grandmother ever in history cook that shit?”
The first part of the one-man show was like a stand-up comedy routine as Bourdain joked about his previous drug problems and justified his career moves to host reality-TV cooking show “The Taste” and go on a lucrative speaking tour.
“This integrity shit is overrated. Guy Fieri makes more money than me!” he said, pausing to say that Fieri is the offspring of a drunken Billy Idol and a panda. “Point is, fuck it. I’m selling out.”
But Bourdain went on in a somewhat more serious tone to say that he would never sell out his principles of respect for food origins and world pluralism.
“I think food is important, that it’s more than just stuff you put in your face,” Bourdain said.
He bemoaned the disconnect of the American chain food industry as he said the best food culture in the world originated out of humble necessity.
“Take escargots. Do you really think the first person to eat a snail was a gourmet chef? He was a hungry son of a bitch!”
Bourdain discussed his disdain for vegetarianism as a “First World” problem and explained his curiosity and respect for eating anything he is served in his world travels for “Parts Unknown,” as he did previously for “No Reservations” and “The Layover.”
“How do you say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, dude – can I get a spinach salad or something?’ You’re not just rejecting their food, you’re rejecting a form of their expression,” he said.
After discussing bloopers from the TV production process, snubbing a few more celebrities, and joking that he’s had it better than fellow traveling food host Andrew Zimmern, saying Zimmern eats “Dick. Every day, dick, dick, dick, dick,” Bourdain asked the theater tech to bring up the lights and answered a handful of questions from the audience.
In case you were wondering, if Bourdain had to choose one song, one drink and one meal, he’d have a pint of Guinness in a quiet Dublin pub, listen to the entire Stooges “Fun House” album, and eat “the best sushi in the world” at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo.
But based on his 30 years as a cook and his adoration of humble preparations of pork, noodles and spicy broths, I’d venture to say he wouldn’t need that combination to feel on top of the world.
“Thirteen years ago, I was standing next to a deep fryer. On the strength of one really obnoxious book, the world became my oyster,” he said. “A month later, all of my dreams came true.”