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Posted on Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

Anthony Bourdain tastelessly trashes Paula Deen

By Jessica Levine


Anthony Bourdain in Cajun country.

Photo courtesy of Travel Channel

Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain premiered his Emmy-winning program, “No Reservations,” with a philosophy, a cheeky medium between Julia Child-style cooking segment and (gushing) Samantha Brown travel guide.

Narrating the 2007 Osaka episode, he says, “Most Westerners think they understand Japan better than any other Asian nation. But do they? And do I? If you took away the common reference points of samurai and Japanese pop culture, what’s left? I wanted to see a Japan that had nothing to do with Tokyo, anime, geishas, school girls, giant reptiles or Hello Kitty. I’ve been here to see the face of Japan before; this time, I’d like to take a look at its heart.”

This curiosity, coupled with a journalist’s attention to detail and yearning to understand the honest Osaka-native, made him a tonic to the puffed-up PR pieces on five-star tourist destinations—I thought so, anyway.

Like a kid lured into smoking, Bourdain has decidedly let his vices (and his mouth) unabashedly rule the day. In a recent interview with “TV Guide,” Bourdain took jabs at Food Network’s Paula Deen, Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray.

It is the Deen comments—better described as sucker punches calling her character into question—that have particularly roiled her loyal fans. Dubbed the “Georgia Peach,” Deen has made traditional Southern cooking accessible to the everywomen—to the suburban Target shopper, the Cuisinart cook, the connoisseur of pork loin roasts and jalapeno corn breads.

Bourdain popped off, “The worst, most dangerous person to America is clearly Paula Deen. She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations and she's proud of the fact that her food is [expletive] bad for you.”

This mincing of not only Deen’s cooking style—which, really, is the only matter that Bourdain, a veteran chef of 28 years, has any authority to insult—goes beyond the competitive, perhaps inappropriate banter among celebrities of equal status.

No, Bourdain’s rant to “Guide’s” Ingela Ratlegde was an easy swipe. Like a bully cackling and waiting behind a row of lockers or computer keyboard, Bourdain seized his opportunity to trash a woman who caters to a class of people he doesn’t know anything about.

That alone makes his comments all the more disingenuous. For a multi-faceted man with plenty of talent, this is particularly disappointing.

"New York Times'" Op-Ed columnist Frank Bruni notes Bourdain’s inconvenient truths, citing his and his celebrity pals’ propensity for food soaked in butter, creams, sugar and lard.

“Some of Deen’s fans have the means for mesclun (a mix of tender lettuces and other greens),” he writes. “They’re not consigned to overloads of animal fat; they elect it. But then so do plenty of New York gourmands who favor pate and duck confit, both on the menu at Bourdain’s Brasserie Les Halles restaurant in Manhattan.”


Photo courtesy of

The point about Deen’s food being bad for you is, as Bruni pointed out, simply moot. So when you de-bone Bourdain’s words, the crux of his argument is colored by class-based elitism: What people can or can’t afford to eat, and the difference between what he and chefs like David Chang consider good food and bad.

Bourdain enjoys sucking fatty bone marrow and ruby-colored, premium cuts of ham—meal items that cost a pretty penny in U.S. restaurants. It is highly doubtful, however, that he would ever be found in the likes of a Golden Corral or Outback Steakhouse, chain restaurants that serve the kind of folks who watch Deen’s show and buy “Cooking with Paula” magazine.

But to Bourdain’s credit, he will eat as the average Osakan eats: Fried octopus balls, meat on a stick, oniony omelets—the Japanese counterpart to Potbelly and Five Guys. And he enjoys it, revels in the locality and unassuming nature of it all. Bourdain devoted an episode of “No Reservations” to street food globally, to pho, buns and spreads of Vienna sausage and cheese; he called a bowl of made-in-the-backyard crawfish bisque, hand-stuffed with salt, cayenne, garlic and onion, to be among the best food he’s recently eaten.

Then, why is he so critical of the Deen equivalent?

Bourdain continued, “If I were on at seven at night and loved by millions of people at every age, I would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it's OK to eat food that is killing us. Plus, her food sucks.”

Swathing his point with the America is Fat, and Getting Fatter argument is filament-thin; I don’t think Bourdain was too concerned about our obesity problem while plowing through a rich 52-course meal at Spain’s elBulli. And unlike Deen, he isn’t donating time or treasure to his chosen cause. When it comes to her charity work on behalf of Bethesda Home for Boys and America’s Second Harvest, Deen walks the walk.

Bourdain is instead condemning a significant group of people—some of whom watch him weekly on the Travel Channel—who don’t eat what he eats. Because at the end of the day, those of us who cook with Deen-brand pots and pans, shop at Meijer and pour Franzia out of the fridge by the spout aren’t quite as exotic as Osakan sushi chefs or even Treme neighborhood fried chicken joints.

Deen’s recipe for cinnamon rolls (which definitely qualify as “dirt-cheap” street food) wouldn’t likely make Bourdain’s avant garde cut; because the man of the people abroad—a reporter who humbly dines on couscous in a chemically-mowed Kurdistan desert—lives by double standards.

To Bourdain, Middle-American taste is largely a letdown. His is an attitude that says something about the contemporary culinary climate—in his world, “rubes” like us who order steak well can’t quite appreciate the complexities of duck confit or pit-fired Cajun roast pig. Meanwhile, fly-over America’s Georgia Peach forges on, butter and noodles ready for the casserole pan.

Jessica Levine profiles the culture, history and personalities of Washtenaw County restaurants for Contact her at



Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 3:19 p.m.

i love tony and hope he comes back to a2 soon!!


Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 1:23 p.m.

Bourdain is awesome! And if you read his book Kitchen Confidential, you'll understand why.


Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 10:11 a.m.

Oh, c'mon! Have yourselves a nice deep fried Krispy-Kreme bacon cheeseburger (recipe on Paula's website) and relax. Bourdain isn't paid to be fair, or pc. Relax. How's that burger treatin' ya? Bless your li'l heart!


Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 2:22 a.m.

Bourdain's a jerk, but he doesn't hate working-class American food. Check out the shows he shot in Detroit or Baltimore.


Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

I'm so glad to read this article, because you're right--Bourdain is a jerk. Like Paula Deen's food or don't; that's irrelevant. But for Bourdain to celebrate the humble food of other countries and tear apart America's shows his classism, his arrogance, and his hypocrisy. And, for the record, Paula Deen has been very classy about this entire thing.


Fri, Sep 2, 2011 : 12:29 a.m.

Wait... people order steak well-done? Why not just eat your shoes?!? They'd have just as much taste and be just as "tender."


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 11:32 p.m.

The key issue here is mediocrity. Everyone has a right to call out mediocrity and hope that collectively we might want to rise above that level.

Mike D.

Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 10:58 p.m.

Deen is a serial killer. Nearly everything she cooks is a coronary on a plate. To suggest that Bourdain promotes similarly unhealthy food that's just fancier is absurd. Sure, not everything Bourdain talks about is healthy, but everything Paule Deen talks about *is* unhealthy. Obesity kills ten times as many people as car accidents and anorexia combined, and Deen is profiting from death. And yes, her food sucks; it's unimaginative and flavorless. Bourdain may not be P.C., but he speaks the truth.

Ron Granger

Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 10:56 p.m.

Wait, people actually buy "Paula Dean" cookware?

Ron Granger

Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

Paula Deen's cooking and "recipes" are awful and overdone. Her personality is completely overbearing. All flash and no substance. When questioned or challenged, she just gets LOUDER.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 10:36 p.m.

Ah, but Bourdain is right.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

Paula Deens worst crime is that she claims to be a cook of any sort. Yes, if you soak anything in enough butter and fat it will taste good. It is akin to putting sugar on something to help you eat it. What she is promoting is similar to somebody promoting smoking because it tastes good. When Deen learns to cook things that have subtlety then she can call her self a cook, Otherwise she is just a fat pusher with no cooking talent. She has successfully marketed herself as a down home mother and your grandma. This country is stupid that way. GW Bush was elected because he was the candidate more people would "like to have a beer with".


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 10:29 p.m.

You nailed it. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

Frankly, the culinary world needs more Bourdains. When it comes to politics, everyone can name about 3-4 people in the media on the right (Beck, Coulter, Limbaugh etc), but there isn't anyone near their popularity on the left (Rachel who?). When it comes to food and wine, anything written or spoken is either high-brow or down-home, countryish. We need more people to give us the outrageous and the funny, to ENTERTAIN us. That's why I started <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

When a middle aged bourdain jumped off that cliff in sicily he proved himself absolutely deserving of being able to 'swagger macho-ly'... and if paula deen is really that offended ( as opposed to doing ' hurt -shtick') her burly sons can deal with Bourdain...which would also be pretty good theater ( as Vatel's legendary killing himself over a bad fish order was in the 17th century) But it wouldnt surprise me at all to see tony and paula as co-judges on some cooking competition show.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

Now, whether I'm actually funny is open to debate...


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

The tactic here, promotion of oneslef byr ipping another down reminds of the WWF back in the day. Creating this kid of stir us good for Deen and Bourgeoisduain. is Vince Mcmahon runing the food channel now?

Bertha Venation

Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

Bourdain is an arrogant jerk. I never watch him.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

Me either, Bertha...pass the grits, please.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 7:36 p.m.

Anthony Bourdain is a smart guy but also ( and foremost) nowadays an entertainer and purveyor of a certain style of snark shtick , which he does very well indeed. But i don't actually think the celebrity foodies he wittily bludgeons have been anything but helped in their celebrity by his jabs. Emiril Lagasse ( his original ur-target) in KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL) is now a good friend ( and probably even richer), as is Rachel Ray ( another of his &quot;victims&quot;)....and Sandra Lee is now New York state's first lady , despite bourdain calling HER the apex of evil at one point. Food critic Alan Richman ( to whom Bourdain devoted a whole chapter in MEDIUM RAW, entitled &quot;alan Richman is a Dou..bag&quot;) appeared on the HBO series TREME ( about post-Katrina New Orleans) acting out the very episode that Bourdain slammed him for. Who was the technical advisor for that show??? Anthony Boudain.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

I agree that all of this banter and bullying is silly and useless. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Paula Deen's cooking is not for the health conscience, in fact I've heard her joke about it herself.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 7:11 p.m.

I heard this weeks ago. His &quot;trashing&quot; has been more free advertising for his show than he ever dreamed of. Until news services picked up on this, most people never even heard of him. FWIW, I like Paula Dean, but I would never eat her food. Death is coming soon enough. I don't want to accelerate the process.


Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 11:41 a.m.

If Bourdain had simply stuck to criticizing Deen's cooking philosophy and/or ability, that would have been different. But he took a giant leap and slammed her ethics, which I believe was way out of line. Even more ironically, it is rich that he is accusing her of promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, considering he so proudly brags of his past forays into illegal drugs and smoking. Similarly, he certainly doesn't turn away a buck from large corporations, of which the Travel Channel (owned by Scripps) is one. If he so outraged, he should get involved in causes supporting fitness and healthy eating, which, to my knowledge, he has not. Bourdain's a talented guy, he didn't need to take cheap shots against Deen and the other Food Network celebs. He looks like a jerk.

Tony Livingston

Thu, Sep 1, 2011 : 11:47 p.m.

He certainly seems to down his share of beer, too.