by Beverley Ann D’Cruz

Chef/writer/television personality Anthony Bourdain was in Toronto on the evening of September 22 to host a talk about his life and experiences at Massey Hall. The evening was appropriately entitled No Reservations: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain., and it was very hard to spot an empty seat in the house. A lucky few even paid $175 each for a special meet-and-greet with Bourdain after the show that was catered by Scott Vivian from Beast restaurant.

Bourdain strode on stage dressed exact as one would expect him – dark jeans, brown cowboy-esque boots, untucked shirt and jacket. Most Tony-like, he clutched a bottle of Steam Whistle beer, which he later declared to be “mighty fine”. Amidst hooting and whistles from the crowd, he grinned, almost shyly, and took a tiny bow. Then without time to waste he started, “There will be no Rachael Ray jokes this evening.” The crowd roared with laughter and that pretty much set the tone for the night.

For around the hour and fifteen minutes that he spoke, Bourdain never seemed to run out of things to say. But he didn’t come across rehearsed either.  He continually walked around the stage and used his hands to emphasize the point he was making. From Guy Fieri (“You’re 45-years-old, take the fucking sunglasses off.”) to Man vs. Food’s Adam Richman (“I like this kid.”) and Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio (“He keeps it [Top Chef] honest.”), he oscillated between praise and sarcasm. However, every word was delivered with humour and honesty – not an ounce of malice dripped, even when he broached topics he’s known to be touchy about, like Alice Waters. And that’s saying a lot.

For those, like myself, who have already read his latest work Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and People Who Cook, some of the stories were repetitive. This included his thoughts about McDonalds, hamburgers and hate for vegetarians. But although it seemed like you were re-reading the book, it was seeing his emotion about the topics first hand that still made it enjoyable. When he spoke about the good fortune of having a job that he loved and being a father, his tone seemed to take on a grateful reverence. It seemed unreal that this was the ‘bad boy chef’ who had penned the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll memoir Kitchen Confidential.

Once the floor opened for questions, Bourdain seemed to relax a lot more. Walking across the stage with beer in hand, he answered queries about what his favourite part of the pig was to whether he would be bringing No Reservations to Toronto. He ended with a personal story about his daughter and her adventurous palate that had the crowd in stitches again – just the way he started the show. When Bourdain walked off stage, a few audience members took to their feet in thunderous applause.

As the crowd filed out, everyone seemed to be talking about which was their favourite part of the talk and how Bourdain seemed no different from his television show. But what most people like myself probably went to bed that night with, was the thought that Bourdain said he had made a commitment to return to the city with No Reservations. I don’t know whether it was the Steam Whistle or Beast chef Scott Vivian’s special menu of lamb brains and bone marrow that convinced him, but score one for TO.

Some of Bourdian’s travel tips:

  • Be polite.
  • Dress appropriately. Ask yourself, “Do we wear these things at home?”
  • Learn local customs to avoid obvious mistakes.
  • Eat anything that is offered.
  • Drink a lot.
  • Be prepared to take one for the team.

Mississauga-based Journalist Beverley Ann D’Cruz blogs about food and nutrition at Potato Chops and Boneless Chicken and Tweets under the handle @Flotch