(**Semi-spoiler alert for any of you who intend to see Bourdain on his Medium Raw tour. Proceed at your own risk.**)
My journey continues and ends here.
The setting was perfect: I fucking love Royce Hall. I remember falling in love with its majestic beauty as a prospective freshman way back in the day, its soaring towers and romanesque arches calling out to me: "Study here, study here..." And so I did. Interestingly enough, it was in my favorite class in my entire experience at UCLA--in a seminar I took my final quarter called History 197K: Asian American Food, History and Culture with Dr. Valerie Matsumoto--that the idea about writing about food came to me. We had multi-faceted discussions about food during our weekly 3 hour seminars and were assigned weekly writing assignments and term papers where we had to explore and analyze menus, family gatherings and cultural food phenomenons. Needless to say, I got an "A."
"You know," Dr. Matsumoto once told me, "you should really consider publishing some of your writing one day. Maybe a collection of short essays about food?" Unfortunately, the information superhighway and blogs weren't as widely available back in the 90's. But it was partly this class and my professor's encouragement and that led me to start Daily Gluttony and become so interested in food culture and food writing in the first place. It was how I came to discover and appreciate food-centric literature including Bourdain's. Seeing Tony Bourdain speak at that same hall that sucked me into becoming a Bruin 20 years ago made me feel like I had come full circle. It was truly magical.
I think I felt my heart skip a beat and a female version of Wayne & Garth's "schwing" when Bourdain--expectedly tall and lanky, wearing a black sportscoat, jeans and tan cowboy boots--took the stage. He started the show talking about food shows and celebrity food personalities. He spared Rachael Ray of too much trash talking because she sent him a fruit basket, but wasn't so nice to everyone's favorite Semi-Ho, Sandra Lee. "Such is the mesmerizing power of pure evil!" Take a look (apologies for the amateur Blair-Witchy footage. My hands were shaky from excitement):
He did a spot-on impersonation of Ina Garten swooning over her dearest Jeffrey, and discussed his admiration for Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern being able to eat animal testicles and scrotums and such day after day without drinking. He likened the reason that people keep watching the Man vs. Food dude stuff his piehole week after week to the reason why people kept watching Siegfried & Roy: we simply keep hoping that the show we're watching is the one in which they're going to die. (Insert LOL here.)
But the part of his show where I nearly choked on my cough drop was when he talked about his experience as a guest judge on Top Chef and when he had to eliminate Dale Talde for his Butterscotch Miso Scallops, a dish he compared to "f*lching Mrs. Buttersworth." Ex-squeeze me? Baking powder? Oh yes, Bourdain did go there. And just as we thought it couldn't get any raunchier than that, Bourdain stopped dead in his tracks, looked over at the spotlighted sign language interpreter sitting in the front and said, "Wait, I wanna know how he does 'f*lching!'" I wasn't able to catch the sign, but needless to say, the interpreter's face turned beet red as the audience roared with laughter.
Bourdain talked about being a daddy to his 3 year old daughter and how being responsible with food is just as important to him now as how good the food tastes. He's seriously concerned about the current state of food processing and fast food: we shouldn't have to worry about whether or not our work area is sanitized with bleach after grinding meat. Nor should we have to worry about giving our children grey, ammonia-laced discs of hamburger meat. It's something that as a parent of a toddler, I lose sleep over every once in awhile too. But fortunately for us parents, Bourdain has the perfect solution: scare kids into never eating from "The Clown, The King or The Colonel." I am totally going to follow his advice and tell Mini Gluttony that eating McDonalds will give him cooties.
He also gave advice on how to be a good traveler; that basically, if you're fortunate enough to find yourself in a place like Thailand, there's no reason you should be going to Starbucks and Planet Hollywood. Go where the locals go and eat what the locals eat--your chances of getting food poisoning is much greater if you eat at the buffet at your major chain hotel than if you eat from the guy hacking up a pig and cooking it up in the back of a van. Asphinctersayswhat? What?!? You heard me. Don't be afraid of street food. Because chances are that the dude preparing that spaghetti bolognese at your chain hotel doesn't give a crap about the food he's preparing. The dude in the back of the van, however, is more likely to be passionate about the food he's making. It's a specialty that he's been been cooking up for the same people in the same neighborhood for God-knows-how-long.
He stressed the importance of being polite to one's hosts when traveling, that if his hosts happened to be serving up puppy heads, he would rather eat the puppy heads than risk offending his hosts. He asked us to compare it to being at our grandma's house. Grandma might serve up some fucked up shit, but we take it with a smile. Why? To quote Bourdain, "It's your fucking grandmother's house."
Bourdain did a Q&A with the audience for the last part of his show in which lots and lots of people lined up at the two microphones they had set up on each level of the auditorium. Bourdain ran out of time before he could even get to half of those lined up, but we did learn alot more interesting facts about our favorite badboy food celebrity:
-His "last meal" used to be roasted bone marrow. Now it is sea urchin with a thin layer of lardo from Marea.
-Singapore Airline's food is about as good as airline food can get.
-His worst memory from No Reservations is the massage at the Uzbekistan bath house.
-Two countries he thinks that more people should visit are Vietnam and Colombia.
-He thinks that New York has an edge over LA when it comes to high end cuisine, but where LA has an edge over New York is its "low end, ethnicky stuff." He'd love to spend time exploring Jonathan Gold's food finds.
-He adores Mario Batali but thinks his PBS show "Spain...On the Road Again" is a total crock because he's traveling with Gwyneth Paltrow, a vegetarian, to a place that probably has the best pork on the planet.
-When asked "Lakers or Celtics," he had to choose Lakers simply because he's a Yankees fan and could not root for anything Boston. (Probably the only part of the show I booed under my breath at since I am not a fan of LA's precious purple and gold. Yeah, whatever.)
-When asked if Giada or Nigella would win in a knife fight, he answered without hesitation: "Nigella."
I wish I could have afforded to shell out $175 for a VIP ticket to meet and get a picture with my food idol. Those special peeps even got a backstage pass looking thing that they could wear around their necks on a lanyard just like Wayne and Garth did when they met Alice Cooper backstage. That's OK though; it was a dream come true even being in the same room as Bourdain. The buildings of Royce Quad glowed against the black sky as we left my alma mater, and I immediately felt inspired...
To be a better parent.
To appreciate more.
We're not worthy, Tony Bourdain. We are so not worthy.
If you who missed Bourdain speak at UCLA, don't fret. He will be doing another speaking engagement at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on February 18, 2011. Tickets and info are available here.