AND THE WINNER IS? New Orleans, of course. In the wake of Katrina, the city’s dining scene has evolved tenfold almost in spite of the setbacks, Richman’s criticism, or otherwise. It’s now one of the most nationally powerful draws for not just tourism but culinary talent as well. (Donald Link currently owns a small mafia of critically acclaimed restaurants down there, for example, and Anderson won a James Beard Award for his reporting on the aftermath of Katrina.) And of course, there’s the now-famous episode of Treme (see “The Punk Celebrity and the Critic”).
THE PUNK CELEBRITY AND THE CRITIC
COMBATANTS: Anthony Bourdain, Celebrated Author and No Reservations Host vs. Alan Richman, GQ Restaurant Critic
DOSSIER: Bourdain has made a career out of being the most outspoken critic of everything in the food industry, first in his memoir Kitchen Confidential and continuing in various writings and television shows. Richman made a career out of savaging anything that crossed his path that didn’t tickle his palate.
BIG HITS: These two have long had a pleasant back-and-forth. Richman called Bourdain “a living, breathing low blow.” Bourdain named a chapter in his 2010 book Medium Raw “Alan Richman Is a Douchebag,” in which he noted the critic as “uniquely gas-engorged.” In a March 2008 GQ review of Bourdain’s restaurant Les Halles, Richman noted the celebrity’s role with the restaurant has diminished, followed by a slam: “It’s hard to know what a place that specializes in the hoariest of French dishes would need from an American who wasn’t much of a chef back in the days when he worked at being one.” Bourdain replied in kind: “It was like being mauled by Gumby. Afterwards, you’re not sure it even happened.”
AND THE WINNER IS? Bourdain ended up scripting Richman into an episode of Treme playing himself. In the episode, Richman gets a drink thrown in his face. To be fair, Bourdain has also called Richman’s palate “discerning.” It’s a close one, but considering that Richman has a fraction of Bourdain’s following, Tony squeaks this one out.
THE SEWING CIRCLE VS. THE APOSTATE
COMBATANTS: Anthony Bourdain, Known Firestarter vs. Alice Waters, American Chef, Author, and Food Activist; Sandra Lee, American Home Cooking Icon; and Paula Deen, Comfort Food Queen
THE LADIES: Alice Waters has been regarded as the “Mother of American Food” and advocates for cleaner, healthier meals; she’s one of the foremost activists for organic ingredients in cooking. Paula Deen is the Georgia-based populist television host, best-selling cookbook author, and restaurant owner (she also has a grocery-store line of products). Sandra Lee is the host of Semi-Homemade Cooking and breeds mutant iterations of preprepared foods by smashing their atoms together.
A GENTLEMAN AND A SCHOLAR: Did you really think Bourdain would only show up once on this list? Bourdain and Waters once sparred at a panel discussion—about hot dogs. Waters was philosophizing about wanting to know where a hot dog came from, meat, bun, and all. Bourdain: “As a chef, I’m not your dietitian or your ethicist. I’m in the pleasure business.… My responsibility is to give you the most delicious tomato that I can afford, given the circumstances, and maybe increase the likelihood that you get laid after dinner.” Also, regarding that culinary punching bag San Francisco, Bourdain has said, it “may be the town of Alice Waters, but it’s also home to Dirty Harry.” He also called her “very Khmer Rouge.” A meeting with Sandra Lee? “I’m pretty sure, judging by the vestigial ectoplasm on my jacket that I was sideswiped by pure evil.” Her television show was a “war crime” and he once said that watching Lee make her infamous Kwanzaa Cake was “the most terrifying thing I’ve seen,” wondering how one’s eyeballs couldn’t “burst into flames” upon viewing it. As for sweet-as-pie Paula Deen? “The worst, most dangerous person to America” whose food “sucks.” Also: “She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations, and she’s proud of the fact that her food is f--king bad for you.” Don’t hold back, Tony!