The Players: Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, Medium Raw and host of Travel Channel's No Reservations; Paula Deen, Southern darling of the Food Network and host of Paula's Home Cooking and Paula's Party, and Paula's Best Dishes
The Opening Serve: In a TV Guide interview posted yesterday, Bourdain laid out his criticism of the Food Network's Southern star. "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 f---ing bad for you," Bourdain said. "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." He continued his rant on his Twitter feed yesterday. "A cheeseburger between donuts is no kind of 'Southern' cooking. It's just bad cooking," he wrote in reference to Deen, who fills Food Network's Southern food niche. "If deep-fried butter ain't a communist plot, I don't know what is...What was Jesus's position on gout...I love red beans and rice. Do I need it between pancakes?" he added in later subsequent tweets. Another gem: "Damn unpatriotic feeding people that shit during wartime! Gotta be fit and ready when Al Qaeda comes swarming across the border!" Bourdain also tweeted a link to Deen's Lady's Brunch Burger recipe, which he deems "horrific"--the recipe incorporates a pound and a half of ground beef, six slices of bacon, three eggs, and six glazed donuts, serving three. "This erodes our military readiness!" he added.
The Return Volley: Deen fired back in The New York Post last night. "Anthony Bourdain needs to get a life," she said "It’s not all about the cooking, but the fact that I can contribute by using my influence to help people all over the country. In the last two years, my partners and I have fed more than 10 million hungry people by bringing meat to food banks." She added, "I have no idea what Anthony has done to contribute besides being irritable." Deen continued, "You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills . . . It wasn’t that long ago that I was struggling to feed my family, too." Deen also appeared on Fox & Friends this morning and said, "Listen. Come to my house, I'll cook you a meal and if you still feel that way about me, so be it." No word yet if Bourdain has accepted Deen's invitation. But he did seem to be over the backlash. Via Bourdain's Twitter: "Resolved: Next time I'm asked (for the millionth time) who the worst cooks on Food Network are, I'll just shut up. Who cares," he wrote. "My comment was actually 'worst, most dangerous to America cook on FN [Food Network],'" he clarified--i.e. not simply the "worst, most dangerous person to America."
What They Say They're Fighting About: If Paula Deen is "the most dangerous person in America" or some permutation of that charge. Bourdain points to her caloric recipes and mass-appeal. Deen refers to her charity work and Bourdain's lack thereof.
What They're Really Fighting About: Class, privilege, and good food--and whether the first two are connected to the second. Deen mentions "$58" prime rib and "$650" bottles of wine and paints Bourdain as an elitist. Her argument seems to be that Bourdain's lifestyle and image is pure fantasy and not the American reality. Bourdain bemoans the fact that she aligns herself with "regular families," and points out that mass appeal and good food aren't necessarily related nor are they mutually exclusive.
Who's Winning Now: Draw--but it's a benefit for both. Deen is using this spat wisely, diverting the talk away from her "Lady's Brunch Burger" and focusing more on her charity work. Bourdain has long been critical of The Food Network, the network which ironically helped launch the celebrity chef craze that he now benefits from--albeit doing so by being the anti-celebrity-celebrity chef/critic. His attacks on Deen's food solidify his reputation as an anti-establishment food rebel, but he's not really telling us anything we didn't know about Deen's food. In fact, an argument could be made that Deen's fattening foods are exactly why people watch her. But if we're comparing both stars' television shows and their influence on "regular" Americans, traveling to Hokkaido and having hand-cut soba seems as unrealistic as noshing on a lasagna sandwich.