Deals, Dares & Reviews To Help You Savor Your World.
The controversy is raging through the media like a grease-fire, polarizing fans in a frenzy of culinary finger-pointing. I’m sure you’ve read the “he-said-she-said” by now, and you probably already know whose side you’re on. But one thing that most foodies are forgetting (and what makes this all so juicy) is the fact that Tony and Paula actually have a lot in common.
They SEEM to clash like grapefruit and gravy. He’s Joey Ramone-thin, a darkly funny culinary curmudgeon from New York. She’s a country-fried Southern charmer with a thick drawl and a thick waist. He was classically trained in French Cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America. Her resume lists a five-year stint as a cook in a Best Western Motel. He is profane and acerbic, she calls everyone “Honey.”
But if you take another bite, you’ll see that they’re more alike than either one would probably care to admit. Both started at the bottom of the restaurant ladder and clawed their way to the top: Tony washed dishes and sweated it out as a lowly prep cook before working his way into choice chef gigs at Sullivan’s and Les Halles. Paula began her career just as humbly — making and peddling sack lunches to the suit-and-tie crowd.
Both overcame some serious hardships before achieving celebrity chefdom: Tony fought through career stalls and drug addiction. Paula started over mid-life with two teenage sons, no husband and a measly $200 in her pocket. Both have run successful restaurants and written wildly popular books. And although Tony has since moved on to the Travel Channel, both got their start on television hosting snarky shows on the Food Network.
So why is this all so delicious?
The answer might be found in the food fight that has spilled over to the fans of both personalities. Tony Bourdain’s global cuisine fans are turning up their noses at Paula Deen’s homespun, calorie-rich comfort food, and Paula Deen’s fans are scratching their heads and muttering that Tony’s eaten a sheep’s eyeball, for God’s sake! Bourdainians are scoffing that Deen’s fans can neither spell nor pronounce foie gras, while Deensters are wondering why anyone would wanna eat that pansy-ass shit in the first place. Names have been called and fingers have been pointed. It’s getting ugly out there, folks, and I’m finding the whole debacle delightful!
The debate has gone way past a tit-for-tat between two celebrities, and has scratched open a 200-year rift between two very different cultural groups. Here in America, there’s been a healthy mistrust between the North and the South since long before the Civil War – a schism that may boil down to a simple red state/blue state difference in lifestyles, politics and tastes. New Yorkers don’t trust Southern rednecks, and Southerners don’t like Yankees. Simple as that. Culture equals cuisine equals culture, and this is a prime example.
So whose side am I on? As someone who’s lived — and eaten — on both sides of the Mason Dixon line, I’ve long been a fan of southern fare like chicken-fried steak, grits, fried okra and mustard greens. That being said, I must confess that I identify more with Tony Bourdain as a foodie and as a human being. I’ve read and re-read “Kitchen Confidential“, and I religiously Tivo every episode of No Reservations. I’m even methodically eating my way through his list of “Thirteen Places to Eat Before You Die.” By contrast, I’ve only caught Paula’s show once — she was making Honey Pecan Fried Chicken from a recipe that called for two sticks of butter. (I was intrigued and disgusted at the same time — I could almost hear my arteries slamming shut!) Tony’s droll sense of humor, adventurous world-view, and tastes for new cultures and cuisines are much more in line with my own. If I had to choose just one of the two to have dinner and a beer with, it’d be Tony. Without question. Does this reflect my “Yankee” cultural and political leanings as a bonafide Chicago city girl? You betcha.
Still, I’d like to remind the fans embroiled in the feeding frenzy that, like each of us, Tony and Paula are entitled to their own unique tastes and opinions. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. I’m also fervently hoping that Tony doesn’t take Paula up on her public challenge to dine together, and I’ll be really disappointed if their respective handlers talk them into such a conciliatory publicity stunt. This debate is just too tasty!