Thursday, January 8, 2009

Battle of the Twits: Young vs. Bourdain

I apologize in advance for the following distasteful imagery. After doing a Google image search, both these photos popped up and they were just too apropo to say no to. Behold! Tony Young and Anthony Bourdain, respectively:

Today I am a sad Top Chef fan. Not because my favorite cheftestant was voted off last night as is often the source of my misery, but because I find this season to be the worst one yet. I don’t have a cheftestant that I love nor one that I despise therefore its hard for me to feel much more than ambivalent when someone has to “pack [their] knives and go.” I scorn Padma’s recent turn of sleep-inducing ensembles and am bitterly defeated by the loss of Gail Simmons. Even more upsetting is the news that came before the season even premiered - that swashbucking, quick-tongued badass and oft-featured guest judge Anthony Bourdain would not be returning. Whether intentionally or not, he dismissed himself from ever appearing on the show again by insulting Padma’s intelligence when “…he said she wouldn’t be his first choice for Barack Obama’s cabinet…or to host a show.” With the “tough critic” shoes vacant in lieu of Bourdain, the show has sunken to new depths with last night’s introduction of that pathetic little munchkin Toby Young.

One of the most irritating things about his debut was the way that the network execs at Bravo clearly wanted us to adore him. All month long in promos they’ve been stuffing down our throats Young’s comment that “I have found the weapons of mass destruction, and they are in this bowl” as though priming us to think: “this guy is badass and cool.” I hate this sort of viewer manipulation and feel that - rather than having a producer tell me what to think - the filmed material should speak for itself. In this case, if Toby Young is a decent substitute to fill Bourdain’s massive shoes, I want that conclusion to come from him, not from over-hyped sound bytes taken out of context.

And my conclusion is that Toby Young is a half-assed replacement for Bourdain. Sure, Young can dish out a shocking quip, but to what end? The only point of his comments seems to be to hurt and insult. His remarks offer no constructive points as to what – in culinary terms – went awry with the dish, and instead are just malicious for the sake of being malicious and getting a laugh. What does comparing food to weapons of mass destruction say about the dish other than that you didn’t like it? Even his compliments make no sense and weren’t really all that witty either (“It was like Tom Cruise’s cameo in Tropic Thunder,” he says in regards to Jeff’s avocado sorbet). It seems to me that he is trying way too hard just to get a laugh – playing to the cameras rather than taking his role as judge seriously.

By contrast, Bourdain can deliver shocking sermons about the food he is eating too, but his comments actually contain vestiges of helpful critique amidst the humor. When eating a sloppily prepared “cutting edge Thanksgiving” feast he remarked: “It’s like Betty Crocker and Charles Manson had a love child, and he’s cooking for me.” Witty and constructive. I hope Bravo is ashamed of itself for hiring a guy who uses cruelty for the sake of getting laughs and seems to know – or care – next to nothing about food.

Where does this uninvited mean streak and complete lack of respect for all things culinary come from? I have proposed three possible reasons for why Young’s wit sours while Bourdain’s goes down so delectably:
  1. This one is obvious. Bourdain has spent years and I mean years working his way up from dishwasher to executive chef of the highly successful (and highly recommended my me) Les Halles restaurants in Manhattan and thus knows the industry inside and out. He knows why a dish tastes good or why something doesn’t work and thus is extremely qualified to dispense critiques. By contrast Young (from my research) has little to no culinary background. The closest thing I could find was that he competed and won in a celebrity episode of a British TV show called Come Dine With Me in which “five amateur chefs [compete] against each other hosting a dinner party for the other contestants.” Pish tosh.
  2. His humor is British and doesn’t necessary fly for all Americans. I think this is a total cop out answer, but my dad thinks that this might be true.
  3. You people aren’t going to like me much for saying this, but Toby Young’s vindictive, malicious unpleasantness could partly be due to a Napolean complex due to the fact that he is a bald, overweight and short. Not to mention ugly, but technically that’s a matter of opinion. Thus – and I know this sounds clich├ęd – he seeks to drag others down in order to make himself feel better. Bourdain on the other hand – tall, lanky, godlike in his sex appeal – has no such insecurity and need not stoop to such a level.
I’m partial to explantion number three, in case you hadn’t guessed, though I think all three play a part in why Young is such a poor contribution to Top Chef.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that Young is no Bourdain and that his Tom Cruise comment was ultra-lame, but this could be a case of trying too hard to make a strong first impression. If he can tone it down and, yes, make his comments about the food instead of himself, he could make an entertaining judge. But if next week he says something reminds him of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, I'll be willing to write him off.

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