(Grand Rapids, MI) — After watching many seasons of the always intriguing No Reservations and mostly entertaining Top Chef, we were excited when Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert announced they were bringing their Good vs. Evil stage tour to Grand Rapids. We bundled up against the cold and joined our friends for an evening hopefully filled with laughter, good food, and camaraderie...
It is a Sunday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That means the city is, for the most part, closed. Not exactly the best night (or time of the year) for two foodie celebrities like Bourdain and Ripert to experience all we have to offer. Little hope, then, that they’ll be skulking our streets in search of the elusive “meat on a stick” after the show. Still, there is a good crowd at DeVos Hall. Maybe we can show them some love after all.
We pick up our VIP tickets and badges, then wait in line for a $5 beer. Before we can be served, however, Bourdain takes the stage to much applause. We hustle into our seats, drinkless, rushed, and if not a spectacle then a nuisance to other seated attendees. I hate being late, for anything.
What follows is about 90 minutes (probably less) of familiar shtick from these two veterans of food-related television. They take turns interrogating each other about controversy surrounding them, or recent events. Because they are friends, they have inside “dirt” that provides much of the humor. Bourdain is scathing and delights in illuminating Ripert’s darker side—such as his fist fight with another restaurant patron—while Eric is more reluctant but impish in recounting Anthony’s exploits, such as the whole Paula Deen diabetes scuffle. The stories are familiar, particularly if you keep up with either of them on Twitter or watch their shows. Familiar, but comfortable and funny. (I am particularly and oddly delighted that Ripert hit Z’s for a quick bite before the show. Just the image of this excellent French chef sitting in a place known for ribs is, well...rib-tickling.)
After some time, they retire to two easychairs and exchange stories before turning up the house lights and taking inane questions from the audience. There is the usual confusion about who is shouting out queries, and more than one outburst from a clearly over-served audience member. It all adds to the chaos and hilarity. Finally, Bourdain and Ripert thank us and head backstage. I’m a little disappointed the show wasn’t longer, but others seem to feel as if it were the right length. I could listen to Tony all night. I’ve always been a big fan of his writing style and literary influences. Watching his show is sometimes like reading a book.
Our foursome scampers to the Monroe room, flashing our badges, and are among the first to enter the VIP room. Appetizers courtesy Bar Divani are offered and plentiful, but it’s a cash bar. I pony up for a $5 Arcadia Anglers Ale and then, later, a $4 Sam Adams. Expensive and uninspired choices, considering Grand Rapids Beer Week is just around the corner. I’m pretty sure I saw Tony drinking a Bell’s on-stage!
The Deviled Eggs with Garam masala and mango chutney are a slightly spicy sweet version of the classic. Chicken Sliders, with Morrocan spiced Otto’s Farm chicken, grilled pineapple, and avocado relish also present a unique taste profile a cut above standard fare. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Carpacio and Smoked Lamb Sausage are both limp, cold, and virtually tasteless.
Other VIP guests form a queue and the guests of honor appear, seated at a table, gamely smiling for pictures as long as there’s a cookbook to sign. It’s clear from their facial expressions and robotic maneuvers, this is just another stop on the tour, just another paycheck, just another one-night stand. After a time, we bore of watching the parade of giddy fans and head back home.
I met Anthony Bourdain in 2008 at the South Beach Food & Wine Show. I was assigned to his demonstration stage and intimidated as hell. Turns out he was quite approachable and frankly after a six-pack, downright affable. Jeremy and I enjoy both his cable shows and we’re looking forward to a night out with our fellow foodie friends JoJo and Ivy.
There’s some confusion as to when the event starts, but TicketMaster confirms the doors open at 7 pm with Bourdain and Ripert taking to the stage at 7:30 pm. We linger over dinner at our place (vegetarian jambalaya over rice and a fresh fruit tart) enjoying the last few sips of luscious red wine JoJo and Ivy brought over before departing at quarter to seven. The doors clearly opened early as Devos Place is buzzing with book sales and ticket lines. Suddenly we hear thunderous applause; the show has begun 15 minutes earlier than advertised. Yet another reason to hate TicketMaster.
We struggle to find our seats and I’m cringing at the thought of slipping into our fourth row center seats. For one, I don’t want to be disrespectful and more importantly—as we do the “excuse me, excuse me” shuffle past those already seated—I don’t want them to call us out. Turns out lots of folks must have relied on TicketMaster because throngs of people arrive late.
Despite missing the intro and set-up, it’s soon obvious a “roast” is taking place. Anthony Bourdain is pacing back and forth behind a seated Eric Ripert grilling him about current events and trends in the food industry. “How many times have you been on Martha Stewart?” in reference to Ripert’s recent appearance on her show. “I’ve been on Martha 12 times” Ripert proudly yet innocently replies. He then gets embarrassed at the double entendre.
One of my favorite stories Bourdain shares is about Ripert observing a woman belittle a Morrocan waiter at a Parisian bistro. Ripert goes into the kitchen to tell the chef (being Eric Ripert has it’s benefits after all) he was very troubled by what he saw and asks the chef permission to tell the woman what he thinks. The chef agrees and Ripert tells the woman her behavior was out of line. The woman becomes irate and when Ripert realizes she is never going take his observations to heart, he blames her poor attitude on “mal baisee” a French slang meaning “badly screwed”, or rather, she hasn’t been properly laid in some time. At this her husband stands up and threatens to take the argument outside. Bourdain delights in sharing with the audience that Ripert, a practicing Buddhist and advocate of non-violent behavior, punches the man in the nose. The audience roars with laughter.
They switch roles and it’s payback time as Ripert questions Bourdain about past drug use, world travels, and criticism of celebrity chefs. We see a softer side of Bourdain emerge. A happy marriage and toddler seem to have calmed him, though he’s still quick-witted and sharp-tongued. At one point he decrees the only thing that will save Top Chef is the addition of “monkeys with boners.”
Our VIP tickets gain us access to an after-party where Bourdain and Ripert sign books and food is catered by Bar Davani. While both the party and catering are a yawn, the show was relatively solid. If you’ve read Bourdain’s books and keep up on industry news, there wasn’t a lot of fresh territory covered but the interaction between the two was extremely enjoyable.