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Anthony Bourdain Calls Fellow Celeb Chef “Dangerous”

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Chefs are the Original Nutritionists, But Not All Deserve the Title

It’s fun to to call yourself a chef. Even better when someone else calls you one. I’m just a serious home cook. But that hasn’t kept me from playing along when, for a webcast or radio interview, someone has been generous enough to call me “Chef Luke” while I walked their audience through the basics of knife care or beef stock preparation.

A chef, loosely defined, is someone who cooks for a living. But the more accurate term for that is “line cook,” or “professional cook” or just plain “cook.”

“Chef,” used properly, refers to “a highly skilled professional proficient in all aspects of food preparation.” As my Culinary Institute of America cookbook says, a chef is “a lifelong student, a teacher, a craftsman….[with] an appreciation of and dedication to quality and excellence, and a sense of responsibility to self and the community.”

By that definition, I think it’s safe to say that Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee are not chefs. Not by a long shot. And as Anthony Bourdain—yeah, he’s a real chef—suggested in his provocative TV Guide interview this week, none of these people should be allowed near a kitchen.

Guy Fiero: The Future of American Cuisine?

You can pick your reasons why they should be barred. You can cite their across-the-board love of sugar and refined flour or their shameless hawking of processed foods. You could go after their near-complete silence on matters of source, or freshness, or farmers or the humane treatment of animals. You could mention how they undermine their own industry, encouraging fans to continue lowering the bar on restaurant food quality for the sake of saving another dollar eating out, all the while snuggling up with giant food conglomerates happy to provide your family another supersized “meal” for cheap.

In his interview with TV Guide, Bourdain said, “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.”

As expected, most of the media response has focused on Paula Deen’s love of butter (as well as sugar and deep-fried foods). But they’re missing Bourdain’s larger point.

These over-the-top, fashion-challenged, cartoonish, catch-phrasing in-your-face TV chef personalities are on a mission to deepen America’s pathological relationship with food. If you were an alien species hoping to weaken the human race by steering it toward a diet of “awesome extreme pepper jack pretzels and red rocker margarita chicken poppers,” this is the group you’d send to Earth.

So, no, these folks are not so much chefs as they are weapons of culinary warfare sent from outer space. Their targets: good food and good health. And though their jaws might smart from Anthony Bourdain’s jabs, they should count themselves lucky.

Truth is, he was easy on ‘em. Next time, he just might take off the oven mitts.

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  • Spencer

    Hi Dr. Cate,

    I recently had the pleasure of catching you on a Podcast, via Undergroundwellness.com. I think the message you have an important one and it really helps bring people back down to Earth.

    Keep doing what you are doing and more people will jump on the banwagon, they just need the information.

    Regards,

    Spencer

  • Hi Jennifer,

    You can’t judge a chef by a single ingredient, fer shure. (Except maybe when it comes to pork produced by Smithfield foods).

  • Jennifer

    Sorry! I meant to write “all they knew” not “new.” I need to stop typing so fast! 🙂

  • Jennifer

    Hi,

    I would just like to add that even though some of these food t.v. personalities use flour doesn’t mean they don’t know how to cook or that they are trying to do us a disservice by exposing us to recipes that include four or sugar. We seem to forget some of the finest Italian restaurants base many of their meals around pasta a.k.a flour. I don’t see anyone discrediting Giada De Laurentiis or any other Italian chef just because they make flour laden pastas and pizzas and use sugar in their recipes. What makes the difference is they cook from scratch and don’t eat highly processed, chemically altered boxed food that can withstand a nuclear Holocaust. Also, Rachel Ray may not have gone to culinary school, but she has been cooking her whole life so doesn’t hands on experience count for anything. Way back when you learned a trade from an elder and no one thought any less of your skills just because you didn’t have some degree hanging on the wall. Some of the most skillful people I have met learned all they new from their skilled father or mother or grandparent. Just another viewpoint to add to this discussion.

    Luke, I for one have enjoyed your pizza recipe (thank you for sharing it with us) and don’t feel sorry for consuming the floury dough. It was made from scratch and love. Just like how my mom and her mom always cooked for their family. They, just like the “real” chefs spent all day in the kitchen preparing food and were/are much under appreciated for it. Mothers are the “best” chefs they just don’t get paid for it. 🙂

  • Mike

    Hi Cate, I eventually became unsatisfied in the culinary world. I went back to school at age 40 and transitioned into a career working w/ animals. However, I still maintain a passion for food.

    Due to some health concerns, I really started focusing on my diet about 15 months ago. I started a whole- foods, primal-ish type diet at that time. I’ve had tremendous success! I dropped nearly 40 lbs. in 4 months. (Current BMI= 21.9 Age 53). What I think was so helpful for me was the abilty to prepare my own foods from scratch. The best health advice is “learn to cook”. I make bone broths, coconut milk, tallow, mayonaisse, kombucha and kefir.

    I’ve read both of your books, and I’m glad you have this website. They are great resources.

    Thanks for your good work, Mike

  • MIke, what you wrote is music to my eyes. Thank you for your 15 year contribution to making the world a healthier place. If you are really a zookeeper, how on Earth ….??

  • Mike

    Greetings, I was a culinary professional for more than 15 years. ( past 12 years=zookeeper). I worked in high quality, upscale, fine-dining and gourmet kithens. Many chefs eventually succumb to restaurant burnout due to long, often stressful, workdays. (I worked many 12-15 hr days on my feet without a break). But before that happens, the best Chefs share this: a passion for real food. Flavor; freshness; everything made from scratch with the best ingredients; applying time-consuming, labor-intensive techniques to bring out the true essence of the ingredients. Processed products were ananthema, microwaves a sacrilege. We rendered our own tallow, clarified butter, made roasted bone stocks and reduced them to demi-glace. Always chopping, slicing, mixing, simmering, skimming, peeling, skinning, boning, pounding. Turned vegetables, patés, mousses, mayonaisse from scratch, sorbets, so many sauces…All leading to that final presentation on the plate. It is a demanding world of craft and creativity, and skillful time-honored tradition. And during a busy dinner service, the pressure is unbelievable.
    Though Anthony Bourdain may be a bit gruff, I see his point. The word “chef” is thrown around too loosely. But, I suppose, Britney Spears and Pavarotti are both “singers”.

  • Hi Mariann,

    If you’re in the mood to read something REALLY disturbing, click this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smithfield_Foods and learn a little about the way Smithfield Foods does business (just make sure you’re not having dinner while you read it).

    Smithfield Foods uses Paula’s friendly face and good ol’ Southern charm to get us to look the other way and buy more of their products. http://www.smithfield.com/paula/.

    I’m with you that a good personality goes a long way. In fact, sometimes I’m just not up for another helping of Anthony Bourdain’s New York City snarkiness. I’ve got an idea how we can all win here: Since you’re a fan of all the TV cooks I took a shot at, maybe they’d listen to you if you dropped them a line telling them that you’d like them even more if they championed humane animal treatment in food production.

    Oh, and while your at it, tell that Fieri fellow to get a haircut.

  • Mariann

    I’m sorry, but this was kind of disturbing. Our family loves Paula Dean, and the other “non” professional chefs. The food they create and share, is in tune with the way most people live. Some of us actually practice moderation and enjoy what we eat. We do not eat expensively and don’t spend hours and hours in the kitchen to prepare one meal. We do not use unpronounceable ingredients and yes…yes…Sugar is a staple in our pantries. These people cited in the article, may not be considered true “Chefs”….but they are the ones we watch and follow as a family. Because they are real, touchable, friendly and familiar. Personality and openness is the big draw. The food they create is just a bonus!!

  • Yes, Tony Bourdain is somewhat of a skank, drinks like a fish, and smokes like a chimney – but he knows real food when he sees it. The boys and I started watching his show after reading your comments about him in Deep Nutrition. It’s been interesting. I’d have to agree with him that these “chefs” are largely just shills for the industrial foods system.

  • I don’t think that anyone is fooled into thinking that Paula Deen is making healthy food, and I don’t think she claims that she does. The point of the article is who is actually qualified to be called a chef, and Paula Deen does not fit the definition of “chef”. Her recipes are filled with sugar and flour and her show is about entertainment, not health. Being able to cook does not make you a chef.

  • I really enjoy your posts

    Although I love Anthony Bourdain I think his comments were a little off the cuff and across the board. Lest he be reminded of his many guest spots on Top Chef whereby many participants are not culinary cum laude. If you’re going to go big, check your passport first. Oh, and lay off the pal mal’s!

    Whatever one puts in their fridge, on their table and in their mouth is a choice. I don’t know many average American families who have a head of household that attends culinary school nor do I believe doing so will make you a nutritionist.

    It’s up to each of us to seek out good information and make decisions based not on who is most charming, has the whitest teeth, OR the sassiest mouth but what works and improves our own lives. *Ahem* this is a “t.v. guide” interview afterall….sometimes it really is “just” entertainment.

    Glad I found you!

  • Hi Chrissy
    I believe that some of the haughtiness comes from suffering the cognitive dissonance of being taught (by nutritionists) that their hard-to-make and very delicious sauces are bad for us. Thankfully, several “underground” health-science movements in the US are actively exposing the fact that butter does not cause atherosclerosis and salt does not cause heart or kidney disease. Did you know the glycosaminoglycans in bone-broth-based Demi-Glaces are a superfood missing from most American’s diets? Check out the link on the right to the Nutrition and Metabolism Society for more insights.

  • My mother is a cook. I earned more from her than any acerbic beer swilling chef (and yes my step father was a “real chef”…with the degree and everything…)Many a chef I have met have been haughty, alcohol laden individuals with a narcissistic tone to their lives and a love of rich sauces and the like. And THAT is a generalization, I know. No one makes anyone use butter, for Gods sake. It is both unprofessional and declasse of him to put forth such nonsense with a tinge of jealousy. I didnt realize, either, that being a cook on national tv meant your fashion sense decided in part of how good a cook you are at any time.

    People need to stop blaming others for their food addictions and/or bad choices. I make the unwise food choices that got me in my health jackpots, not my mother, or the government or Paula Dean. How about Wolfgang Puck and his chocolates? Shall we also blame him?

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