Last Night's Bourdain-Chang Show: Eataly, Too Many Hamburgers, and Dying Creativity
SF Eater 92Y didn't allow photos last night, so here's an old one of the gruesome twosome in San Francisco.
At this point in their respective careers, Anthony Bourdain and David Chang can do their brotherly cynics act in their sleep. So their appearance last night at the 92Y, where they took to the stage for a discussion with Budd Mishkin, wasn't so much a show as a rerun of a show, one in which the audience knew when to expect the F-bombs to drop, the Alice Waters digs to surface, and the "Who, me?" rags-to-riches tales to be rehashed. But give Chang and Bourdain credit: Even though they didn't cover any new territory last night, they gave a fairly amusing tour of the land they long ago colonized.
Introduced by Mishkin as the Mick and Keith of the food world, Chang and Bourdain spent an hour and a half answering questions posed by both Mishkin and the audience. Amid much rehashing of their respective life stories -- Bourdain's pre-bestseller burn-out ("I had no plans to live past 30") and Chang's ramen epiphany in Japan -- there were the by now rote slams on Alice Waters ("Did you see the photos of [her] kitchen in Vanity Fair?" Bourdain asked. "You're telling me I should be working on a farm right now and that's your kitchen?") and Alan Richman ("D-O-U-C-H-E-B-A-G," quoth Bourdain).
But there was also some interesting stuff, despite Mishkin's overly reverential tone and marshmallow questions. When asked what he thinks about chefs who seem hungry to expand their empires, Chang responded that "the chef-driven restaurant has proven it doesn't work anymore. If Cru can't ... then it doesn't work. There's a generation of chefs 35 to 42 years old who don't have restaurants anymore. It just doesn't make money. As you get bigger, you have to feed this beast. ... I'm not going to say no to an opportunity that's going to make some more money ... but there is a breaking point. It has negatively affected New York restaurants: People eat better as a whole, but creativity is dying."
Along the same lines, when asked about the current burger-joint epidemic, Chang said, "We don't need every restaurant to be a Shake Shack. No more hamburgers, no more steakhouses. Hamburgers are delicious, but if everyone starts to open hamburger restaurants, what happens to everyone else, to the creativity?"
That said, Bourdain, responding to Mishkin's observation that Americans have become more obsessed with their meals, said that "we're catching up with the European and Asian tradition. You have some understanding of what's on your plate. ... The more we eat, the more we appreciate it. For all of the silliness that comes with it, that's a good thing."