Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thoughts on our panelists: Duff Goldman, Anthony Bourdain & Alice Waters

[Anthony Bourdain, Alice Waters and Duff Goldman onstage.
Photo courtesy of Fox 61, Nick Caito.]

There was a lot of buzz surrounding last week's Forum; the excitement around Food for Thought was palpable. You could touch it. You could feel it. You could taste it. (Yup, we went there, and expect more food puns where that came from). Without a doubt, Hartford was a'buzz last Thursday, and we are still digesting it all. One thing is for certain: our panelists did not disappoint.

Duff was incredibly accessible, not to mention friendly, outgoing, and personable, every minute he was here. He high-fived every YOUTH Forum kid coming off-stage after the "Welcome Back" remarks to start the second half - even as the stage manager urged him back onstage. He did whatever was asked of him by his fans. Photos? No problem. Autographs? You got it. Call your sister's neighbor's best friend on his cell phone? Sure thing. (True story - a guest at the pre-Forum dinner mentioned that Geof was her favorite Charm City Cakes chef, and Duff promptly got Geof on the phone to say hello!) After The Forum was over, he jumped down into the audience to say hi to a friend and, while he was at it, a few more fans. He even stopped to talk to fans on the street outside of Trumbull Kitchen who, wide-eyed, disbelievingly, stuttered that they had been at the Simulcast earlier that evening. (Oh, did we mention he and Tony came to our staff after-party?!) You would never know he was the media-sensation that he is... instead, he just felt like a long-time friend. He was the sleeper-hit of The Forum. We knew he'd be fun, we knew the guy could make cakes and make us laugh, but he was more cool, smart, funny, articulate, entertaining, wise, and laid-back than you even realize on tv. (He told us he wants to come back to The Forum and promised that he could riff on any topic we asked him to!) His only demand was for The Bruins score as he came off-stage (and even then, he asked so nicely); we were so impressed with Duff that Doris is writing his mom a letter to tell her what a nice boy she raised.

Alice was ethereal yet firmly principled; it's easy to forget that so many of the things that we now take for granted about the way we think about food and eating come from her teaching. Tasty New England, in their write-up of The Forum, blogged: "she’d be anybody’s first casting choice for Mother Nature," and that about sums it up. In her visit to Billings Forge Community Works before The Forum, she visited - and purchased something from - every single stand at their Farmer's Market, and she even showed off her wares onstage that evening. It's clear that she lives what she teaches and that nothing is more important to her than promoting her life's mission. And even though the two guys teased her a bit about her inability to sell her own image for a tv show like theirs, that inability to brand - that purity - was perhaps what was most likeable about her after all.

Anthony - known as "the bad boy of cuisine" and the acerbic, often crude, irreverent and adventurous chef/author/world-traveling lush - was actually nice. Really nice. He even seemed a little nervous at the prospect of participating in a discussion in front 3,000+ people and was genuinely excited to meet his fellow panelists. Despite his public remarks against Alice Waters, both seemed happy to meet one another - they even exchanged contact information backstage. He and Duff really hit it off, and he interviewed Duff for a podcast which will appear soon on the No Reservations website. When he came into our office to film the podcast he shook all of our hands and engaged in small talk with the staff, despite the fact that many of us just stared, star-struck, unable to respond. Maybe he's used to eliciting that type of response from people, but he never seemed affected by his celebrity.

No, The Forum wasn't a complete love fest. Anthony got Alice on her choice for her last meal (Really? Shark fin soup? Is that local Alice?) There were certainly some select four-letter adjectives and all three at least nodded toward drug use in restaurant kitchens. But even amidst the onstage disagreements and heated moments all three panelists were accommodating, interesting and gracious.

1 comment:

Laura said...

It was an incredible Forum - I absolutely LOVED it!