Bite fight: Tony Bourdain vs. Rachael Ray

By Colin Mahan

Dec 22, 2005

Looking at food, watching food being prepared, and learning about food recipes are all almost as fun as actually eating food. That's why loves cooking shows. These days, there are a lot of cooking shows, from the wacky old school Iron Chef, to the bopping, hammy Emeril Live! Since it's the holiday season and you are probably stuffing your face right now, figured we would pit two of our favorite celebrity chefs against each other: Rachael Ray vs. Tony Bourdain.

You probably know Rachael Ray. She's everywhere. At last count, she had almost a hundred shows on at various times of the day, and now her daytime talk show is about to infiltrate the airwaves. Despite the fact that she has no professional culinary training, she has a best-selling series of cookbooks (which she often signs at various kitchenware stores) as well as a new lifestyle magazine. If you turn around, she's probably behind you, smirking as she eats some "exotic" item like lentils. She is poised to become the next Martha Stewart, and the jury is out as to whether or not that's a "good thing."

In case you don't know Tony Bourdain, he is the swaggering, slightly goofy executive chef of NY brasserie Les Halles. He wrote a series of hilariously scathing stories for The New York Times about the NY restaurant industry, called Kitchen Confidential (yes, it inspired the short-lived Fox series of the same name), then started the whole "chefs go to crazy global places and eat weird things" trend with his Food Network show A Cook's Tour. Food Network didn't renew A Cook's Tour because Bourdain is generally cranky, which doesn't sit well with that goofy guy who unwraps candy in that cheesy diner on that one show. Worse, Bourdain made fun of Emeril. The Travel Channel gave Bourdain a new show, No Reservations; currently, there are no new episodes scheduled. C'est la vie.

The styles of these two hosts differ greatly. On No Reservations Bourdain visits far-away locales, like Malaysia, where he'll eat anything, and he basically hands himself over to the local culture while saying "be a traveler not a tourist." On 40$ a Day, Ray visits well-worn destinations, like Belgium, where she'll read aloud a restaurant menu, mispronounce the names, then say, "I don't know how to say it, but I sure do want to eat it." In short, these two represent the two halves of the American psyche: the adventurer and the homebody.

The ethos of the two also seem out of alignment. Ray extols the virtues of 30 Minute Meals, while Bourdain stresses the value of "good food, honestly prepared," often spending an entire day with his meal. On 40$ a Day, Ray's primary goal is to keep from spending over $40 on food per day of vacation. This leads her to stiff waiters with 10 percent tips, a practice that Bourdain has cited as reprehensible. What's more, since Ray has never, ever gone over $40, where is the drama?

The personalities of these hosts are where they really stand apart. One of Bourdain's charms is that he is kind of--for lack of a better word--"cheesy." With his earrings, his punk T-shirts, and his sometimes turgid narration, Bourdain is like that graying guy who never got over his teen years but who is smart enough to know it and not care. Bourdain is not without his drawbacks--he drinks too much, smokes too much, and has bad fashion sense. Ray, on the other hand, seems perky and healthy and often dresses in cute little outfits that seem freshly washed. However, if never again hears her cooing over hot chocolate in wintertime New York, the way she recently did on an episode of Tasty Travels, that will be just fine.

In closing, has decided there is room for all kinds of celebrity chefs. Just as there are many flavors of food in the world, so are there many flavors of celebrity chef. Perhaps you like tense tough-guy Bobby Flay, rotund racontuer Mario Batali, or wondrously wise Hiroyuki Sakai. Whatever your taste, TV chefs have got the recipe for you.

Do you have a favorite TV chef? Let us know. And happy holidays!

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  • hoffman9102 Feb 11, 2006

    I really like both of these chefs. Depending on my mood, they alternate being my faves. I loved the show where Tony scarfed down an entire COBRA, beating heart, warm blood, and all. It was sooo gross, but none the less fascinating. Then, he brazenly ordered up a plate of innards...from various animals, and had it plopped into a spicy broth, called it "menudo", and slurped and chewed his way through a huge bowl of it. He never gagged, never complained, and only only hesitated for a moment to put odd crap in his mouth. On the other hand, when I want to watch a cross between mary poppins, and martha stewart, I will go to Rachel Ray, and watch her be a baaaad girl, who orders a microbrew with her meal, in the middle of the day. Thats about as edgy as she will get, but, she does provide positive entertainment, and an enjoyable hour to kill.

  • rsloane Jan 27, 2006

    rachel ray is not cool!!

  • darrel_ashley Jan 23, 2006

    Rachel Ray is way cooler than that dude. I saw him a few times on Food Network and didn't like him at all.

  • tylenoljohnson Jan 16, 2006

    never seen tony but he has got to be better than rachel ray, anyway i like that great chefs of the world show

  • actiontwinkle Jan 03, 2006

    love tony, blech rachael. nuff said.

  • rsloane Jan 03, 2006

    I LOVE tony!! He's the best thing on TV, made obvious by the fact that the networks keep cancelling his shows. he's an original and fascinating. the only thing interesting about RR is that she's so popular, I just don't get it. She's the most boring, un-interested host with the most limited vocabulary. "yum" doesn't really describe something I can't taste for myself. her popularity only showcases our need for plain vanilla pudding that's easy to swallow. the public hates a challenge like tony -but it's so much more rewarding!!