Anthony Bourdain, Alice Waters, and Duff Goldman at the 'Food For Thought' Forum

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Last night in Hartford, Connecticut, Anthony Bourdain, Alice Waters, and Duff Goldman sat down with moderator Colin McEnroe in the Bushnell Theater for the sold out "Food for Thought" forum. They tackled a wide range of topics, including celebrity, food television, cocaine use at Chez Panisse, airplane food, food programs in public schools, fast food chains, and on and on. Here are some highlights:

Opening the forum the first question was "What did you have for dinner last night?" Bourdain had pizza delivery, Duff had a hotdog in coach on Amtrak, and Alice Waters had a mozzarella and turnip green sandwich she brought on the plane from San Francisco. Some talk about them being culinary figures and how funny it was that they ate "Pizza, a sandwich, and a hot dog" for dinner the previous night was gleefully pointed out by Bourdain.

From there the conversation moved on to airline food, and how to improve it. Alice Waters mentioned she worked for American Airlines for 10 years and that her only responsibility was to "show up to these meeting – with the chefs." Then, in the slightly flimsy light air in which she speaks, she told a story of apples. Apparently at one point, Waters wanted to celebrate local apple farmers and tried to implement this on domestic flights. Clearly, the idea never took off — Bourdain proclaimed " Domestic carriers hate their passengers, why would they like their local farmers?" — adding "and my domestic flight would then be $2000."

Duff mentioned his celebrity status — but with absolute non-pretension. He told a story of being in Southern California for sushi with his brother — in an "autograph free" zone — and how he was mobbed with fans anyways. Then Leonardo DiCaprio walked in and no one even looked at him. He couldn't understand why he was being mobbed and DiCaprio wasn't "he was in Titanic!"– to which he realized his approachability as a chef, our basic instincts as animals, and the approachability of food in general.

When Bourdain was asked how he thought Kitchen Confidential would have an impact he said, "I didn't even think anyone would read it! I wrote it for my fry cook, I figured if he liked it, it'd be worth it."

When the topic of food television was discussed, Alice admitted to not watching TV, with the exception of Turner Classic Movies. Bourdain once again admitted his love for "stand and stir" shows like Molto Mario and his disdain for ones like Sandra Lee's (but maybe he should check out her new show then?)

Then the $28 billion dollar topic: food programs in public schools. According to Alice, we should "provide breakfast, lunch and a snack FOR FREE to every child in America," even if it cost billions. "How could it not be worth it?" she defended, "these children are our future." Then she mentioned a bumper sticker she saw that said, "If you are what you eat, I'm fast, cheap and easy" — and the shame in it. After that she went on and on till Bourdain said – "I put literacy above that as a priority" and everyone clapped.

Bourdain made a point to say that he eats for pleasure, that as a chef he's in the business of pleasure — not local or organic — he doesn't care where the tomato comes from, as long as it tastes good. He did however (since he has a two year old now) admit to "playing dirty" with his daughters mind – reminding her that Ronald McDonald had cooties and that his biggest fear would be her being sucked into the McDonald's crackpot. Later on, when asked what he would never eat, he said – Chicken McNuggets "I have to draw the line somewhere."

When asked there guilty pleasures, Alice Waters admitted caramel corn (which she received as a gift one Christmas) — and even after throwing it away to keep herself at bay from the sugary substance, she found herself pulling it out of the garbage the next morning.

Colin brought up a quote from Thomas McNamee's book Chez Panisse and Alice Waters in which Jeremiah Tower said, "It was cocaine that became the fuel for the energy that changed the way America dines." Waters kind of laughed it off and shrugged, and Bourdain exclaimed, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Duff added, "with the exception of French Laundry, in every other kitchen I worked in, I saw line cooks doing it."

When asked if Whole Foods was good or evil, Bourdain said evil. He called them the "Starbucks of organic food" and was absolutely against the ideology that supported banning live lobsters and foie gras in supermarkets.

Duff talked about his hypothetical meat wedding cake (appropriately covered in mashed potatoes) to which Bourdain asked "Have you seen the blog This is Why You're Fat? It's like, a double cheeseburger between two Krispy Kremes... stuff like that."

When asked which food trend they'd ban, they responded buffalo truffle oil (Bourdain), fusion cooking (Waters), and cupcakes (Goldman). Funnily enough, a local mobile cupcake truck was parked outside the venue selling cupcakes.

No mention of the DCist interview where Bourdain said, "There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic." Bourdain later recanted, twice. Water under the bridge?

When the audience Q&A was answered in the second half, the question of "What would your last meal be?" was asked — Alice Water responded "I'd have Cecilia Chang make me shark fin soup" to which Bourdain responded, "I don't think shark fins are local" — and everyone laughed… at her.

Michelle Mettler

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