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Steve Coomes: Hilarious ‘Ruth Bourdain’ blog nets James Beard Award nomination for food writing

by Steve Coomes

An undisclosed personality has channeled two of my favorite food writers, Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain, and combined their writing styles into an online avatar named Ruth Bourdain (RB).

And in less than a year since it began, the blog has garnered not only a ton of fans, it’s been nominated for a James Beard Award for food humor.

Unreal.

If I’m not one of your favorite food writers. or you simply want to jump to the blog, here’s the link. Prepare to laugh a lot if you know the personalities, and if you don’t, it’s well worth reading just to learn their nuances and get in on the jokes.

The impetus for the blog springs from Ruth Reichl’s tweets, which while laudable for their word choice, imagery and economy, often come off as treacly and “so swell to be me.”

I got hooked on her work as the New York Times dining critic in the early 1990s, I’m a fan of all three of her books (“Tender at the Bone,” “Comfort Me with Apples” and “Garlic and Sapphires”) and think her work at Gourmet was the best magazine overhaul I’ve ever witnessed.

But her tweets … not my fave despite my following her.

Bourdain is a fabulous talent as well. When I read his first book, “Kitchen Confidential,” I thought, “Well, that does it. No one need ever try to explain the life of a chef to outsiders. It’s done, and no one will top it.” (I also recommend the pseudo-sequel, “Medium Raw.”) Fans of his “No Reservations” TV show know he’s a “I am who I am” kind of guy. Have a look at his twisted tweets to see.

Best I can tell, RB was born thusly: Some time ago, Bourdain made mention of Reichl’s candy-coated tweets while live on a talk radio show in New York — and Reichl was listening. He was criticizing them in his typically snide way, so she called in to have her say.

The on-air tete a tete was in good fun, all had a big laugh about it and continued writing the way they write.

Late last year some unknown character—those supposedly in the know suspect it’s a food writer, but none will reveal who or even hint at the person’s gender—created a blog named “The Lair of Ruth Bourdain,” (RB) and followed with a Twitter account named RuthBourdain.

The hysterically horrible mashup avatar of Reichl’s and Bourdain’s faces is priceless, and the always-salty tweets are often gut busters.

To get the most out of RB, you should follow Reichl, because RB often manipulates her most recent posts. (A word of caution: The language used by RB echoes Bourdain’s own toxic vocabulary, so if that offends you as it sometimes it bugs me, tread carefully.)

Both the blog and the Twitter feed are red hot, and now this anonymous hermaphrodite is in the running for one of the most prestigious food writing awards in the country. In stories I’ve read about Ruth Bourdain, the writer says he/she will eventually go public, but even Reichl, a fan of RB, says she hopes the writer stays private for a long time, that it’s funnier that way.

My question is what will RB do if he/she wins a Beard Award? Have someone stand in to accept it? (If so, RB, at least find someone prettier than your avatar.)

Either way, I’ll be tuned in for a long time to come. It’s fun reading.

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