Anthony Bourdain's assistant is threatening to beat someone with a baguette. This someone—a woman attending the $150-per-person dinner at Union celebrating the bad-boy chef-superstar's new book, The Nasty Bits—has just given Bourdain an unbidden, full-on, under-the-table crotch massage.
Bourdain—Tony, for the familiar—cheerfully acknowledged earlier that his love's for sale, as he was perpetually pulled this way and that to entertain paying customers. (PR person: "Tony, there's eight new tables you have to talk to." Tony: "Yeah, okay." Me: "You're a whore." Tony: "I know, just give me a tube of lube and point me in the right direction.") He's not reading from the book, just circulating, sitting down with his fans and exercising his monumental charisma. His location in the room is betrayed at any given moment by peals of near-hysterical laughter. Tonight, $150 buys you a four-course, nine-dish meal from his Les Halles Cookbook, prepared flawlessly by Union chef Ethan Stowell and his crew; a copy of The Nasty Bits, and an intimate moment when he inscribes it to you; and a photo snapped with your digital camera, maybe. It does not buy you access to his crotch.
Post-molestation, Bourdain bursts out onto the sidewalk, drags his assistant, Beth, around the corner, and quietly loses his cool. She's wielding the baguette from a prior tense moment: Tony was signing books for the cooks in Union's kitchen, everyone drinking cans of Budweiser, the cooks starry-eyed, Tony larger than life—a moment too cute to pass up, according to the PR person who shoved me through the door. "What're YOU doing here?" Beth snarled, picking up the baguette menacingly. "Where're your scars? You have to have scars to be back here"—scars from burns, the marks of kitchen cred. This woman gets paid to keep people at bay. I mumbled and tried not to flinch.
"She's okay," Tony said over his shoulder. "We like her." Someone handed me a Bud.
Some sort of détente is reached between the assistant and the crotch-rubber, and the latter remains at her table. Somehow everyone knows about the incident in minutes; she is pointed out throughout the remainder of the evening. She's wearing pink. She is referred to ubiquitously as the Crazy Pink Bitch.
Tony, indeed, drives the ladies insane. He epitomizes tall, dark, and handsome; he unapologetically drinks too much and smokes like a chimney; he travels the world eating cobra hearts for his TV show. In person, he's all velvety brown eyes, cushy-looking lips, and dirty one-liners. A woman comes bearing a book, saying: "I kind of had a fantasy about what you would write... 'The Nasty Bits for a nasty girl.'" Tony: "I can do that and then some."
His patter's meant to shock and titillate. On ending up with his entire arm stuck down a wet hole in the sand while digging for local geoducks: "It was like fisting Shamu." On Seattle: "If it weren't so crunchy, and you could get brains and a handgun delivered in the middle of the night, I'd live here." On Salumi: "Love, love, LOVE." Is it hot in here? It is, actually, hot in here. Everyone's drinking freely and sweating lightly. When Tony steps outside, an adoring circle forms around him. People appear to be taking up smoking just to be near.
Among the guests are the chef/owner of Sitka & Spruce, the chef/owner of the Boat Street Cafe, Eva's pastry chef, the sous-chef from Bainbridge's Madoka, Mangetout Catering's manager, the owner of Mistral, the Seattle P-I's food editor, the editor of Guiliani Bugialli's new book. The manager of the U-District Pagliacci, wearing an incredibly loud shirt with Elvis airbrushed on it, is triumphant: Tony breakfasted on his pizza that morning before a University Book Store reading (Tony had the AGOG Primo; his assertion: "Now THAT'S a fucking PIE"). The shirt, naturally, prompts a story from Tony about a thrilling yet disturbing experience skydiving with a fat Elvis imitator strapped on his back, intoning from behind in free-fall, "HOW DO YOU LIKE IT, TONY?"
The evening begins to show its age. Tony disappears. Speculation puts him across the street at the Lusty Lady; Beth has told me to meet them at Sonya's (shhh). Someone else says they're at Can Can. Bumbling, drunken search parties are dispatched, cell-phone calls are exchanged. Tony's nowhere to be found. The Union crew and assorted hangers-on repair to the Alibi Room for consolation shots of Jäger, tired, feeling a little jilted maybe, but happy.