Anthony Bourdain is a man of many, many talents.
He's a gifted culinary artist. He's a respected author. He's an exquisite story-teller. He's even a stand-up comic.
In front of a sold-out Riverside Theater crowd Friday night, Bourdain, host of "No Reservations" on The Travel Channel, wove each of those talents into an entertaining, enlightening and educational hour and 45 minute set.
Opening his show with a couple of minutes of jabs at his Food Network competition, Bourdain took his shots at the likes of Rachel Ray and Bobby Flay. He managed to sneak a few barbs in at Guy Fieri while expressing admiration for Adam Richman of "Man vs. Food," joking that people tune in just to see if his latest challenge will lead to his ultimate demise.
In some ways, Bourdain is not unlike your favorite college professor. He's well-read. He's well-educated. It goes without saying that he's well-traveled. And he's got a boatload of experience in the real world, but doesn't use that knowledge to come off as superior, instead, he attempts to share what he knows with others.
Bourdain talked about a recent New York Times story that said much of America's ground beef supply - especially that used for fast-food hamburgers - is soaked in ammonia.
"I think it's an American birthright to be able to enjoy a burger not dipped in a cleaning produce ... and served medium rare," he said.
That gave way to a bit about using reverse psychology on his infant daughter and how he's trying to dissuade her from falling under the golden arches' spell.
"Ronald McDonald has cooties," he said. "Or so I heard."
His stance on vegetarianism is well-documented; he's absolutely not a fan. And whether you agree with him or not, he's not the kind of guy that gets up, spouts his beliefs and chastises those who disagree. Bourdain made valid arguments for his dislike of the practice.
Though the profanity remained, the jokes went away when he talked about vegetarianism, especially when it comes to traveling abroad. Bourdain's dislike of the practice is well-documented. He considers it insulting to other cultures.
"It's just ... rude," he said, likening the practice to eating at grandma's house.
"You go to grandma's house, you eat the turkey, tell her it tastes great and you ask for seconds ... because it's Grandma," he said.
Perhaps not the most politically-correct stance in the world, but you have to admire his willingness to come out, say it and stand behind his claim - citing valid reasons. And while he shuns vegetarianism, he is an avid supporter of the organic and regional approach to cooking.
Give Bourdain credit for this, too: unlike many entertainers, no matter the genre, who try to garner phoney applause by kissing the hometown's rear-end, Bourdain came right out and admitted that he has very little experience with dining in Milwaukee.
He did enjoy a lunch earlier in the day at Bacchus which he told the crowd was a terrific meal, but was straight to the point in telling the crowd he had very little knowledge about Milwaukee restaurants.
But he did offer a genuine appreciation for area chefs, who he credited with being ahead of their customers when it comes to dining trends and thinking outside of the box.
"They're doing something really wonderful here," he told the crowd.
During some early-show technical difficulties, Bourdain drew a big round of applause when he pulled a Pabst "Tall Boy" out from the podium and took a big sip.
"Nothing like a good Austrian beer," he quipped.
The only drawback of the evening was a seemingly-constant stream of comments, shouts and other obnoxiousness from a crowd consisting heavy on restaurant industry insiders. To his credit, he laughed most of the comments off and slyly avoided questions and invitations from audience members during a Q & A session.
Prior to his show, Bourdain was out and about in Milwaukee taping pieces for an upcoming "No Reservations" episode spotlighting dining in the Heartland.