There are a few straightforward rules to follow when hanging out with celebrity chefs, according to the fictional character Ruth Bourdain. For instance, “Do: Rub Tom Colicchio’s head with the finest extra virgin olive oil. Don’t: Put barrettes in his soul patch.”
Such sage advice comes from the Twitter-born parody mash-up of former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and frequently profane television host Anthony Bourdain. The result is a brash, drug- and sex-fueled voice that sharply parodies the most ludicrous of food trends.
For three years, the person behind the voice was a mystery. Then earlier this year, The New York Times revealed that she was actually a he — Josh Friedland, a food and travel writer and creator of the site The Food Section. He recently published the book Comfort Me with Offal under the Ruth Bourdain byline.
“I was starting to get a little burnout with the whole food discourse and [things were] maybe getting a little ridiculous in terms of some of the pretentiousness and the language about food,” said Friedland. “And then, it’s just gotten so complicated, and I think there was a need for satire.”
The idea for Ruth Bourdain came from a combination of real events: Ruth Riechl was tweeting sensitive musing about her breakfast (“Spectacular late summer morning. Sun shining. Birds singing. The last of the peaches baked into cobbler. Warm. Cold splash of cream. Coffee.) and Anthony Bourdain was reading them on his Sirius radio show.
Friedland admits that the instantaneousness of the social media age contributed to the creation of the character, which now has more than 230,000 followers on Twitter. “I don’t think you could have done it without Twitter,” he said. “Because on the one hand, there was no barrier for me just to say, ‘Ok, I had this idea, I’m going to go and, within five minutes, create the character and start doing it.’ You know, I didn’t have to… pitch it to WNYC.”
More than three years and 3,000 tweets later, Ruth Bourdain is a James Beard Award–winning author. In 2011, the revered food organization awarded the character a prize in the then newly created category of humor.
The real Bourdain’s reaction to the parody was that he was “flattered and disturbed in equal measure.” Along with chef Eric Ripert, Bourdain and Reichl speculate hilariously about the identity or Ruth Bourdain in this clip from Bourdain’s radio show.
With the recognition piling up, Friedland decided that, after three years, it was time to ‘fess up to being the author. “That’s the underlying theme in, obviously, Anthony Bourdain, but also in Ruth [that food is] very sexual,” he said. “You know, [Bourdain’s] whole thing is as if you’re experiencing something narcotic.”
Now, in Comfort Me with Offal, Ruth Bourdain runs amok on recent food trends and doles out advice like “how to survive a vegan apocalypse.” (Ruth’s rule for that: “Never look a vegan in the eyes. They will trick you with their immortality and take your soul.”) When it comes to “the art of getting gastrostoned,” the author instructs: “When serving cocaine at a formal dinner, always place the coke spoon to the outside of the soupspoon.”
Friedland says that the book also offers useful advice, but, as expected, he doesn’t take it too seriously. “I expect people to have fun with it,” he said. “It’s bathroom reading.”