Restaurant critic Alan Richman in the hot seat at 25th anniversary roast
May 16th, 2012
05:30 PM ET
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You may recognize Alan Richman's name from his 25 years as GQ Magazine's restaurant critic, his numerous James Beard Journalism Awards (including the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award he won just last week) or his highly publicized "Best New Restaurants in America" and "10 Best Restaurants in New York" lists. You may be acquainted with his 2004 anthology of food essays "Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater" or his classes at the French Culinary Institute, where he serves as Dean of Food Journalism and New Media.

But, if you're not an obsessive follower of food literature, you probably know Alan Richman as the guy who got a Sazerac thrown in his face on an episode of Treme. The casting was hardly an accident.

In his 2010 book, "Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook," author, TV host and professional provocateur Anthony Bourdain wrote a chapter entitled, "Alan Richman is a Douchebag." Harsh language, sure, but an awful lot of people felt he had it coming. In November of 2006, when New Orleans was in the midst of crawling out of the muck and devastation left by Hurricane Katrina, Richman penned a cruelly-timed assessment of the city's restaurants for GQ magazine, slamming the cuisine and chefs, and chastising them for preserving a cuisine with which he was not especially impressed.

For this, Bourdain bestowed the "Douchebag of the Year" award to Richman at the 2008 Golden Clog Awards at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, citing the recipient as "the best example of twisted, repressed, or compromised 'I'd rather be making lemon bundt cake with My Cat, Mr. Mufflesworth' journalist who actually HATES food and hates the people who make food even more."

Richman swung back with a deeply unfavorable and pointed review of Les Halles Brasserie, the restaurant where Bourdain served as "Chef-at-Large," but was no longer in the kitchen, and had not been for some time.

"I clearly had one motive in mind when I set out to write about a restaurant in which Bourdain was involved - to comment on Bourdain," Richman told Village Voice writer Rebecca Flint Marx. "Even back then I felt he shouldn't be allowed to get away with his unending onslaught of slurs and insults, not just at me. For better or worse, I believe in an old-world system of honor, which doesn't involve turning the other cheek."

Bourdain fired back with the no-punches-pulled chapter title, and then in 2011, offered Richman the chance to pay public penance. Bourdain had been hired as a script writer on Treme (HBO's hour-long drama about residents of post-Katrina New Orleans) and wrote a scene in which Richman, playing himself, would take a Sazerac in the face from a chef enraged by his GQ story.

The former Vietnam War Army captain took the dousing with great aplomb, earning the accolade(ish) from his nemesis in an interview, "I hate the b*stard, but I admire him. It shows considerable good humor and no small amount of balls. A reminder that he was a marine in a former life. He lived up to the high standard."

All Richman's perceived offenses were not washed away by the gesture, though. Last week after Richman's award, Bloomberg restaurant critic Ryan Sutton took to Facebook to express his disappointment with Richman's victory, which was in part for an manifestly odd review of restaurant M. Wells in which he sought to counteract alleged complaints of inappropriately touching a server.

Sutton wrote in part, "I'm saddened that Alan Richman has won a James Beard award for what is arguably the most irresponsible piece of restaurant criticism I've read in a long time...The fact that this one-sided tirade against a small restaurant was published is shocking and embarrassing. It's a dark day for food writing."

Tonight, both accolades and vitriol will be served up piping hot at a roast in honor of Richman's 25-year GQ tenure. Bourdain, chefs David Chang and Eric Ripert, along with other luminaries of the food world, are slated to address Mr. Richman at a dinner at chef Ripert's Le Bernardin restaurant, and we'll be right there in the thick of it. Follow us on Twitter @eatocracy and we'll share the post-mortem here in Eatocracy when the flames have subsided.

We'll just be sure to stay out of the Sazerac splashing zone.

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