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Two chefs will have battle of wits Sunday

One thing that you'll want to keep in mind if you go to Sunday's battle of wits and food folly between Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert, is that Ripert has a reputation to protect. Bourdain does not.

That will mean Ripert, the impeccable French chef of New York's legendary Le Bernardin restaurant, will squirm a bit on stage. And Bourdain will revel in watching his friend choke back his opinions on touchy subjects.

"He runs one of the best restaurants in the world," Bourdain says recently by phone from his New York home. "I am on TV." Le Bernardin is a three-Michelin-Guide-starred restaurant and often makes the best-in-the-world lists.

This is the second year that Bourdain, 55 and Ripert, 47, have taken their friendship on the road in a show titled Good vs. Evil: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. If there was any question, Bourdain is the evil one.

"But for no reason I can really understand, we are often mistaken for each other," Bourdain says, suggesting it's their full heads of silver hair. "We are thinking of dressing as each other sometime."

The show begins with "hostile interrogations," a roast of sorts, and then becomes a discussion about the state of cooking, food and celebrity obsession. Seafood sustainability will likely be a big topic, as will America's rising obesity rates and the availability of good food for all Americans.

"One of the things I am angriest about is that it's okay to relegate the working poor to food deserts and processed food," he says. "There's nothing traditional or working class about putting a burger and egg in between Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The whole history of cuisine is about people struggling to make something delicious out of little."

If you detected a dig at Paula Deen, you're right. This may be the part where Ripert looks uncomfortable.

For the roast segment, Bourdain jokes that Ripert has his staff combing the Internet for dirt on him. Bourdain will likely bring up Al Roker introducing Ripert on a recent episode of the Today Show as the "Pepé Le Pew of cooking." Offensive and random, Bourdain says, but good fodder for the stage show.

Bourdain was a chef for several decades until being catapulted from kitchen obscurity by his tell-all cooking tale Kitchen Confidential, published in 2000. That book spawned a TV career, first on the Food Network and now two shows on the Travel Channel, No Reservations and The Layover, which has just been renewed for a second season. The eighth season of the Emmy-winning No Reswervations begins next month.

There have been more books (The Nasty Bits and Medium Raw) and a graphic novel, Jiro, comes out this summer. It's about an ultraviolent world ruled by master chefs. A knife-wielding sushi chef graces the cover.

The luck of his good fortune does not escape him, and he's thankful that the Travel Channel has indulged his desire to show what and how the world really eats, even if it means watching a hog get skinned in rural Louisiana.

"I was a guy with no health insurance, no car, living paycheck to paycheck" when fame hit, he says. "I had seen very little of the world then." And now, he's eaten and traveled in nearly every corner of the globe. On his destination dining bucket list are Iran, Myanmar and the Congo River.

The TV shows, Bourdain says, are a means to an end. They let him tell stories about food, and ultimately, that's what the Bourdain/Ripert evening is all about. A couple of culinary raconteurs jawing about the things that bug them and the ways they would change the world.

In other words, topics hot off the grill.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com (727) 893-8586.

. IF YOU GO

Good vs. Evil: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

The show is 7 p.m. Sunday at Carol Morsani Hall at David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa. Tickets are $18.50 to $124. The $124 ticket includes a meet-and-greet session with Bourdain and Ripert, plus wine, beer and food. Call the box office at (813) 229-7827 or visit strazcenter.org.

Two chefs will have battle of wits Sunday 03/18/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 19, 2012 8:19am]

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