Anthony Bourdain/Stephen Black/Street Food/An Embarrassing Encounter

The World Street Food Congress is again happening in Singapore. It seems as though Mr. Bourdain is not attending this time. What follows is something I first posted on Scribd, shortly after the first WSFC.

Me and the CNN Famous Food Guy (A few thoughts)

It was about sharing. (Yeah, call me “hippy-dippy”.) I had a two-tiered, lacquered Chinese basket containing four items, labeled A, B, C and K. Mr. Bourdain first picked ‘K.’ He was in a good mood at first. K was a package of kueh dar dar, from Galicier in Tiong Bahru, the best Peranakan pastry shop in the world. Suddenly: A. Problem.

Before I finally met Mr. Bourdain, I RAN to get the basket and RAN back. To the security officers surrounding Mr. Bourdain, my running with the food basket was an act of domestic terrorism. My charming little amusement was not charming in their eyes.

“Pick another letter,” I blurted as the thick-armed security guard moved between Mr. Bourdain and me.

Those few people in Mr. Bourdain's entourage who didn't see me as a threat rolled their eyes. “Another guy who wants something,” they said, without saying a word. A guard barked,“You should leave now.” He wore black gloves.

I reached into the basket and gave Mr. Bourdain ‘C’. He and his group walked away. It was over in about 30 seconds; I'd expected only 10 but I was hoping for the full 2 minutes that had been discussed with Mr. B's management.

Earlier in the day, the staff of the World Streetfood Congress told me where Mr. Bourdain was eating. I saw him enjoying himself as he strolled around after he ate. Should I have approached him then? No. I had been told by the Singapore Tourist Bureau/Makansutra (the organizers) that I would have two minutes with "Tony". My two minutes were to be part of a press conference/book signing. This was the first book signing I have ever attended where books were not on sale. I didn't have a book and didn't want to buy one. This meant that it would be strange to stand in line. I quickly described my situation to Mr. Bourdain’s assistant and things seemed cool.

Back to the basket. ‘A’ was an ang ku kueh artwork. The Chinese pastries were made by one of Singapore’s most highly regarded kueh-making families. However, these kuehs were artworks; all were shaped like my thumb.

Cultural identity

Edible sculptures by Stephen Black. Traditional Chinese ang ku kueh shaped like a thumbprint

‘B’ was my best-selling book, i ate tiong bahru. I am the publisher. The sequel is about 70% completed. Mr. Bourdain has his own imprint under Harper-Collins. Bottom line: these books, as well as the others I’ve written, all involve food.

The first time I saw Mr. Bourdain was in Les Halles in the late 80/early 90s. I was there with a very good friend. We didn’t eat or drink; something about somebody had to “meet a guy.” Something like that.

Story ideas for magazines, books and TV segments: the places I used to eat and drink at in Fukushima: now radioactive shells, ghost towns, the fishing societies suffering from overfishing and the aftereffects of the tsunami(still). The Hungry Ghost Festival banquet in Tiong Bahru, my mom and her friend’s 40+ year-old tradition of making Christmas candy. The chef on the banks of the Mississippi who roasts coffee the steampunk way. These stories and others I am very connected to. They are stories I’d like to share.

So… that was my experience with the Parts Unknown host. Thanks to the Foodwalkeri ate tiong bahru was given to someone who is supposed to pass it on to Mr. Bourdain.

And, despite the security guards and the chaos, Mr. Bourdain did get ‘C’, ‘C’ being the CD of Christmas music sung by Joey Ramone at his last concert.