June 24, 2017

A Secret Food Satirist Comes Out of the Pantry

Who is Ruth Bourdain?

For three years and 2,700 posts on Twitter, an anonymous wit has used @RuthBourdain — an avatar conceived as an unholy mash-up of the former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and the bad-boy TV food host Anthony Bourdain — as a sharp fork to poke fun at the pretensions of the culinary elite. The dispatches have taken pot shots at celebrity chefs, noting “Mario Batali’s plump biscuits,” endowing Tom Colicchio with a habit of snorting tangerine zest and teasing Thomas Keller for his saintly status in the religion of restaurants.

In response, attempts to ferret out the identity of Ruth Bourdain’s creator have burned up the blogosphere. Accusations have been leveled. Wild guesses have been flung. Perhaps in an effort to flush out the truth, a new James Beard journalism prize for humor was invented and awarded to @RuthBourdain. No one showed up to accept it.

But now the perpetrator has decided to come in from the cold. In a message to The New York Times this week, @RuthBourdain offered an “exclusive reveal,” adding, “It’s going to be you or asylum in Venezuela.”

Ruth Bourdain, it turns out, is Josh Friedland, a mild-mannered freelance writer in Maplewood, N.J., who produces the Food Section, one of the longest-running culinary blogs on the Web. “I never thought the joke would go on so long,” said Mr. Friedland, who plans to continue the Twitter posts. “But the food world has become so ripe for satire in the time since I started it.”

Few arenas of 21st-century life have so quickly become the focus of aspiration and outright obsession: the byzantine tasting menus, the competition to discover the Next Great Place, the melodramatic top-chef reality shows. And while most celebrities are subjected to satire these days, few are mocked more gleefully than the legion of chefs who can claim some level of fame, from international brand names like Gordon Ramsay to local upstarts in every city, each with an online following and a pork-butchery diagram tattooed on a forearm.

To Mr. Friedland and other parodists (including the amateurs who in recent weeks have created a YouTube subgenre of Paula Deen sendups), these cooks and their culture offer a delicious opportunity to remind devotees that for all their passion about cooking and eating, it is all, finally, just food.

Mr. Friedland, 43, has sent Twitter messages almost daily since March 2010, when Ms. Reichl, a former restaurant critic for The Times, began posting a flowery, haiku-like description of her breakfast nearly every morning. Mr. Bourdain, famously combative, began reading them aloud on his Sirius radio show.

“It wasn’t a huge leap to combine their voices in a funny way,” said Mr. Friedland, noting that phony Twitter accounts like Fake Steve Jobs had just begun to pop up. “They are pretty much the polar opposites of culinary experience.”

Here is the real Ms. Reichl writing on Twitter: “Still. Gray. Cicadas screeching. Such a mournful sound. Fragrant strawberries, just picked. Rivers of yellow cream. Color for a muted day.”

And here is Ruth Bourdain, who is frequently profane, libidinous or under the influence of hallucinogens: “Foggy. Stormy. Lightning in the night. Is that asparagus tucked into your softly stirred eggs or are you just happy to see me? Brown butter me.”

Over time, this slim premise has drawn more than 66,000 followers, and evolved to include the invention of new holiday drinks (turduckennog), pasta shapes (recessionini) and classifications for the food-crazed, from “curd nerds” to “Zagateers.”

A few people have accurately guessed Ruth Bourdain’s identity, but Mr. Friedland managed to deflect them, often changing his cellphone number, using voice-cloaking software to do radio interviews in character, and compelling editors and some reporters to sign nondisclosure agreements.

In 2011, the local-fresh-organic-food guru Alice Waters, not known for her sense of humor, announced on Twitter that she was Ruth Bourdain, sparking a fresh round of speculation.

Later that year, Robert Sietsema, the former Village Voice restaurant critic, was mistakenly outed as Ruth Bourdain at a conference of food journalists in Charleston, S.C., when Lee Svitak Dean, reporting for The Minneapolis Star Tribune, said she had spotted him typing on his phone at precisely the same times that Bourdain posts were going up. She immediately posted her accusation on Twitter.

“I started looking around to see who was the likely person, who has the sort of humor you need and the big-enough ego to be Ruth Bourdain,” Ms. Dean told a reporter. “It’s like playing the game of Clue.”

In 2012, New York magazine casually referred to “Ruth Bourdain (a k a Voice writer Robert Sietsema)” in a mention of “Comfort Me With Offal,” a satirical book Mr. Friedland wrote as Ruth Bourdain and published last fall.

David Sax contributed reporting.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/13/dining/whos-ruthbourdain-now-we-know.html?partner=rss&emc=rss