Food & Wine Thursdays: The Ballad of James (Suckling) and Tony (Bourdain)

Listen my children and I shall sing

Of the strange blog-rant of James Suckling.

‘Twas the thirteenth of July in twenty-eleven,

When James’ weirdness stirred even the gods in the heavens,

And sent the Twitter-sphere chortling and chuck-ling.

For those of you who don’t know, this is James Suckling:

James Suckling was one of the early editors of the esteemed and (rapidly decreasingly) influential magazine Wine Spectator. After stumbling into their offices in his early twenties after his undergraduate years at the hallowed academic halls of Utah State University (go Aggies!), he went on to become a Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief for the magazine during the peak of its influence.

He, along with Robert Parker, is also responsible for popularizing the balding page-boy look that is all the rage amongst the American wine cognoscenti.

He's uncorking you with his eyes.

In mid-2010, Suckling (yes, real name–and he’s an Angeleno) left Spectator to become a real-life web personality, roughly 5 years too late. Since then, he’s become something of a cult hit thanks to his ridiculous series of teaser trailers (cf above, and below).

I never paid attention to Suckling until after he started his ham-handed assault on the web and social media, but since then I’ve been less-than-enamored with his uninsightful writing, substanceless criticism, and (generally harmless) douchebaggery. However, I appreciated his honest efforts to stumble into the 21st Century wine world and find him still to be perhaps the most Twitter-savvy (and good-natured) of the Dinosaurs of Wine Journalism.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Suckling Tweeted a link to this blog post about his encounter with No Reservations host, author and chef Anthony Bourdain in Cuba. James Suckling holds dual US-UK Citizenship which, coupled with his journalistic credentials as one of the world’s foremost cigar critics (the lifestyle-magazine equivalent of the guy who reviews Fleshlights for Hustler [link NSFW]), affords Suckling the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in Havana.

You can read the full post for all its bizarre-ness, but, essentially, Suckling learned that Anthony Bourdain was coming to Havana to shoot an episode of No Reservations. He then effectively stalked Bourdain so he could end up at a table next to him while filming. He then was perturbed when after: accosting Bourdain unannounced after the shoot; name-dropping the cigar documentary he was filming and; offering him an example of the aforementioned symbolic phallus, Bourdain was merely politely disinterested instead of eagerly sycophantic.

Suckling’s post runs the gamut from egotistical to tasteless to just plain idiotic and has irreversibly soured me to a guy I gave the benefit of the doubt to far longer than I should have. Examples of Suckling’s douchebaggery:

  1. “I can’t view [No Reservations] because I am at my house in Tuscany at the moment, so I can’t comment on the program.” Enough said.
  2. Despite saying he can’t comment on the program, he does comment on it when he mentions that it would have been “cool if [Bourdain] had found out the real story” about Cuba. Since Suckling didn’t see the program so he can’t know if Bourdain found out the “real story.” What he meant to say in a limp-dicked passive-aggressive way was “I wish Bourdain gave a flying fuck about what I had to say.”
  3. Suckling used the fact that he ate at Bourdain’s former restaurant Les Halles frequently and worked nearby to assume a deeper bond with the chef despite never meeting him there. It’s fucking Manhattan. Thousands of people live, work, and eat near (and at) Les Halles.
  4. Suckling is skeptical of the abilities of the Cuban Tourism Ministry apparatchiks to take Bourdain to quality restaurants in Havana, despite the fact that he successfully stalked them to one of his avowed favorite restaurants. Clearly the tour guides know at least some of the good spots. Fucking cry about it, why don’t you.
  5. Suckling is dismissive of hearing Bourdain “pontificate about Cuba and its relationship with the United States,” going so far as to suggest Bourdain’s tour guides “needed a few extra double espressos to stay awake.” Of course, he again uses the limp-dicked passive-aggressive technique of saying he doesn’t want to comment on something and then commenting on it. Well, I don’t want to comment on James Suckling’s haircut, but let’s just say it looks like the ass-end of a Lhasa Apso.

The ass-end is on the right.

I will admit I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain. I’ll also admit that his style can be a bit pompous and grating at times and I understand why some people dislike him. But to listen to a depth-less pretentious hack like Suckling dismiss Bourdain because Bourdain wants to discuss Cuban-American relations on the grounds that Suckling thinks Bourdain’s tour guides looked bored was simply too much to take. Anthony Bourdain is one of the only notable food personalities who actually thinks critically and expresses himself as such; Suckling is a was-there-at-the-right-time wine writer whose critiques involve a few adjectives and a point score and whose writing and tasting abilities are eclipsed by scores of journalists and bloggers. Suckling is essentially scoffing at Bourdain for attempting to be engaged and intelligent. Suckling needs to stick to smoking cigars. Don’t neglect the balls.

So three cheers to Anthony Bourdain for continuing to produce interesting and engaging food and travel content and for not giving a flying fuck what other people think. I can only hope that Bourdain knew exactly who James Suckling was and simply didn’t care, though in all likelihood Bourdain probably didn’t know him at all, at least beyond thinking that his name sounded kinda familiar (and kinda dirty). Honestly, Suckling is little more than a modestly influential figure in a marginal niche business while Bourdain is a successful chef, best-selling author, national television host and perhaps the foremost national culinary figure for under-40 foodies.

The fact that Suckling would presume Bourdain should show anything more than polite disinterest in him, James Suckling, a man currently best known for his own inadvertent YouTube self-parodies…

…and would then take personal offense at that polite disinterest is both hilarious and sad. We should have a word for that. Silarious?

So, as of today, I’m giving James Suckling the Blake Gray treatment. I’ve ceased to follow him on Twitter and any journalistic encounters I have with his writing will be purely accidental. I encourage you all to do the same.

Not that any of you were following him any way.

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About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
This entry was posted in Food, Home of the Bizarre Rant, Wine & Cheese and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Food & Wine Thursdays: The Ballad of James (Suckling) and Tony (Bourdain)

  1. Pingback: Food & Wine Thursdays: A Very Suckling 4th of July | The Satellite Show

  2. Pingback: Owns Half of Fucking Manhattan

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