Jeez-o-man, Bourdain's take on city goes over like hell with the lid off


Pittsburghers started hating on Anthony Bourdain even before the much-anticipated Pittsburgh episode of “Parts Unknown” was over.

The episode premiered Sunday night, and displeased defenders of the city took to social media to blast the Emmy-winning television show’s depiction of their hometown, deeming it far from reality and far too negative.

In tweets, they called the episode strange, inaccurate and disappointing — and labeled it a misrepresentation of the city’s culture and future.

“#PartsUnknown really fell flat today,” wrote Ben Aronson. “Very disappointed in the picture it painted of Pittsburgh. In my opinion, it was very one sided.”

Mayor Bill Peduto chimed in, too, but simply gauged the reaction to the episode.

“Very interesting,” Mr. Peduto wrote. “For some it was a sobering look at our faults, challenges & change - for others it was unfair, overdone & missed the point.”

The mayor also retweeted two users, including one critiquing the episode’s portrayal of Pittsburgh — that it could have better celebrated how far Pittsburgh has come as a city — and one defending it. 

“If your reaction to Bourdain is "That's not the Pittsburgh I know!" then you probably have privilege,” wrote Virginia Montanez in a post retweeted by the mayor. “It's the Pittsburgh some know. The show is LITERALLY called Parts Unknown. Look at the things/attitudes you aren't proud of; accept they're real. Don't like 'em? Help fix 'em.”

Mr. Bourdain, in his own words, said he hopeD “he did the town right” through the episode, describing Pittsburgh as a city with blue-collar hardworking roots that is having a renaissance of restaurants and tech companies. He said he set out to discover who will live in the “Pittsburgh of the future,” and what this renaissance means for the character of a city that sees itself “silhouetted in a hard hat against the roaring furnaces.”

He ate at Superior Motors, which captures that contrast — high-end dining across the street from the Edgar Thomson steel mill — with chef Kevin Sousa, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman and ex-Steeler Franco Harris. They discussed the decades of pain endured by the Mon Valley town and the decades of work ahead.

He also shared a meal with Puerto Rico native and chef Jamilka Borges at the old-school Jozsa Corner Hungarian restaurant in Hazelwood and chef Sonja Finn of East Liberty’s Dinette, who discussed the city’s changing food scene. There were segments focusing on professional wrestling and a demolition derby.

The episode also examined Pittsburgh’s racial disparities and the challenges facing black residents, as well as the fall of industry in surrounding towns — all of which may have come as a surprise to those expecting a puff piece about Primanti’s and Mount Washington.

“Apparently Bourdain set out to make Pgh look like a backward racist town,” Twitter user Noah Jordan wrote. “This is a highly inaccurate depiction of the city.”

Christina French has covered food, dining development and culture in Pittsburgh for 11 years as the founder and editor of Table Magazine.

“It wasn’t meant to be a romantic postcard. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Geographic and others have come and given us praise. That’s not his job. It’s Parts Unknown – the living, breathing underbelly of what makes these places what they are,” Ms. French said.

A graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, she was born and spent part of her childhood in Idaho, before her Pittsburgh-native parents returned home. She said the ethnic melting pot and rough-around-the edges mentality are important components to what makes greater Pittsburgh what it is, and that even includes amateur studio wrestling and demolition derbies

“They aren’t super sexy things – but it’s part of what makes our culture awesome. It’s unique to who we are. Anything we can do to preserve roots and celebrate that – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” she said, adding that the blowback may simply be from the many decades that Pittsburgh wasn’t spoken of in the glowing terms it routinely is today.

“I think the blatant shock and awe of it is amazing. If you’re from here and know our history and what it took to build this region, and the people that did it on their backs and on their shoulders and on their children and families, you can’t be surprised to see true grit in this region – something that we have to celebrate,” she said, adding that it can’t all simply be about Pittsburgh making “best-of’” lists.

“If that’s all we have, then we’re no different than any other city -- If you only focus on the icing, you miss the beauty of cake.”

Julian Routh:, 412-263-1952, Twitter @julianrouth.

First Published October 23, 2017 11:24 AM


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