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Dear Editor: A Tale of Two Critics; why Bourdain’s T&T review was ultimately tasty

“[Anthony] Bourdain doesn’t concern himself about whether the food is too much for his ‘tummy’—as [Megan Ogilvie gripes—he explores and situates the cuisine within Trinidad’s history: doubles, roti, fish, kibbeh, pastelles, souse, callaloo, crab and dumplings… the delicious and unique list goes on.”

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by senior lecturer and barrister Dr Emir Crowne, BA, LLB, LLM, LLM, PhD, LEC:

Photo: American chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain is the host of TV show Parts Unknown.

Last night CNN aired the much-awaited episode of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’, filmed in Trinidad. He explored the pan yard, the river lime, the Bayshore elite, drug trafficking, the 1990 coup and calinda (stick fighting). It was an honest, if brief, insight into our culture.

He calls indentured servitude “slavery by another name.” A shocking revelation and ego bruise to some, refreshing honesty to the rest of us.

His dinner with the Sabga-Aboud’s will upset Trinidadians for about three days; but then we’ll get hungry.

In each instance, he seamlessly connected those interviews and experiences with food. Unlike the Toronto Star’s Megan Ogilvie, and her culturally inept examination of chicken roti, Bourdain understands that food is intimately connected to culture.

Bourdain doesn’t concern himself about whether the food is too much for his “tummy”—as Ogilvie gripes—he explores and situates the cuisine within Trinidad’s history: doubles, roti, fish, kibbeh, pastelles, souse, callaloo, crab and dumplings… the delicious and unique list goes on.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us that we have more in common than we think. For too long we have been divided along racial and even religious lines. And we allowed it to happen. Bourdain—and the social media reaction to Ogilvie’s roti-gate—remind us that food unites us. It is part of a common (albeit recent) cultural heritage, that we can, and should, use to rebuild and unite a fragmented society.

Photo: American chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain (left) watches stickfighting during the filming of “Parts Unknown” in Trinidad.
(Copyright Travel and Leisure)

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144 comments

  1. Everything about the show was informative and nice except for the boastful elite part

  2. Didn’t see any African dance. Moko jumbie. Limbo…. pelau.. bake and shark..Tobago is way more than crab and dumpling.. and nobody ain’t complain how the Chinese community were totally forgotten about?

  3. I hope people wise up and see how mainly indians are targets for the lower class and buffers for the elite thats how we are used

  4. Excellent and truthful job on Trinidad’s food and people.

  5. They spoke to anybody from the lagoon? Because if not this did not wholly represent these islands.

  6. Every one has their agenda. If people were real patriots they would have included the indigenous people. it is clear Bourdain hosts wanted to showcase what was convenient for them not the country. Then they like to sing “Trini to the bone” which bone?

  7. That apology tho. Like a statement by a guy who just realized he dissed his entire clientele.

  8. I enjoyed it. Smiled during the whole show.

  9. I’m just sorry he didn’t do more about Tobago… As usual..we just reduced to crab and dumplings…

  10. It does …. for about three days, and then we get hungry!

    “Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us that we have more in common than we think. For too long we have been divided along racial and even religious lines. And we allowed it to happen. Bourdain—and the social media reaction to Ogilvie’s roti-gate—remind us that food unites us. It is part of a common (albeit recent) cultural heritage, that we can, and should, use to rebuild and unite a fragmented society”

  11. I thought it was a very accurate & insightful analysis of what Trinidad is today. Many are tied up in their fixation of what Trinidad was & would have like him to have portrayed their fantasy.

  12. This need to compare indentureship and slavery is so comical. Beyond comical…they have no comparison….none.

  13. F***ing stupid people whose lives are not touched by crime trying to make this country sound like a paradise. The chickens are coming home to roost and some worthless privileged people not gonna like it.

  14. Its not national geographic Marty its food network

  15. There has been numerous attempts for yrs in dis country to equate indentureship with slavery………dis above all leavs d most sour taste………there is no need to dis cause we hav all undoutably contributed to dis county’s progress…..but make no mistake, indentureship and slavery were difrent by miles……smfh

    • I beg to disagree. Just a horse of a different color. One just had less cruelty but still enslavement. If you are not free to do as you wish and your pace is dictated by another…then you are enslaved.

    • Is dat d same as d system of slavery dat was unleashed on Africans for 400yrs………to suggest dat one was just more cruel dan d other but dey were both d same shows how…………boss leh we leav dat dey eh……….smh

    • Sean why argue over which was harder when everyone agrees. The Indians were slaves under a different name.

    • …….and there u go again…….poor conditions and hardship does not equate to d system of slavery which indentureship replaced and by asking y i argue is to try to get me to capitulate in discussion of dis erroneous comparison

    • #indentureship ? its like Looney Toons or Looney Tunes they both the same but arguably mistakenly mistaken.. The queen and pope decided to give the term slavery a better name that’s all ? go read up the history about the British Empire rule over India and the cruel acts done to the people of India then you will rethink your statement you believe is right….

    • Is u alone read up on dis awah……….soldia i aint gonna try and convince u bout notin……..if u say d system of slavery and indentureship was d same ting u go brave fada…….

    • Imagine dis man comparing British colonialism to slavery now……….ah winds wey he get……….hmmm

  16. No first peoples, no Sparrow, no Machel, no Rudder, no pailow, no Lara, no shark and bake, no chutney soca, no coconuts, oysters and boil corn round the savannah, no Hasley, no parang, no manatees, no leather back turtles, no acknowledgement of Trinidad’s pioneering status in oil and gas in the Western Hemisphere, no Dr Williams, no ANR, no Panday, no bhaji, no dhal, no callaloo, no Nariva Swamp, no scarlet ibis, no bird sanctuary, no ocelots, no howling monkeys. What was that?

  17. I agree that we should lighten up on the sarcasm just because somebody have a different opinion or expectation. Everybody entitled to share their own…nuh so?

  18. Agree lasana we should lighten up who else talking about us ? Pluheez

  19. He did a great job of subtle showing the true criminals in the society and got fed doing so

  20. the man came and did what he has to do …more than the locals so no one is in any position to critique

  21. This drivel could actually spoil my satisfaction with the program. Prior to this my criticism of “the Program” was that the promised contrast between Trinidad & Tobago, that was heard in the opening lines, did not materialize.

  22. Tell me the first people of Trinidad and Tobago–the Amerindians–felt a little hurt that Bourdain didn’t pay them a visit and I would say fair enough.
    He isn’t obliged to but i feel that might have been a genuine oversight.
    But Tribe, Yuma, more Tobago, goat race, Peter Minshall… Just now people will say Temple by the Sea, Asa Wright…
    Nah. He has license to choose what fits into his story as far as those go.

    • Weeeey, we totally forgot them. Even though he only scratched the surface of everything, they should be in. Not his fault tho.

    • Perhaps he was never told about them. Maybe we, the locals, should highlight amerindian dishes and show how they too have influenced our food culture. I know very little about their cooking techniques or them on the whole. Especially leading up to the October holiday why not educate the population?

  23. Muwakils explanation for crime was a more WTF moment for me than the ego of the Sabgas. If that is how criminals think we in for a hell of a ride as a country.

  24. In an ideal world there would be more discussion of the dinner conversation by the Sabga-Abouds. In ideal world. But this is Trinidad we talking about.

  25. People behaving like the man lied. Trinis so dotish, a whole set of embassies have travel advisories, but these jackasses vex someone making we look bad. We are murder Capitol of the western hemisphere.

  26. As a whole I found the presentation to be very superficial. Yes, it did portray some of our foods, and if that were to be the purpose then cool. But trying to delve into the psyche of the nation in a 42 minute segment was clearly not going to work. There were a few revelations perhaps foremost among them being the ” admission” by one of the Sabga crew that although Syrians amount to just 5000 people, they essentially control the purse of the nation. To me the best part of the entire thing was the interview with Muhammad, the Belmont ex- jamaat youth. That was very refreshing and quite heartfelt. So many things left unsaid, and big things too…Minshall, goat races etc. Don’t know who chose the locals, maybe that determined the tenor of the show. Jeffers.

    • Not sure what we expected given the alloted time but your point is well taken as to who chose the locals.. BTW, it met my expectations as a long time fan of the show

    • It actually made me a bit sceptical of his presentations. I’m sure that given 42 minutes, you could have come up with a much more real picture of the nation, the entire nation! And he must have been given directions, you can’t just waltz into a place by yourself and do a documentary. I didn’t see any credits, but it will probably be instructive to know the locals involved.

    • Vanessa, he is a journalist. Not a public relation rep.

    • This is Jeffers Grell using my wife fb ?. I get that Eric, but lets take the first clip for example, u can’t tell me that the young girl was really the best person to do that interview. So as a professional public relation rep he could, and should have made a greater attempt to find people who had a deeper knowledge of the culture. Not so hard for someone who make his living doing that. BTW r u related to Alban St Bernard?

    • He is a class mate from BElmont RC.

    • LaShaun Prescott has been representing Trinidad and Tobago in the area of dance INTERNATIONALLY, so yes I do think she is fully qualified to speak about “wining”.

    • no clue of Alban…. read back your post. He is not “a professional public relation rep”. I was hoping after the feature we would be discussing
      – why is the middle class dwindling
      – the fresh perspective from the Muslin singer
      – is the liming and party culture a distraction from bigger issues
      – How much influence the business community has over elected governments and how that affects the masses
      But, maybe I’m too simple minded. Peace. Out !

    • If u want to start a conversation, just start one. And next time leave out statements like your last sentence…doesn’t make for very good relations among people who are trying to form connections. Respect.

    • Ahsyd Rain Wining, and talking about wining is two different ting. She should have probably given a demonstration on wining methods, now that would have mase a good clip ?

  27. You know what that five minutes of free publicity probably worth to Tobago?
    Know how much THA would probably bill the Treasury for even a 60 second ad on Parts Unknown?

    • Mr. Liburd, I’m well aware of the monetary value but I am saying that if we are serious about this side by side, sister island tata that we like to spout when it suits us, please don’t call it a documentary of Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps for equal coverage we would have shouldered the serious crimes rate, the ISIS talk and the inequality of the classes story. But don’t throw that on our back for five minutes. Please and thanks

    • its quite proportional really

    • Kyon Esdelle it’s not proportional at all considering Tobago’s reliance on leisure tourism.

    • but his docs are NOT on leisure tourism

    • Adeola if someone comes to Trinidad and never sets foot on the sister isle, they have still visited the country of Trinidad and Tobago.
      I think If you look at proportion too, Bourdain did a far better job than most media houses.
      Guardian and CNC3 don’t even have Tobago offices, for instance.
      Tobago got five minutes more than Toco. Should Toco also be pissed?
      Better to say what part of Tobago you felt should have been highlighted. But remember the man isn’t working for our tourism company.

    • Lasana Liburd it’s not the Republic of Trinidad and Toco. So I don’t know how Toco can compare. I’m not bashing the Man. I’m saying that one cannot say that they have presented a documentary on the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago with what was presented in his feature. Your other arguments I addressed above in another thread with Kyon Esdelle

    • Kyon Esdelle his docs are leisure tourism features through the showcasing of culture, cuisine etc

    • Adeola, it might seem technical but Tobago is just one part of Trinidad and Tobago. There is no special status.
      If Bourdain were doing story on beaches and spent 35 minutes on Tobago and five on Trinidad, would Trinidadians also be justified in complaining?
      If I did story on United States of America, am I bound to feature each state equally?
      Whether Bourdain could have touched on other aspects of the country, of course. But everything can’t get in. You have to choose what you want. And I thought he chose pretty well.

    • Lasana Liburd refer to my thesis analogy above. It’s intellectually dishonest and this is a twin island republic and should be presented as such

    • Adeola James it is not a twin island republic. It is a two island republic. There’s a difference there too.
      And, no, I don’t believe that requires Tobago to be assured of a certain percentage of air time on any feature about this country.
      What percentage would that even be? If you are serious about that then why not demand that representation on everything that bears the name ‘Trinidad and Tobago’ from sport teams go up to State boards and cabinet?
      That would seem like a better starting point than with Bourdain.
      Tobago has two seats from 41 in the House of Representatives. How many do you think they should have?

    • Lasana Liburd actually I do think that Tobago should have 50% representation on state boards and the like for the very reason that you outlined. That we are a “two island” republic. We have our own perspective and worldview. State Boards make decisions that affect both Trinidadians and Tobagonians. Remember that Tobago had its own government before we were annexed to Trinidad. I mean it’s for that same “two island” reason that our Olympic abbreviation changed from TRI to TTO. Therefore there should be equal access and equal representation. As to the political arrangement between Trinidad and Tobago which has given us no amount of headache and which we are trying to reform, there should be a Trinidad House of Assembly and a Tobago House of Assembly and then a central parliament in which they meet to discuss matters under the current 7th schedule of the Tobago House of Assembly Act. And no I don’t believe that addressing our political arrangement should happen before I address Bourdain. There are some things that must happen on parallel tracks. Inclusion is one of those things

    • Lasana Liburd your first sentence. *perfection*

  28. Please stop saying that he explored T and T thanks. 5 mins on Tobago in a 45 min documentary is not showcasing Trinidad and Tobago. Carry on

    • why would tobago need more?

    • Kyon Esdelle yuh so right buddy. Because in this unitary relationship, we are lesser. Thanks for dat

    • I think its a fair comment Adeola, however, were the THA and Ministry of Tourism not consulted prior to his visit? Could they not have proactively helped to expand the Tobago coverage?

    • Brian Jordan I’m not sure as to the prior agreements if they were any. Fellas like Bourdain like to retain full creative control and direction. That’s why he doesn’t accept fees. All I’m saying he, they whoever should be intellectually honest and let the title or preamble reflect the work that was done and 5 out 45 does not honestly represent a foray into Trinidad AND Tobago.

    • but adeola tobago has less than 5% of the population and less than 10% of the land area

    • I hear you but we must alsk acknowledge that many times the questions go unasked so that we can more carefully protect us from this kind of treatment. Take care

    • Kyon Esdelle let’s for one moment imagine that you have to write a thesis on the cultural practices of Trinidad and Tobago. Let’s say for 20 full pages yuh give ah whole history of Trinidad from de Tainos to Keith Rowley, yuh talk about Trinidadian folklore, cultural expressions, religious practices- toute bhagai. And then on the 21st page, yuh chook in a paragraph about Tobago and talk about crab and dumpling. Can you honestly say that you’ve written about the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. Just because we have less land mass and a smaller population doesn’t mean that our culture is less and that a bowl of crab and dumpling is its sum total

    • ….the other night i accessed the national archives

      if tobago have 3 paragraphs it have plenty

    • Kyon Esdelle then we must call it what it is, the Trinidad archives until it changes.

    • tobago is very simple…trinidad is very complicated

    • Tobago is the beauty and tourism of T&T .

    • To be fair to Bourdain this program is what he wanted to make it. He wasn’t looking to explore Tobago so much as he himself dismissed it as the place for Flip flops and cocoa butter. In other words just like any other island paradise with beautiful beaches. Trinidad he seemed more interested in because of the mix of cultures, races, the steelpan etc. And the high crime. Notice he didn’t even highlight the bikini and beads or the pumpin all inclusive fetes. He was basically looking at the stories behind the stories and the food which ties our cultures. Tobago just did not interest him for what he wanted to highlight. After all it’s his show.

      • I agree. I think people are so obsessed with Carnival and the partying culture that they did not realise that some foreigners are more interested in the history of the country especially one that is so multi-ethnic.

    • Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde and that all fair and good so say that this is the parts unknown Trinidad episode. Doh call we name

    • You might have a point Adeola as Naked and Afraid the discovery channel show just referenced the “island of Trinidad” as opoosed to the country itself. Still… Anthony Boudain touched on Tobago and some of its cuisine and culture whereas the other show was just focused on the jungle in Trinidad. I think calling the episode parts unknown -Trinidad and Tobago was fine. You could argue for more Tobago coverage but Tobago coverage WAS there. And like some said..its not like the government pay them to do a tourism promo?.

    • Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde yuh hear wha me seh? A bowl of crab and dumplin does not my culture make. Take out we name and you guys can keep de whole ISIS references and be social buffers to your heart’s content. Lol

    • ??? I don’t agree with your eh Adeola. But I admire your fight.
      If you’d like to share what you feel Tobago deserves from our union and give the basis for your suggestions, I’d publish it on Wired868 for discussion.

    • Lasana Liburd I’m good. It’s already been published here and there’s nothing novel about what I’m saying anyway. These are the ongoing discussions in Bago

    • Adeola, here it is one of many comments on a topic that isn’t even about Tobago. If you did something separately, it would be a stand alone piece on Tobago that people can discuss.
      But it’s your call of course.

  29. Visual depiction needed some more variety; best segment was with Muhammed and his granny! very real very down to earth. Sorry but we could have done without the Sabga segment. Most powerful group in T&T ? really? hat needed to be said ? He sounded like a mafia don

  30. Yea, it was a good job and it was his perspective…tough to get everything in detail in 42 mins. His notes, however, go into a little more depth. It’s even more honest. https://explorepartsunknown.com/trinidad/episode-intel-from-trinidad/

  31. Thank you very much lasana.What are we doing to promote ourselves?

  32. Too many Trinis acting as though Bourdain working for TDC, talking about: he should have covered this or covered that. We are free to cover that ourselves if we want to.
    His piece was accurate and tried to provide context. That’s what matters to me and why I think he did well.

  33. To be fair to Megan, her audience was Toronto viewers NOT Trinbagonians, so the backlash against her was unnecessary. Bourdain did a great job.

    • Well, Bourdain’s audience wasn’t meant to be T&T either. He is telling American audiences about the two island republic. And I thought he did a pretty good job myself.

      • Really. You thought that tripe was good? The production, the pictures and the substance was piss poor. Our country looked drab and uninviting….. Talk about whatever you want but do your research and have some blasted substance if you want to talk about my country…. it was terribly amateurish and if this is the standard that ppl think is ok we in real trouble. This was just ole talk and bullshit

        • Lasana Liburd

          It’s not his job to make T&T look inviting. As for your critique on the production work and what not… Well, you have very exacting taste clearly.

    • So much so that CNN’s rights for his shows are limited to the US and Canada!

  34. Is Emir Crowne from Trinidad in the sense that he has lived here for most of his life or is he a Trinidadian import or of Trinidadian background?

  35. I enjoyed it and even learnt some new customs an traditions…

  36. I think it was a very good piece of work

  37. Still lingering upset over Ogylvie’s completely accurate observation about portion sizes, I see. I can’t decide if that was a review of Bourdain, or a whine about Ogilvie. Give it up already.

  38. I truly found this to be a fair depiction of our twin island state.

    • Totally agree..felt a little ashamed at the boasting,and asking if he knew this or that in Bayshore,of course he has..this man has travelled the world and tasted almost every thing ,except curry duck and buss up shut and stew chicken!! All in all its a programme worth keeping!!

  39. IT is all about dollars/rating…Bourdain is a journalist…for the past 2 weeks TT is fix on Bourdain…Bourdain is laughing all the way to the bank…

  40. if ppl want more they need to pay for series lol..