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This year, award ceremonies have seemed to be all about unsolved mysteries. I felt totally robbed when Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop lost to Inside Job at the Oscars, depriving everyone of the chance to see if anyone would take the stage to accept the award. So it was with definite glee that I learned the James Beard Foundation pretty much invented a whole new award category just to hand it to mystery Tweeter Ruth Bourdain.
“Comfort me with offal,” reads the bio sentence on the Twitter account @RuthBourdain. The concept is simple: taking the joyous, wistful tweets of former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl and twisting them through the wringer of Anthony Bourdain’s imagined brain. The outcome is a sardonic, drug-addled journey through picnics and rainy day soup that rivals the salad days of Twitter parody accounts (when Steve Buscemi and Nick Nolte’s questionable accounts ruled, before account verification sucked the fun out of everything).
But the biggest draw was the mystery. Who started this weird, outré little Twitter account? Who was devoting so much time to it, and why was it so funny? This wasn’t staying expressly contained within the Twitter community, either – Ruth Bourdain was striking up conversations with Ming Tsai and Eric Ripert, picking fights with Pim Té, writing columns for Chow, and generally making a name for herself in the very world she was poking fun at. The whole thing: weirdly enthralling.
It came to a head with the James Beard Foundation award nomination. While I have no doubt that Rosecrans Baldwin and Alice Laussade, the two other JBF humor award nominees, also wrote pieces highly worthy of praise, it seemed impossible that anyone else but Ruth Bourdain could possibly win – the very award itself seemed created with the express purpose of drawing the real Ruth Bourdain out from hiding. Even Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain mentioned their curiosity and their hopes that the mystery Tweeter would win – and the real Bourdain isn’t shy about expressing his usual disdain for the JBFs.
More importantly, both mentioned the importance of the personality, for lightening up a world that can sometimes be too deadly serious. It’s something that Bourdain and Reichl both do in their own ways as well, through acerbic wit or brilliant cheer. “If we can’t have fun with food,” Reichl told Bay City Bites in a discussion about the account, “what are we gonna have fun with?”
So, Ruth Bourdain winning the JBF Award was no surprise. What was – though really, it should have been even less shocking – was that no one came forward. Ruth Bourdain demurely said thanks from behind the keyboard, and that was that.
Now what? Life goes on. It’s not all she wrote: Ruth Bourdain keeps on keepin’ on, and theories still attempt to peg the account on everyone from Julie Powell to Jay Rayner (and an April Fool’s Day confession from Alice Waters was especially entertaining). But though the love affair may one day fade, it won’t be forgotten. At this point it’s not even so much about who Ruth Bourdain is anymore, but what she has done. For using social media to create a whole new dialog in the culinary world – one that’s a little looser, a little more irreverent, and a little more fun – we salute you.