José Andrés, Michel Richard, and Anthony Bourdain popped the cork on a bottle of red, sat down behind a small table, and started dishing it Thursday night at the Department of the Interior as part of a Smithsonian panel discussion, which turned out to be only nominally tied to the new essay collection, How I Learned to Cook.

To be fair, Bourdain did most of the oral tire-slashing. Richard was content to tell sweet, self-deprecating stories, while Andr�s played the buffo, archly defending and promoting Spain as the center of the gastronomic universe. (Richard was mostly mum on Andrés pitch.) Bourdain had his own agenda, which turned out to be roasting Rachael Ray on a spit.

Taking the lead on a question from moderator Colman Andrews about the influence of the Food Network and other TV foodie outlets, Bourdain said these channels had their pros and cons. The pro: Truly great chefs such as Mario Batali can, just by promoting certain ingredients or dishes, inject new life into dull menus across the country. The con: Rachael Ray, whose budget-conscious program encourages people to seek out only mediocrity.

“What’s it, $30 a Day?” Bourdain asked. When reminded that Ray’s program is titled $40 a Day, the celebrity chef shot back:

“$40 a day? Try tipping, bitch.”

Later, Andrews got all James Lipton and asked the chefs what profession they would pursue if not cooking.

  • Andr�s: food critic
  • Richard: painter or glass blower
  • Bourdain: “failed minor criminal” or, if he really could start over and choose a new career, “bass player for Parliament-Funkadelic.”

Bourdain also gave Andrews a sharp slap when the moderator asked the chefs which they preferred: Burger King or McDonald’s. “That’s like [choosing between] herpes or chlamydia,” he said.