Anthony Bourdain was a charmer, armed with wit and brilliance, and a mischievous smile, and probably broke many female hearts with his passion for everything in life. On television, his walk was a joy to watch, with long arms and legs striding along, venturing forth to get somewhere, to see, to experience, and enticing and encouraging us to come along. With his decision to cut out early (Anthony Bourdain died in early June, 2018, an apparent suicide), he has broken all of our hearts, for those of us who watched his television programs and read his books, and delighted in what he gave us. This book is a selected compilation of appreciations, from those who personally knew him, and from others who knew him from afar. There are marvelous full-page and double-page color photographs that break my heart. Anthony Bourdain, I am almost, but not quite speechless, so let me sing your praises too.
Bourdain traveled to places all over the world, and brought the world to us: people, cultures, cuisines of people that many of us had not heard of. He was a true adventurer, who probably visited more countries, regions and areas of the world than one of the bean-counting travelers who numerically know the exact number of places they have visited. It was quality of experience, not quantity, that drove him, and he, in turn, dared us to step out of our comfort zones, to get out there and experience something new.
Years before there was the popular, ubiquitous food network, and its spawn of 24-hour cooking programs, and e-Media shows, Bourdain let loose on the culinary world. He was in his forties and wrote a Kitchen confidential : adventures in the culinary underbelly, which set the culinary and food produce world on fire. He spoke truth to the power of secrets known only to those behind closed kitchen doors. Unsparingly, he laid bare his own life as a cook. The reception was not all that welcoming because he let us in on some secrets of restaurants and supermarkets, and what to order and/or buy on certain days of the week.
For such a maverick, who seemed disdainful of aspects of the culinary world, he was formally trained. He had withstood the rigors of professional training at the Culinary Institute of America, aka CIA. He was a perfectionist in his work, on television and in food preparation. This came through in a CNN remembrance, which I have been hard-pressed to find on YouTube. One of the episodes showed a behind-the-scenes filming, where Bourdain's vision and determination to get the shot right, required repeated takes, and lots of grumbling on his part, and almost a cancelled show. In one of his books, he recounts a catering job, which involved pastry for a coulibiac, a complicated multi-layered dish, and something was not quite right with the pastry. Bourdain rhetorically asks us, the readers, "Who did we turn to? Why Julia [Julia Child], of course." In the culinary world, he had respect for diligence and a strong disdain for dalliance.
His books and filmed adventures are as fresh as ever and you can find them right here: novels, graphic novels, cookbooks, DVDs. A warning: Bourdain was a master on the effective use of the f-bomb. I recommend starting with Kitchen confidential, but here are some small appetizers to tempt you.
Medium raw : a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook. This is a follow-up to Kitchen confidential, which could have another subtitle, Bourdain takes no prisoners. There is one particular essay, "Go ask Alice," that could be an example of a pro and con essay all wrapped into one. He slices and dices Alice Waters for some of her more ludicrous and impractical plans for the implementation of organic farming; for her own abuse of natural resources; and for many of her impractical ways of doing things. Then he pulls a switcheroo and gratefully praises her for bringing us a deep appreciation for the food of France and for sensuality, "What makes Alice Waters such a compelling character is her infectious enthusiasm for pleasure." In another essay, "So you wanna be a chef," once again Bourdain tells us like it is, including the raw physical demands of cooking in a real restaurant. It is not the half-hour or one-hour stint as seen on television, not at all. A chef/cook/clean-up crew are on their feet for fifteen to sixteen-hour days, or more, and the knees are the first to go.
Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook : strategies, recipes, and techniques of classic bistro cooking. On p. 69, in the introduction to the recipe for oeuf périgordins, you will learn, as I did, how to correctly hardboil an egg. There is a proper way to do it, and it makes a major difference in the finished product.
Anthony Bourdain : the last interview and other conversations. In the introduction, food writer Helen Rosner provides a personal and trenchant view of what Bourdain did, in his books and on television, as she earnestly attempts to get to the heart, soul and mind of who Bourdain was, and why he is irreplaceable. I agree, he was an original in the best sense, always following his own lodestar.
Because of whatever demons haunted him, there will be no more reservations for parts, places and food unknown. I hope he is in culinary heaven, talking and cooking with the food greats, and in particular Julia Child, who was revered by Bourdain as the modern master and documentarian of French cooking.
The book opens with a quote from Anthony Bourdain: "If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food. It's a plus for everybody." Yes, and do it with Bourdain's open heart and unquenchable curiosity.