Eating with no Reservations: Cooking with Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites

 The best shows about food have an authenticity that a staged cooking area can’t really provide. I don’t have a problem with your Barefoot Contessa style shows. I pretty religiously watch the Binging With Babish YouTube channel. Any show of this type, wherein a meal is shown from ingredient prep to plating through the eye of a single camera lens is interesting in the way a lecture is interesting. If you’re lucky, the material captivates and the speaker engages, but the static artificiality of the environment cannot be overcome, be you Martha Stewart or some burgeoning culinary dauphin with a GoPro.

            The shows about food that stick in the mind, that entertain while they educate, have to do more. Food is an experience. Meant to be combined with music, alcohol, tobacco, friends and family. Even a meal cooked alone over an open flame under starlight surrounded by the smells and sounds of the woods beats a lonely meal in the finest restaurant (especially if that restaurant lacks a soul). Moliere may have written that one should “eat to live, not live to eat,” but is eating blandly nutritious food in gormless silence really living?

            The best shows about food don’t even have to be all that good. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is a silly show, but Guy Fieri (the host and a man who looks like he sleeps in a burrito and has hair straight from the glory days of Sum 41) takes a surprisingly deep and often touching interest in the stories of the food he makes along with those that prepare it. The corniness of his reactions to the food matched only by the starchiness of his meal. Andrew Zimmern of the classic Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern never met an animal dong he didn’t like eating, his eyes bulging as every horrific looking new thing he tried turned dinner into entertainment. Adam Richman damn near ruined his health on Man vs. Food as he and friends/acquaintances turned their lunches into what were essentially gastrointestinal war crimes. The former chef and rapper Action Bronson of F*ck That’s Delicious takes eating out to the level of gonzo journalism with every second of weed fueled craziness he and his friends engage in before chowing down. Are these shows classic TV? Meh. What they are however, is fun. They represent the variety of emotional experiences that go into a meal and truly make them memorable when the taste of the food leaves your palate.

            The king of this breed of food show host however, was Anthony Bourdain. His shows, from No Reservations to Parts Unknown showed a man who understand the greater implications that come with the food on your plate beyond the flavors and aromas. His shows used food as a jumping off point to tell stories. The histories of the places he visited, the tales of those he met, the personal narrative that went on inside his own head as he reflected on Heart of Darkness (his favorite book) while on the Congo River or drank himself silly on shots of raki[1] as he watched Greece’s economy collapse from the safety and peace of a rented island villa.

            Bourdain was clearly a guy with artistic tastes. The conversations he had on his show reflected the deep way he thought about the world. His observations about the world were informed by his love of literature, art and music. Culture both high and low. The man could write and tell stories in no small part due to his love of stories themselves. The actual look of his shows changed from episode to episode, reflecting various film techniques and artistic innovations that captivated him. This artistic inclination also showed itself in the meals he prepared. Anthony Bourdain could cook.

            For Christmas, Cindy got me a copy of the final cookbook Bourdain made before he passed earlier this year. The physical book itself as much as the recipes contained within captivated us and we decided we were not only going to cook every recipe in the book but also share the results with you. To kick it off, we ended 2018 by turning three recipes from this book into a kickass meal. Stay tuned for the next two posts to hear about this new delicious adventure.

Jeff & Cindy

[1] Raki is a local Greek liquor that apparently tastes like unsweetened licorice. Sounds like they should stick to inventing new forms of government.

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