Anthony Bourdain, always and forever

If you’re one of my three avid readers, you will know I have had a crush on Anthony Bourdain since No Reservations.  Then there was The Taste.   Then, there was his judging stints on Top Chef.   

I paid big bucks to not only hear him speak but to stand in line to meet him (and get books signed) in 2010.  (You can read about it here.)  I have since lost the original picture but that is Anthony (as blurry as it is).  

I thought he was a beautiful man and I used to joke with The Hubs that he was the only man I would ever leave him for.

I now have all of his books.  Claudia is hosting this round of Cook the Books and chose A Cook’s Tour.   This was the last nonfiction work of Anthony’s that I did not have.  I now own them all (and some are autographed.  That’s me holding the Les Halles Cookbook for him to sign.)

Then came the summer of 2018.  I vividly remember laying in bed with the morning news on and briefly hearing his name.  Then The Hubs came in to tell me that he was dead.     Then came the news it was suicide.  Surreal.

As I read A Cook’s Tour I zeroed in on signs.   It was a melancholy read to say the least.  One thing I always enjoyed about Bourdain was his irreverent sense of humor, his attitude of f#$% you, and his overt opinions.  Now, as I read, I kept wondering, “Were there signs then?” (even though this book was published in 2002).  How many of his comments were just pure snarkiness and how many were clues?

Like I said, this was a totally melancholy read for me.

Regardless as he sets off on this eating odyssey (and first television stint), Bourdain wanted more…the perfect meal for certain, but also intrigue, adventure and danger…

I also wanted—to be absolutely frank—Col. Walter E. Kurtz, Lord Jim, Lawrence of Arabia, Kim Philby, the Consul, Fowler, Tony Po, B. Traven, Christopher Walken…I wanted to find—no, I wanted to be—one of those debauched heroes and villains out of Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, Francis Coppola, and Michael Cimino.  I wanted to wander the world in a dirty seersucker suit, getting into trouble. (5)

But he was also looking for a quick fix from his travels:  “I’d thought everything would be instant magic….That I’d be happier” (46).

As I kept reading I found his food memories to be sometimes dark and sad (and him only 44 years old when he wrote this book and filmed the corresponding Cook’s Tour television show).

Yes, I know I’m reading way too much into it and as I continued with the book, I become more transfixed on his travels and less on trying to figure out why he ended his life.  So, it did become less melancholy and actually brought Anthony back to life for me.

There are high points for Anthony along his trip, even though his travels with is brother in France didn’t live up to his expectations, they did enjoy themselves and reconnected through memories of their father.  Later, he finds a revelation in the desert:

I’m the luckiest son of a bitch in the world, I thought, contentedly staring out at all that silence and stillness, feeling for the first time in awhile, able to relax, to draw a breath unencumbered by scheming and calculating and worrying.  I was happy just sitting there enjoying all that harsh and beautiful space out there.  I felt comfortable in my skin, reassured that the world was indeed a big and marvelous place. (124)

 

Obviously, there’s lots of food in A Cook’s Tour, too much to document in this meager post, but here’s some of his meals that kept with me.

  • The “Bourdain family lunch” that he and his brother share as they try to recapture their youthful summers in France:  “saucissons, stinky cheese, baguettes from the La Teste boulangerie, Vitel, and a bottle of Bordeaux red” (44).
  • Tapas in San Sebastian:  “snow-white anchovies glistening in olive oil, grilled baby octopus salad, roasted read and yellow peppers, codfish fritters, marinated olives, langoustines, pink-red rippled serrano, pata negra and Bayonne ham, stuffed chilis, squid, tarts, empanadas, brochettes, salads” and many varieties of mushrooms (73).
  • The meal at Arzak:  pumpkin ravioli, toast points with a puree of Basque sausage and honey, sheep’s milk yogurt w/foie gras, crawfish with eggplant caviar, fresh duck eggs (poached beyond belief), vegetable tart, wild duck, etc. (77-78).
  • Real borscht:  “a chunky hot stew of meat, onions, carrot, cabbage, beets, and potatoes, a rib-sticking dark red concoction perfect for filling the belly cheaply on an icy winter night (90).
  • Salads in Morocco:  “potato salad, marinated carrots, beets, olives of many kinds, mashed okra, tomato and onion” (103).

It was hard to think about a recipe that was inspired by this book.  While I was very tempted to recreate the brothers’ picnic or make some tapas, I just didn’t feel it.  I also seriously thought about just a piece of oozing Stilton with a glass of port (which would totally pay homage to Anthony but I was afraid to invest so much in cheese).

Finally I just went easy with some dishes that I needed for a special lunch:  Moroccan Potato Salad and Banh Mi sandwiches.   These two recipes were totally in juxtaposition with each other, one coming from a land where we found inspiration in the desert but was totally detached from the dinner where the salads were featured.   The other recipe is from Vietnam, probably the country that was mentioned the most in the book and one that he totally loved.

My Banh Mi sandwiches were a totally thrown together affair using leftover smoked pork shoulder, mayo, cucumbers, radishes, cilantro and pickled cabbage.   

The potato salad recipe can be found here.    Don’t skimp on the salt and pepper.  I also added about two tablespoons of olive oil.

I loved the potato salad and will make it again.  It’s a simple recipe that’s full of flavor, one that Anthony would have appreciated.  Just boil new potatoes until done, peel and cube.  Whisk together a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, one chopped onion, one minced garlic clove, salt and pepper, and parsley.  Toss with the potatoes.   Serve at room temperature.

My sandwiches?   More thought and effort was needed to make them truly delicious.  Anthony would have scoffed at them.

 

At the end of this memorial read, I also started to watch A Cook’s Tour, focusing on the episodes and places he discusses in his book.  It was interesting to get the back story and be in on the jokes…like him being stoned or hungover or simply detached.   He is also not afraid to tell more of a realistic view of his visits, not shying away from the authentic ugly that every country has.  These tales are included in the book but were excluded from the show—“Not for Food Network viewing.”    Sometimes one image will make him question his livelihood.  In Vietnam, he sees a terribly burned man begging on the street.  He feels “gut-shot” (63).  “Everything I eat will taste like ashes now” (64).

 

On thing that struck me while I was reading was his creativity in thought both in humor and in writing along with his adventurous soul.  Then I thought of his demise.  It made me think of another writer and adventurer. 

Bourdain quotes Hemingway (along side my Hemingway bookmark)

If you’re still reading, thanks for making it to the end of this rambling post.   I did enjoy the read and I’m glad Claudia picked it.   I probably would have read it eventually, but it was nice to revisit Anthony’s humor, his melancholy and imagine him alive and well.

Hopefully, I haven’t depressed you but if I have, please join Cook the Books for a lighter selection for August/September.  I’m hosting  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I’m linking up with July’s Foodies Read as well.

 

9 comments to Anthony Bourdain, always and forever

  • mae

    Reviewing and personal memories are just beautifully blended in your post here. I enjoyed reading all your thoughts, and the food list is really tempting, especially the tapas. Oh! those white anchovies!

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  • yes it was so sad to hear that he had killed himself. i guess he had a lot of sadness and depression. he was a wonderful storyteller in his books and on tv. such a shame.

  • This book was hard for me too. Not because I was a huge Bourdain fan but because I lost a brother to suicide and always wonder what signs were present and what can be done to help those who feel such despair. My borther’s birthday is coming up on Sunday, it is always hard for me.

  • Good insights and review, not to mention excellent food choices! Just as a counter point, there are some who say it wasn’t suicide, but murder. He had been actively going after a prominent child sex trafficker. Two other people died in the exact same way when trying to expose child sex trafficking in Hollywood. My daughter brought this scenario to my attention.

  • I can feel the love for him in your post. He was quite a character and I loved the books and his shows. Great looking sandwich. making me hungry 🙂

  • cathy branciaroli

    thanks for pointing out this dish. I just love Bahn Mi so this post really called out to me. And, I too was taken by Bourdain’s raffish charm, good looks and smooth talking. It was only in reading this book that I got insight into his inner turmoil…

  • I’m a big fan of AB’s as well. In fact, for the past few weeks we’ve been re-watching the 10 seasons of No reservations. What a great series and wonderful man! I know that A cook’s Tour in somewhere in this house, so thanks to you, I’m going to have to find it and reread it. It’s been years. Great post!

  • The parts of the book where he is introspective both about himself and about the places he visits are a treat to read. When he goes off towards extremes of one sort or another, I wondered how much of that was driven by the persona he had created. He was definitely a fascinating person. The potato salad looks nice and the ingredient list for your sandwiches sounds intriguing 🙂

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