Friday, June 8, 2018

Adieu, Anthony

Like the vast majority of people who love to cook and to eat, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain could be prickly at times, but he was refreshingly candid, unfailingly honest, and devoted to the idea that humanity could be brought together through mutual understanding, obtained over a good meal and a frank conversation.

Back when my older brother, Sweetums, was planning his wedding, we decided to kick off his bachelor party at Anthony Bourdain's Brasserie Les Halles on Park Avenue South- the perfect place for a hanger steak with some pommes frites, and an even better place for boudin noir.

Of course, it was Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential which really put him in the public eye. As someone who worked in the local deli throughout high school and college, I enjoyed this unvarnished look at the commercial kitchen- while my kitchen experience lacked the frenetic pace of the restaurant industry, cooking and peeling twenty pounds of potatoes a week and washing a sinkload of steam table trays every day was quite the education. Bourdain's book rang true, especially when it described the economizing measures that cooks use to make sure that the profit margins, always razor thin, aren't obliterated by waste. My equivalent of 'don't order fish on Mondays' is 'bread pudding is on the menu so the day old bread can be sold at a good price'... for the record, I like bread pudding. Also for the record, when the stale bread not used for bread pudding gets as hard as a rock, it gets thrown in a blender and ground into crumbs used to make meatballs/meatloaf and to coat cutlets.

Kitchen Confidential
got Bourdain out of the kitchen and onto television screens, where he played the globetrotting bon vivant, sorta like James Bond without the violence. In this role, he was an educator, an ambassador- he exhorted people to get outside of their comfort zones, and to trust the locals:

The observation that the street food is safer than the fancy hotel buffet food was echoed by parasitologist and GOOD GUY Mark Siddall- the stuff in the hotel steam tables has probably been sitting around for hours...

Bourdain was also a tireless champion of the Latin American immigrants who form the backbone of the food service industry.

One of my favorite Bourdain moments was his foray into my beloved Bronx, where he went to eat cuchifritos:

Watching that clip has me craving some morcilla, though I have to confess that my favorite cuchifritos place in the city is the place on 116th St right by the 6 Train stop.

Anyway, the man is dead, and his fans, including myself, feel the loss. Here's an old interview, unfortunately conducted by a total b00b, in which Anthony describes what his ideal last meal would be:

I admire his patience with such a dull-witted individual... For a sharp-witted individual's take, Tengrain posted heartfelt tributes to Anthony Bourdain, advising us that the best tribute to the man's life is to eat and drink with friends. It's the least we can do to memorialize this chef, diner, globe-trotter, humanist, and educator.


Al said...

R.I.P. Anthony

mikey said...

I was stunned. I can seldom find anything on teevee that I can tolerate - hence my penchant for sports and documentaries. But I've been a Bourdain fan for years, as you say, after I read Kitchen Confidential (I just pushed it up to my Kindle to read again), but this current season of Parts Unknown has had me RAVING online after just about every episode. It's been some of the most gorgeous, thoughtful film making I can remember in a long time.

But I understand what happened, at least in part. He was a kind of a low-life restaurant worker, doper, partier, working his way through a life he could understand and relate to. Then he wrote a piece that got picked up by the New Yorker, turned it into a best selling book, and got noticed for his style, attitude and charisma. He suddenly found himself in a place he never felt he belonged, a position he didn't feel he deserved, and despite all the fame and money and accolades, he was never going to find comfort and peace again...