by Kate Zimmerman for the Weekend Post, Table Talk
Anthony Bourdain, executive chef at New York’s Les Halles restaurant, became a superstar after his gonzo bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, exposed chefs and their co-workers as rock stars manqué. His next food-related book was written in synch with a Food Network TV show called A Cook’s Tour, in which the lapsed junkie travelled the world looking for extreme eating experiences. Bourdain is currently promoting Les Halles Cookbook (Bloomsbury USA, $49.95). He’ll be in Toronto at the Yonge & Eglinton Indigo Books store on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. Saturday Post snagged a few minutes with him recently.
When licking caviar off a nipple, as mentioned in A Cook’s Tour, is it okay to use lumpfish if you don’t like the person that much?
(Laughs.) No …. When licking caviar off a nipple, I think beluga preferred, sevruga at least. I mean, it would be disrespectful, any less a grade.
What is the crucial gadget in the kitchen?
A properly maintained knife. I use the Japanese Global knives, as do a lot of my cook and chef friends. They’re light, one-piece, so there’s no wood handle to fall off or rivets that are likely to come undone. They hold an edge well, they’re thin but strong.
Do they get thrown in the dishwasher with everything else?
My knife never goes into the dishwasher, ever, ever, ever. That would be a sin. I’m constantly washing my knife. Like a Samurai’s sword — after he slices someone in half, the hero always gives it a good wipe before putting it back in the scabbard.
What three things can’t you do without in a day?
Cigarettes, hope, stimulation.
Now that you’re famous, do people send you their underwear through the mail?
I haven’t received any underwear yet. I’ve received some rather disturbing naked pictures, and offers of sexual services. But their hopes were sadly misplaced.
What is your most inspiring cookbook?
Inspiring? Certainly Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating. Also published in the States and Canada as The Whole Beast. He’s the chef of (London’s) St. John restaurant. It’s beautifully written, it’s his voice on every page, the pictures are unpretentious, and his general world view as far as what’s good and what every part of food can be is really inspiring to me.
What’s the most offensive TV cooking show?
There’s one (in the U.S.) by Sandra Lee … She seems to constantly suggest that you can make good food easily, in minutes, using, like, Cheez Whiz and chopped-up Pringles and packaged chili mix. It inspires people to have low expectations and to settle for less and I think that’s not doing God’s work.
Being a chef is God’s work?
Oh, yeah. What better profession? We feed people. We nurture them. We provide a real service. We’re the salt of the earth. We may be the backstairs help but we do something useful and good and, every once in a while, transcendent and inspiring. Now and again, we can even make magic -- any of us.
Do you get to do that very much any more, now that you’re writing and being on TV?
No. On the other hand, I do get to hang out with chefs and cooks all over the world and eat really well and live vicariously through them …. So the camaraderie’s still there. It’s an international tribe, people who cook. That provides some satisfaction.
What phrase do you think you overuse when telling other people how to cook?
Don’t be a snob. Don’t be squeamish. Don’t be contemptuous or afraid. Eat without fear.
What do you think your underlings call you behind your back?
They say it to my face. Estrella, which means star, or famoso, or famosa.
They mock you for being famous.
Yes, they bust my balls relentlessly.
What food do you deplore?
I deplore this new “raw food.” I find it evil, absolutely evil. It’s anti-human, it’s anti-food, and any time you get a bunch of knuckleheads using words like purity, hygienic, clean and healthful with such zeal and with a rigid philosophy overlaying it, generally the sound of jackboots follows. The word purity, I don’t like the sound of that. Do you?
Which spice would you say you overuse?
Crushed black pepper and sea salt. I dearly love both of those things ….
Which cut and kind of meat could you eat daily for the rest of your life, and why?
If I had to eat one food every day for the rest of my life, I think I’d pick sushi.
Which food would you say is better than heroin?
Perfect otoro tuna. A nice $200/lb. wholesale toro tuna in season comes pretty close. I would prefer it raw, prepared by a master sushi chef.
Last meal: what would you choose?
The roasted bone marrow at St. John restaurant in London. It’s a few pieces of roasted bone marrow in the bone with sea salt, a little bit of toasted baguette and some parsley salad.
Writing > Food: Chef Interviews