The Nasty Bits

Anthony Bourdain cooks up an unevenly-seasoned bouillabaisse of culinary pieces.

Though I've always admired Anthony Bourdain's bravado and his love of a good beer buzz, I somehow feel cheated by this new, unevenly seasoned bouillabaisse of culinary pieces (most previously published). It's mainly a way for him and his publisher to make some easy money since 2000's Kitchen Confidential made him a celebrity chef and food-world scribe. Bourdain organizes his Bits under section headings (hence: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami, and fiction). One of the best is "Counter Culture," in which he vents on the pomposity of fine dining. Chefs from around the world are abandoning "black-and-white penguin-suited tableside service," he notes approvingly, in favor of casual eateries with plenty of counter space. His descriptions of the casual gold-standard, Montreal-based Au Pied de Cochon, are great: You can feel the frenetic energy of the joint and almost taste the decadent fries "drowning in demi-glace and cheese curds, topped with a thick slab of melting fois gras." To drive the casual-is-where-it's-at point home, he introduces the so-called "Death Row Game" (what would you eat before dying?), which he plays with countless chef friends over cocktails. "No one ever expresses a desire to experience a fourteen course degustation menu," he writes. "Instead, the word Mom usually comes up. Bread and butter, steak frites, duck confit, and a bowl of pasta are popular answers." Another winner: "When the Cooking's Over," which explores the soundtracks in chefs' lives. Bourdain favors punk after work, while other chefs go for techno or blues. It's thrilling to peek into the leisure lives of Thomas Keller (he's a big fan of live DJ music), Laurent Manrique (techno and trance), Wylie Dufresne (jukebox music at an N.Y.C. saloon), Marcus Samuelsson (live tunes from his friends' bands), and others. Again, this is what Bourdain does best—provide the cool insider's perspective of the food world. Still, Bourdain never strays far from his predicable rants and antics. High- maintenance customers, bosses who give out too many free dinners, and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver bug him. He has deep respect for hardworking Latin American cooks. He's not big on pretension. He enjoys using the word "fuck" and eating and drinking with the locals in foreign countries. But you can see his Travel Channel TV show, No Reservations, for that. It's probably a more effective platform for the Bourdain brand than this collection. He's become such a full-blown food personality that these recycled magazine musings don't really do him justice.

 
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