| A Cook's Tour |
With Anthony Bourdain
Author & Professional Chef
Thursday, Nov. 14, 2002; 2:30 p.m. ET
In his best-selling tell all 'Kitchen Confidential' Anthony Bourdain pulled back the curtain to show readers everywhere "what it feels like, looks like, and smells like in the clutter and hiss of a big-city restaurant kitchen." His newest book, 'A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines,' uses the same biting style to tell the tale of his international search for the perfect meal. Bourdain will be online Thursday, Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET, to talk about his book, his career and everything you probably don't want to know about being a chef.
Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion. A 28-year veteran of professional kitchens, Bourdain is the currently "Executive Chef" at Les Halles in Manhattan. He is also author of 'Bone in the Throat,' 'Gone Bamboo' and 'Typhoid Mary.'
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Government Wage Slave, Washington, D.C.: Tony: thanks for talking to us today. My question for you: Are there any food trends out there that you find just wrong? That are silly and really just shouldn't be done? The raw food thing comes to my mind.
Anthony Bourdain: You are exactly right. I find the raw food movement deeply disturbing, creepily anti-human and antithetical to the whole idea of what a chef does. Which is about the transformation of food. Plus there are too many vegetables involved.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Do chefs hate it when diners make special requests -- i.e. marinara sauce instead of Alfredo, or steamed vegetables instead of sautee'd? Does that mess up the flow in the kitchen or can you make adjustments with no trouble?
Anthony Bourdain: While I hate people who are essentially building their own menu and working out personal issues on my waitstaff I think special requests, particularly when there are health concerns, can be reasonable. I no longer tear out my hair, break plates, bully waiters (much), when asked to put sauce on the side. But, when you're going someplace like the French Laundry, or Gordon Ramsay, you are presumably going for the Laundry or Ramsay experience. It should be their way or the highway.
Washington, D.C.: My son is a culinary freshman -- Johnson & Wales (Rhode Island) with "glamour filled" expectations of becoming a chef. He and I both read and totally loved your book, "Kitchen Confidential." What advice would you offer at this early stage in his pursuit?
Anthony Bourdain: Travel, travel, travel. Eat widely. Apprentice for free if necessary with the best chefs who will have you. Subject yourself entirely to their will. Have a sense of humor and show up on time.
About Les Halles in Washington, D.C.: What can I expect to eat at the beaujolais party next Wednesday?
What should I order, on your recommendations?
Anthony Bourdain: Tripe a la mode.
Washington, D.C.: Tony,
First off, my husband and I love your show! We are about to move to San Francisco and are so looking forward to some royal gastronomic treatment at the French Laundry. My question: has there ever been a time when your distaste for a dish has overpowered your thanks to the host for providing it? What do you do in such a situation?
Anthony Bourdain: I usually grit my teeth, stitch some kind of a rictus of a smile across my face and rush for the door, after appropriate thanks. I wait till later when I write about the experience to viciously attack them.
Washington, D.C.: Tony:
First of all I have to say, I loved "Kitchen Confidential" -- a great book. Secondly, where are your favorite places to eat when you're in D.C. or Chicago (my home town)?
Anthony Bourdain: Kinkeads in D.C. and in Chicago Blackbird and Gold Coast, the Red Hots.
Silver Spring, Md.: Any plans for another show on the Food Network?
Anthony Bourdain: Yes, I'm in the middle of shooting 13 more shows.
Sterling, Va.: I've been watching the Cook's Tour TV series since it premiered -- so far I haven't seen an episode that didn't make me really, really hungry! Out of curiosity, though -- is there anywhere you visited for the book/series where you didn't end up with a hangover on day two?
Anthony Bourdain: Morocco. The local beverage, berber whiskey, is actually mint tea. Not a party country.
Takoma, Washington, D.C.: Some of the locales from your shows look pretty unsavory -- were you feeling threatened or in danger at times?
Anthony Bourdain: I felt most alienated, frightened, alone and dismayed and had the single worst meal of my life in the People's Republic of Berkeley, where the potluck vegan meal nearly caused me to consider suicide.
Maryland: Chef, Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your books, fiction and non-fiction. Are you planning on writing anymore fiction? I really enjoyed the characters in Bone in The Throat and Gone Bamboo.
Anthony Bourdain: I have another crime novella called "The Bobby Gold Stories" out in the spring.
Washington, D.C.: Loved your book. I'm heading to NY in a few weeks -- where should I eat? Cafe Boulud, Veritas, Bouley, Blue Hill? Where would you go if you only had one night in New York?
Anthony Bourdain: Breakfast at Barney Greengrass, dinner at Veritas.
Sticks: Tony, I bought a veal shank today, thinking to make some stock. However for the cost of the thing I don't think I want to make stock. What would you suggest I make with it? It's a good side shank, almost 2 pounds.
Anthony Bourdain: Osso Bucco Milanese. Braise in stock with orange zest, fresh herb, vegetables, serve on saffron risotto. Or simply braise in red wine.
Eating tripe with ice cream? (a la mode): 0ne, I don't eat pork products.
Two, isn't it ironic to eat things like tongue and intestine, to taste tastebuds tasting you, and to digest intestine with your stomach?
Three, do you mean ice cream on the tripe? A la mode a la vanilla ice cream?
Anthony Bourdain: It's a la mode de Caen, the city in France.
Washington, D.C.: Have you read Michael Ruhlman's books "Soul of a Chef" and "The Making of a Chef"? Did you find his take on the Culinary Institute of America accurate?
Anthony Bourdain: I think Michael is the best writer on our "thing" -- meaning the restaurant life, in the business. The one guy who is not a chef who gets it. I've read it all. His new one with Eric Ripert, is called "Return to Cooking" and its terrific.
My mis en place: My fiance always puts my knives back in the wrong slots in the knife block and switches where the pots and pans go on our hanging rack.
What to do?
Anthony Bourdain: Consider ending the relationship.
Washington, D.C.: It's ironic you're doing this chat today; I just picked up "Kitchen Confidential" this past weekend and am enthralled! I never knew there was this netherworld of people so well-orchestrated, preparing my dinner.
My question: drugs take up a lot of space in your book; has the restaurant business become more "clean" in the decades since your start?
Anthony Bourdain: Yes. It has for whatever reason become a glamour profession with a future. Behavior in the kitchen reflects that change in attitude -- somewhat.
A cubicle with a view: Hi Tony,
I attended your discussion in San Francisco last week and really enjoyed it, thanks!
Does your wife share your interest in "extreme cuisines?" Does she often travel with you in your quest for various meals?
Anthony Bourdain: My wife's idea of extreme cuisine is meatloaf. She hates stinky cheese, organ meat, sushi, and basically everything I like to eat. Which is okay. Two foodies in the same family can be annoying.
Silver Spring, Md.: What is your take on places like Williams-Sonoma? I think it's a lot of overpriced yuppie McMansion crap, but what do you think?
Anthony Bourdain: I agree with you. Good for buying potpourri.
Washington, D.C.: Is there anything you won't eat? (Or will you just tell me to read your book!)
Anthony Bourdain: Yes. I will never ever ever eat live monkey brain. And I will never again eat that soy cheese dairy substitute. That's not food, that's spackle.
Turkey day around the corner: Are you a canned cranberry sauce kinda guy or do you go for the real deal?
Anthony Bourdain: I like cranberry relish. Cranberries, sugar, orange zest.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Tony,
I enjoyed your series on the Food Network very much, but I must admit there was one scene from your Cambodia trip that bothered me -- when you asked for a meal from a poor woman on her "houseboat" on the Tonle Sap lake. Did you reimburse her in any way for her generosity? Having visited Cambodia earlier this year and seen much evidence of malnutrition, I found the incident a bit troubling.
Anthony Bourdain: Yes. Most assuredly I gave the woman the equivalent of a month's pay. Not that she asked. People everywhere in Southeast Asia were incredibly generous to me.
Houston, Tex.: Mr. Bourdain,
First of all, you are a spectacular writer, and your Food TV show is refreshingly unpretentious, charming and delightful. Congratulations on all of your success.
Here is my question: Is a love of food and cooking enough to commit to culinary school? I'm considering it, but I'm kind of scared I don't have enough "passion" for it like the chefs I read about. How do you know when it's right for you?
Anthony Bourdain: I suggest working for a few weeks, unpaid if necessary as a dishwasher or prep cook in any busy kitchen. Within a couple of weeks you'll know. It'll either be in your blood or not. Better to find out now.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Tony, what's the first thing you want to eat when you go back to Vietnam?
Love the chat, thanks!
Anthony Bourdain: I want to sit on a low plastic stool and eat a bowl of pho, followed by a cup of that amazing coffee. I'm going in January.
Washington, D.C.: Tony, when I attended your book discussion and signing in San Francisco last week, you told me I was going to hell for eating ketchup on my hot dog. Is there ANYTHING I can eat ketchup on without jeopardizing my immortal soul? Thanks!
Anthony Bourdain: Yes. Ketchup is entirely appropriate on a hamburger.
About "Kitchen Confidential": Most food stained, doggie eared book I've ever checked out from a library. Even the dust jacket is covered with all sorts of stains and junk.
Anthony Bourdain: I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that. My favorite copies to sign have blood, fish juice and sauce smeared on them.
Food Network: Sometimes biting the hand that feeds you can seem too appetizing. So, there any shows or cooks on the Food Network that DON'T bug you?
Anthony Bourdain: Mario Batali is the best stand-up cooking show on air. His restaurants are fantastic. He's informative, constantly promotes oily little fishes, hooves and snouts and is a party animal of Falstaffian proportions. Like him, like his show, like his restaurants.
I'm not crazy about the sidekick on the Italy show.
Bethesda, Md.: Tony, the books are a lot of fun and the show is brilliant! Whatever happened to Adam-real-last-name-unknown?
Anthony Bourdain: Adam has been clean and sober for about two years. He goes to the gym everyday and the tanning salon twice a week. He is now colored a strangely unnatural orange hue.
Washington, D.C.: What do you think of restaurant critics? Welcome nuisance? Necessary annoyance? Useless?
Anthony Bourdain: When they're not bent -- like Grimes at the Times, for instance. I see them as a natural force, like the tide. No use crying or complaining or protesting. Somebody's got to judge. Plus there's the schaudenfreude factor -- it's always fun to read when somebody else gets slammed. But some of the shakedown artists, schnorers and bottom feeders in the business do at times cause me to reflect on dismemberment and homicide.
Germantown, Md.: Hi Tony! My husband and I love your show, and look forward to reading "A Cook's Tour" and "Kitchen Confidential," both of which we purchased just the other day.
My question is in response to your answer to Government Wage Slave. You said "Raw food is antithetical to what a chef does. Which is about the transformation of food." Does sushi fit into this scenario? I would consider sushi, although raw (most of it anyway) to be food transformed.
Thanks and happy travels!
Anthony Bourdain: Sushi is a definite exception to the rule. But understand this: an Edomae sushi master spends two years learning rice alone. You could argue that there's a lot of transformation and technique involved. If I had to eat one cuisine every day for the rest of my life, it would be sushi.
Washington, D.C.: Anthony,
I'm a huge fan of your culinary adventure books as well as the television show you had. I've seen canned durian in local asian markets. How similar is it to the funky durian you ate on the street?
Anthony Bourdain: I can't even imagine such a thing. The fresh smells so foul and tastes so good the thought of it in a can is confusing and frightening. Might be good for practical jokes -- like dropping some in your enemy's laundry.
West Caldwell, N.J.: Must you smoke every 5 seconds during your show on the Food Network -- enough -- it makes me sick, after seeing you during an amazing food experience, light one up!
Anthony Bourdain: I'm trying, trying this season to at least stick my head out of frame. I'm sure you would be horrified to know how many chefs smoke.
Somewhere, USA: Since you've been in the business for a long time, do you find the "chef as celebrity and sex symbol" a little bizarre and surreal at times? What started it?
Anthony Bourdain: No one's more confused by the celebrity chef thing than chefs. The idea that chefs are sex symbols would be hilarious to anyone who's ever dated one or been married to one. We smell of smoked salmon and garlic, we have beef fat under our fingernails, we stay out late, drink too much, are never home and when we are home are comotose, distracted and unpleasant. Is that sexy?
Nasty Fishes: Other than swordfish (with their 3-foot parasitic worms) what other creatures do you stay away from (vegans not included) due to their grossness?
I've heard mahi-mahi is a pretty filthy fish.
Anthony Bourdain: I'm not saying I wouldn't eat swordfish. I'm just saying there's worms in it. It's a question of aesthetics. If there's a reason to stay away from swordfish, its that they're in short supply. Good thing I didn't talk about cod.
Washington, D.C.: What's your take on "Fast Food Nation" and the Slow Food organization/movement? Hopeless causes or signs of a return to better food times for the masses?
(Thank you for your books and TV series, and, most importantly, for dishing out huge, triple portions of Truth.)
Anthony Bourdain: "Fast Food Nation" -- a good book worth reading. And slow food is a positive movement, but not to the exclusion of the pursuit of pleasure. If they can make a tomato in a laboratory that tastes better than grandma's (unlikely in the extreme), even if it causes tumors in lab rats, I'll eat it. And I'll serve it. I have already established my willingness to give up a few years of my own life in order to enjoy the good stuff.
Alexandria, Va.: My wife and I love your show, enjoyed a steak at Les Halles, will plan a trip to San Francisco and Napa to try the FL, and are really suspicious about corn starch usage from your first book. With all your travels and tasting unusual ingredients, why is it so difficult to find the great basics in our markets here in the U.S.?
E.G. I have to go to an oriental market to find useful bones for stock because the rest of the markets only carry prepackaged meat. Or a real sourdough loaf is almost a San Francisco dream.
What are you authors doing to get people to demand more from our local suppliers?
Anthony Bourdain: I am not an advocate, I'm an enthusiast. But I think that a positive effect of this celebrity chef/foodie explosion is that people like you are rightly demanding the good stuff. The market will respond. Eventually. Keep it up.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: My brother -- another restaurant guy -- gave me "Kitchen Confidential" last Christmas and told me to at least read the chapter "A Day in the Life" to get a taste of what he experiences. That, sir, is some mighty scary stuff. (And I did read the whole book, by the way, and LOVED it.)
My question is: are there any foods you don't like or preparations you can't eat? And what do you recommend for getting over in-bred, regionalized acceptance of what is edible?
I've eaten a lot of things foreign to my upbringing, but I still can't, for instance, bring myself to try sweetbreads. And the other night I had real trouble finishing my shrimp dish because they were served with the heads on and kept staring at me. I feel like this is going to limit my foray into trying, and liking, really weird stuff.
Anthony Bourdain: You are clearly not drinking enough.
Washington, D.C.: What is your opinion about cookbooks? Are there any ones that you think are indispensable?
Anthony Bourdain: The French Laundry Cookbook, the ultimate in food porn. Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson. The Larrouse Gastronomique -- would all be good places to start.
Bethlehem, Pa.: I love the show and wanted to thank you for encouraging me to eat things that I otherwise would have stuck my nose up at. I'm still nowhere near the beating snake heart, but moving forward.
My question for you is:Where did you conceive the idea for "A Cook's Tour"? It seems like a very interesting departure to restaurant cooking.
Anthony Bourdain: I'd seen so little of the world until recently. Given the opportunity to eat my way around the planet, I was determined to miss nothing. This is a big varied, scary, dirty, beautiful, magnificent world we live in with a lot of good stuff in it.
Chantilly, Va.: Hi Anthony, big fan here!
Do you still think Baltimore is a crappy restaurant town?
And what are your favorite spots in Providence, which has gone from being a crappy restaurant town to a fantastic restaurant town?
Anthony Bourdain: I like the Club Charles, good bar, but last call at 12:30 -- what's up with that?
Arlington, Va.: As a smoker I have to admit I enjoy the fact you unabashedly smoke on screen. They say though it dulls ones sense of smell (and therefore taste). Do you think this affects the types of food you enjoy? For example, makes you crave spicier foods?
Anthony Bourdain: God made salt for smokers and its the reason a lot of chefs underseason their food. Because they know that they prefer their own food with a lot of pop. And they over-compensate on the side of caution. Smoking does dull the palate as does age.
Washington, D.C.: How often do you eat the wings at Hooters? Seriously, do you have any guilty pleasures like that?
Anthony Bourdain: Breasts and food -- I just don't approve.
About your book: Just what was it that made Vietnam soo great?
I would have expected French or Italian cuisine to be your favorite, not Vietnamese.
I was rather impressed.
Anthony Bourdain: For me French food is soul food. It's what I do. My first love. The basis of my whole culinary education. Vietnamese food is a recent obsession, but I found that its not just the food, its looking out the window and seeing Vietnam while eating. And the people. I had a pheronomic reaction to Vietnam. Love at first sight.
Gack!: Sweetbreads are food for the gods, as are calves brains! Keep it up Tony, love your food and stories and TV series.
Anthony Bourdain: Bone marrow, dude.
Tobacco for food: I saw the episode where you went to the French Laundry and he made you a dish with tobacco -- how was it?
Anthony Bourdain: Delightful. And it worked.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Tony
When you travel, are you ever worried or have ever gotten sick from the water? As in soups, coffee, anything that's made with local water. I know in the Philippines, you could get very sick from having anything with local water in it. Which severely impairs any kind culinary adventure, since I'm restricted to high end restaurants and tourist traps that serve bottled water or have special filtered water for guests. I've always wanted to sit on a crate in the street having a bowl of noodle soup, but don't want to get dysentery either. How do you avoid it? Or you just don't show that part of the trip?
Anthony Bourdain: I will eat or drink whatever the locals eat or drink. I drank the water, I ate raw vegetables -- whatever they were doing. But I'm not a madman. In Russia, when Russians told me to not drink the water under any circumstances, I took that seriously.
Washington, D.C.: So, you kind of come off like a pompous jerk in "Kitchen Confidential." On the plus side, I don't think chefs are glamorous. On the down side, I'm not sure I want them handling my food, either. Do you (and chefs in general, I suppose) respect the food more than the restaurant patron?
Anthony Bourdain: Yes.
Washington, D.C.: I was amused by your trepidation when you were getting ready to eat birds' nest soup on one episode when you were in Vietnam. I have memories of my grandmother picking out remaining bird feathers before making the soup, which I found tasty. I don't recall if we got to see your reaction to the soup on that episode. Do you recall what you thought of it?
On the other hand I don't go near chicken feet.
Anthony Bourdain: My problem with the bird's nest soup was that I'd just had a huge seafood meal followed by a rocky boat trip an hour before eating it. I'd be willing to try it again.
Washington, D.C.: Um, I guess I'm a rube; but what are sweetbreads, and why do people seem to have an aversion to it?
Anthony Bourdain: Sweatbreads are the thymus gland of veal. I know it sounds unappetizing. Maybe think of it by the french name, "Ris De Veau." Doesn't that sound better?
Your favorite: Cocktail?
Bag of chips?
Food Network personality?
Anthony Bourdain: Cocktail -- Ketel Rocks
Shot -- Patron
Candy Bar -- Mars Bar, deep fried
Chips -- Toasted grasshoppers
Beer -- Guinness, in Dublin. If god brewed, he'd make Guinness.
Food Network Personality -- Mario.
Pissing off waiters: If I piss off my waiter, what is he really gonna do to my steak, where is he gonna put that spoon, etc.?
Anthony Bourdain: Depends where you're eating. Any place that takes pride in itself would never tolerate that kind of nonsense. Look at your waiter's face. Are they happy and proud to work there? If not, think carefully before making him miserable, or persecuting him. I could speak for cooks, waiters are a different breed.
Re: Not drinkin enough: Tony,
What's your cure for a killer hangover, i.e., the one I'll have next Thursday morning after Beaujolais night?
Anthony Bourdain: Brioschi or a coke followed by a joint. As soon as your appetite returns some spicy food. I swear by leftover Kung Pao chicken.
Somewhere, USA: Now that it has become a "glamour" profession, how flooded has the job market become with people who have no idea what they are getting into? And how hard does it make it for those with a true passion for the job -- damn the glamour -- to get into good apprenticeships?
Anthony Bourdain: I don't know. It's worrisome. I know some of the French are charging money for stages. On one hand you've got better trained people coming in with better opportunities. On the other, a lot of these knuckleheads think two years on a fry station and they're gonna be the next Emeril. And I worry about my carnales from Puebla.
New York, N.Y.: How do you cook your fries? They are the best.
Anthony Bourdain: Blanche at 300 degree temperature. Drain, pat dry. Fry at 375. The perfect oil (and we don't use it) would be rendered kidney fat.
Somewhere, USA: Least favorite Food Network "celebrity"?
Anthony Bourdain: THe one who calls everything "super yummy." And that chinless hump on the "Best of". You'll notice he likes everything.
Silver Spring, Md.: I would think that your lifestyle would make it very difficult for you to stay in shape, but obviously you're managing. What's your secret?
Anthony Bourdain: Two packs of butts a day, a neurotic type A personality, a diet consisting almost entirely of animal protein, fish and liquor. I won't be writing a diet/health book.
Next Steps: Mr. Bourdain, do you see yourself ever opening up your own restaurant? If so, where would you think you'd do so, and what sort of cuisine would you offer?
Les Halles is nice and all (husband used to be a line cook at the D.C. branch), but very corporate in menu.
Anthony Bourdain: I will never own my own restaurant. I'm too young to die.
Anthony Bourdain: Thank you to everyone who posted questions. Sorry I don't have more time to play. It's nice to know there's so many other deeply disturbed individuals out there. Many thanks.
© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company