Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Meet Tony Bourdain

Last week Anthony Bourdain came to town to sign copies of his latest book, Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking. At A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, the space was jammed with foodies, chefs and so many culinary students from the Culinary Academy just a few blocks away that Bourdain claimed he could smell them coming in the place.

Bourdain knows how to work a room. He is opinionated and takes on the controversial issues--the scandal at James Beard, the unsung heroes of the kitchen--Latinos, TV celebrity chefs, the raw food movement, foie gras, bear bile, you name it, nothing is off limits. He tells it like it is and despite his handsome good looks, he quickly dispels the idea that cooking is in any way glamourous. What makes him so appealing is his passion and enormous respect for the humble beginnings of much of the world's greatest food. He spoke at length about the more undesirable or "squiggly bits" that need lots of trial and error to turn into something truly great. As for his new book, he says the hardest thing about learning to cook bistro food, is pronouncing it.

It's pretty unusual when you think about it. Most celebrity chefs are first and most well known for their cooking and have used that to build a non-cooking career. But not Anthony Bourdain. Though he was a cook for years, his real fame came from his writing and not even writing cookbooks but non-fiction in his two bestselling books Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour. He also wrote a series of mysteries. Then came television, and now, finally, a cookbook based on his classic bistro cooking at Les Halles in New York. Unlike so many other cookbooks this one is written for the home cook, teaching them what do, as it is done in a restaurant.

If you want straight-from-the-hip advice and you want to know how to cook the classics like Boeuf bourgignon and Vichyssoise, Les Halles is your book. If you want to hear about Bourdains next adventure living in Vietnam for a year, and his culinary travels stay tuned to the Travel Channel next year.