Stalking Anthony Bourdain in Seattle
I first met Anthony Bourdain a decade ago when I read Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. I'êve been semi-stalking him ever since. If you'êre any type of foodie at all, you'êve most likely read his New York Times bestseller. Kitchen Confidential is a behind-the-swinging-doors peek into Bourdain'ês life in the kitchen, which eventually took him to Manhattan'ês Brasserie Les Halles, where he reigned as the executive chef for a number of years. Today, the restaurant still claims it is the 'êhome base of chef-at-large Anthony Bourdain.'ê
Not only can the New York-born boy cook, he can write. Really write. And it'ês far from dull. He'ês opinionated about food and most everything else; knows as many four-letter words as a sixth-grader; and throws a lot of punches when it comes to a topic that he'ês passionate about. Vegetarians and vegans must have been hurling beans and sprouts at him when he ranted about them in Kitchen Confidential:Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It's healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I've worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold. Oh, I'll accommodate them, I'll rummage around for something to feed them, for a 'vegetarian plate', if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine.
When my son moved to New York City about seven years ago, one of the top restos on my list was Brasserie Les Halles (simply called Les Halles and pronounced lay all). I sort of had this fantasy that Tony would waltz through just as I was diving into my steak au poivre and pommes frites. Although I dined at the Park Avenue location twice (there'ês also one in Downtown Manhattan and another in Coral Gables, Fla.), I never caught a glimpse of the now 54-year-old. But in 2005, I was able to watch him on the Travel Channel show called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Both my hubby and I were hooked on the culinary adventure program that combines food, travel and the lyrical prose of Bourdain. And we'êre fans of Anthony Bourdain'ês Les Halles Cookbook; his Boeuf Bourguignon is simple to make and tastier than Julia Child'ês.
Ten years after Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain has written a new book titled Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. Here'ês what publisher HarperCollins has to say about it: 'êTracking his own strange and unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to fatherhood, Bourdain takes no prisoners as he dissects what he'ês seen, pausing along the way for a series of confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food.'ê
When I found out Bourdain would be appearing at The Moore Theatre in Seattle as part of a 22-city book tour, I ordered tickets. At last, Tony in the flesh! On the day of his show, I posted on Facebook that I was going to see him, which elicited more than a dozen comments from fellow foodies. They ranged from 'êLove Bourdain'ês irreverence!'ê to 'êAB Sighting! We saw him getting out of a cab and going to the Inn at the Market.'ê Aha, that'ês where he was staying. I'êm not surprised, since it'ês a mere salmon toss from those world-famous fish mongers of the Pike Place Market.
Earlier in the week I'êd read a Q&A with Bourdain in The Seattle Times, where he mentioned that Le Pichet was one of his favorite Seattle spots to dine. I made a dinner reservation there prior to the 7:30 PM show; nonchalantly walked past the Inn at the Market on my way to the First Avenue cafe; and hoped I'êd catch a glimpse of the kitchen god at one of the two places. Alas, no Tony sightings at either the inn or the resto. Sigh.
The crowd in front of The Moore on the second night of summer (June 22) overflowed out onto the sidewalk and street. Once inside, the jammed house was filled with a preponderance of 30- to 40-year-olds; my hubby and I were a part of the smaller and 'êolder'ê segment. I originally balked at the price tag of the show, which was $35. Then I discovered that each ticket included an autographed book. Plus, after the show, Bourdain offered to personalize the books, autographing them again along with any other items 'êexcept breasts and asses.'ê You could also have your photo taken with the cooking guru.
The stage at The Moore was awash in blue light; only a podium, two microphones and a lone stool filled the space. Music by Talking Heads played on the theater'ês sound system and food bloggers in the audience were reminded that the hashtag for tweeting was #bourdainseattle. Yes, I was tweeting, along with dozens of others. Finally, Seattle chef/restaurateur/author Tom Douglas strolled onto the stage. 'êLet it be heard far and wide that I will sign any breast!'ê remarked Douglas, much to the delight of the crowd. Then Tony sauntered out, in his typical uniform of black jeans, grey shirt and dark jacket. Oh, and a pair of beige cowboy boots.
For about an hour he worked the stage and the crowd, accompanied by a long-neck beer from which he occasionally took a swig. 'êThere will be no Rachael Ray jokes tonight,'ê said Bourdain, and the crowd cheered.
He talked about the other Food Network chefs including Sandra Lee, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Ina Garten, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis. His comment about Gordon Ramsay of "Hell'ês Kitchen" was simply, 'êWTF, man?'ê Bourdain has admittedly settled down since his early chef days, now married to a Sicilian woman by the name of Ottavia, to whom Medium Raw is dedicated. They have one daughter, 3-year-old Ariane. As far as her diet, he simply said, 'êHow do I keep my darling daughter out of the claws of The King, The Clown and The Colonel?'ê This man may mince garlic, but not words.
Near the end of the program, he opened it up to questions from the audience. Here are some of his remarks during the segment:
Favorite foods: As I get older I want one-ingredient things, foods that sing, simple things with as little visible technique as possible.
Retiring cheap: Uruguay or San Sebastian, Spain
Single, male and turning 50: Go to Brazil
Stones or Beatles: Do I look like a Paul McCartney fan?
A favorite NYC resto: Le Bernardin
A favorite Seattle resto: Salumi
Next pork belly? Lamb neck
Fan of: Vietnam and Lebanon
Not a fan of: I really don'êt like Scandinavia
Chefs'ê culture cities: Seattle, Portland, New Oreleans
My favorite question was from a very rotund fellow sitting behind me in the balcony. He stood up and asked Bourdain, 'êI like to eat, you like to eat. I like to drink, you like to drink. How come you look like that . . . and I look like this?'ê I was laughing so hard I don'êt recall the answer. Blame it on Tony'ês good genes. Then pass the pommes frites, please.