Sunday, February 17, 2002
Bourdain's views undiluted by sudden chef stardom
When he wrote about drugs, sex and creative recycling of leftover food in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Bloomsbury; $14.95), Anthony Bourdain painted a decidedly unglamorous behind-the-scenes picture of working in New York restaurant kitchens.
The best-seller led to another book, A Cook's Tour (Bloomsbury; $25.95), and a Food Network television series in which the brash Mr. Bourdain executive chef of Les Halles in Manhattan travels the globe, swallowing still-pumping cobra hearts in Vietnam and gobbling freshly slaughtered pork in Portugal.
Mr. Bourdain will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood at 7 p.m. Monday to sign his books. Success hasn't tamed his strong opinions, as proved by a brief phone interview from Dallas during his book tour.
Question: Can you compare touring the Midwest to your travels in other countries?
Answer: Cooks really are the same everywhere. . . . Sure, I'm a New Yorker with all those concerns, but I've eaten fine food in some outposts. And I've been talking to a lot of cooks who are really just catching this food craze. They're really eager, taking some regular things off the menu, putting new stuff on. They're happy about it. They're jazzed.
Q: Have you heard of Cincinnati chili?
A: No. What is it?
Q: It's chili served on spaghetti with beans, cheese and onions.
A: Now you're scaring me. But I'll try it.
Q: I bet you also didn't know Cincinnati is the home of Pringles. I heard Pringles aren't your favorite snack food.
A: They (Pringles) represent everything I despise in food. Are there potatoes in there? They're really not potato chips are they? They're in a tube, as if potato chips aren't convenient enough. It (the product) assumes the worst about people.
Q: Can you explain the popularity of chain restaurants in America?
A: Chain restaurants are bad for humanity; they're the enemy. We've become disconnected with where food comes from. Fast food solves a real need for people. But fast food in Vietnam is not bad. . . . Even in England and Scotland they feel sorry for us. What all the rest of the world has seen of us is Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Q: From what you've written, you've made it clear you don't care for vegetarians. Why?
A: Because most don't appreciate food. And someone who doesn't appreciate food doesn't appreciate art, music or sex. Vegetarians seem fearful, absolutely certain, about how the rest of the world should live. I've heard of people who feed their dogs vegetarian meals. It's like they know better than God.
Q: What would you rather be known as a cook or a writer?
A: Even when I'm not cooking, that's who I am. I'd rather hang out with cooks than writers. After writing all day, it's like sifting grains of sand. At the end of a cooking day, you know how well you've done.
Q: You've criticized the celebrity status of Emeril Lagasse and other star chefs. Yet most would now consider Anthony Bourdain a star chef.
A: Yes, it's hideous, isn't it? . . . I really don't understand why this happened, but I'm flattered and pleased and it's good for the business. Even Emeril, Bobby Flay and the rest of those guys, they're good for the business. I don't like their shows, but at least they're on the right side.
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