Originally published in The Tacoma News Tribune, Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004 12:01 AM (PST)
My colleagues in the food press like to paint Anthony Bourdain as the
Jack Kerouac of the kitchen, an articulate bad boy roaming the seamy
What this caricature slights is Bourdain’s seriousness of purpose,
intelligence of vision and affection for food that is at once vulgar
and refined. A gastronomic Jean Genet, or Lou Reed, Lord of the Line
Cooks, would be more appropriate.
Bourdain catapulted from brash cook to celebrity chef four years ago
with the publication of his sex-drugs-cockroaches tell-all, “Kitchen
Confidential.” Since then, he’s written for The New Yorker and
traveled the world on the Food Network’s dime, eating and extolling
the virtues of all things tasty and disgusting, from sheep testicles
to monkey brains.
A recovering heroin addict and graduate of the Culinary Institute of
America, Bourdain is a well-regarded crime novelist and author of a
book about Typhoid Mary, the 19th-century cook suspected of
triggering a killer epidemic. He’s just published his first cookbook,
“Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes and
Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking.”
The recipes are collected from Les Halles, the New York City
brasserie where Bourdain has been executive chef since 1996. The
voice is pure Bourdain: Swaggering and unflinching, he insults and
cajoles readers while giving them a no-nonsense field manual of
kitchen techniques and cooking insights.
Bourdain will be in Seattle on Monday to participate in the
Washington Wine Commission’s Cooks & Books Visiting Chef’s Series. I
spoke with Bourdain from his Manhattan home. What follows is a
bouillabaisse of a conversation about cookbook writing, the cult of
celebrity chefs and the virtues of immigrant kitchen labor.
Read any good cookbooks lately?
I think “The French Laundry Cookbook” was terrific. It was beautiful,
yet interesting writing. It wasn’t nonsensical musings. It wasn’t BS.
Fergus Henderson’s “The Whole Beast,” it’s very much his voice, it’s
him talking to you. As long as the chef doesn’t just slap his name on
the cover and put in some pretty pictures and have a ghostwriter do
everything else, it’s of interest to me.
You’re referring to gushy food memoirs?
I think you’re doing a reader a disservice if you try to make them
believe that since infancy you’ve been dreaming of white truffles,
white asparagus. That’s just such nonsense. So few chefs actually
came to the business like that.
Your cookbook is pretty nuts and bolts – or hooves and snouts – with
an emphasis on basic techniques and “low-on-the-hog” ingredients.
I think the whole idea of cocktail-table food porn is something I
very much did not want to do. I wanted my book to be useful, to have
food spilled on it, to quickly become an old friend in the kitchen. I
wanted it to have my voice. I wanted it to sound like me, the way
I’ve talked to generations of cooks over the years. I don’t think you
can do that by writing from on high. A lot of that writing has no
relation to reality. It’s hard to believe that the chef actually
sounds like that when you’re talking to him over a few beers.
So there’s too much preciousness about food?
I think yes. I think food should be approachable and fun, and you
should feel comfortable mopping your sauce with bread. It is only
food at the end of the day. Snobbery, pretentiousness, squeamishness,
contempt, these are terrible things. Overwriting, over-weaning
philosophy or orthodoxy – these are anti-food and anti-human
instincts. The sooner you get rid of that, the better.
How do you feel about food safety worries?
I think both sides are dangerous. This notion that the government
owes you absolute purity is a dangerous one to food. People shouldn’t
be afraid of bacteria; they shouldn’t be afraid of food. By the same
token, they should not see food as coming from some sort of rarefied
environment populated only by artists. Most of the great dishes of
the world have come out of less-than-sterile environments.
So you don’t get turned off by hole-in-the-wall joints that serve
good food but don’t pay attention to hygiene?
If a restaurant’s filled with happy-looking people and the food looks
good, I’m eating it. I’m not very concerned about “is the kitchen as
clean as McDonald’s?” What’s the cleanest restaurant in America? It’s
probably McDonald’s. It’s clean. It’s germ-free. And it’s completely
devoid of pleasure.
What about more upscale restaurants?
If you’re charging me $28 a plate, I expect a certain pride, I expect
certain standards right through the operation. If you don’t care
enough to clean your bathroom and you’re charging me $28, that is a
little dismaying. But my expectations change when we’re talking about
a little place that serves pho or tacos. Hey, if the tacos are good
and the place is packed and they’re packed with the right people,
which is to say Mexicans or Vietnamese, then I have a reasonably good
expectation that I’m gonna have a good meal.
Who’s more indispensable during the Saturday night dinner rush – the French chef or the Mexican dishwasher?
The dishwasher. We can make it through the night without the chef. If
the dishwasher doesn’t show up, we’re doomed. And chances are the
Mexican dishwasher will end up staying a much longer time than the
French chef and end up carrying the entire weight of the kitchen as
sous chef eventually.
Have Latino immigrant workers changed kitchen culture?
Only for the better. It’s a character issue. They by and large come
to the country with little or no professional training. But they come
from a food-centric culture where food is important to them, it’s
valued and enjoyed. And they’re coming from one culture to another,
and they see America where – rightly – if you work hard you will gain
the American dream, whereas Americans often tend to see success as a
So why don’t we see more Latinos on cooking shows?
Every day that goes by that we don’t have one is a shameful one. It
is despicable, for instance, that when you look out into the audience
at the James Beard awards how few Latino faces you see in an industry
that is enormously reliant on Mexican and Latino labor. It’s
grotesque to me that that isn’t acknowledged every day.
Do diners know or appreciate who’s really doing the work in most kitchens?
Oh, no. There’s an incredible hypocrisy and willful blindness on the
issue. How can anyone complain about illegal Mexican labor? Try to
find an American dishwasher. It’s ridiculous. As long as Americans
are not willing to be seen working as dishwashers or prep cooks or
night clean-up, as long as they see that as beneath them, it’s
ludicrous to deny the value, the character and importance of the
Latino workforce. As I see it, we are all chefs, cooks and
dishwashers, we are all the same people. We are all the back-stairs
help in the service industry. I don’t see myself as any better or
more important than a Mexican dishwasher. In fact, I’m in many ways
Do restaurants exploit immigrant labor?
What has changed in my lifetime is that the days of the underpaid
illegal immigrant restaurant workers are largely over. It doesn’t
matter who you are, you’re getting paid the same lousy wages, but at
least they’re within legal range – 7, 8, 9 dollars an hour. I think
that anyone who’s paying an illegal Mexican under the legal wage
should be shot, or at least flogged publicly.
Besides kitchen Spanish, what have you learned from Mexican dishwashers?
I just feel privileged to work with these guys. They have the
strength of character and a sense of humor and an understanding of
the way the world works that a lot of my peers don’t.
When is your next crime novel coming out?
I don’t know, but I intend to write them every two years as personal
therapy. It’s nice to disappear into an alternate universe where
people solve their problems with guns and blunt objects, which is
something we can’t really do in the restaurant.
Do celebrity chefs have groupies?
Yeah. It’s a pretty disturbing group. I mean, sure, hey, it’s nice to
be loved, but when somebody likes you because you’re on television,
you’re talking about Kathy Bates in “Misery.” You’re not talking
about somebody you’re going to develop a meaningful relationship
with. It’s flattering, but it’s a little disturbing.
Has the cult of celebrity chefdom worn out its welcome or peaked?
I hope not. I think it’s a good thing. It’s good for the world. I may
not like Emeril’s show, but I think the world is a better place for
him having been in it. He runs good restaurants. He came up the hard
way from the old school. Because of him we probably have a wider
selection of food in our supermarkets, people are eating marginally
better and maybe even cooking marginally better. Who better than
chefs? We do something useful. We feed people. We nurture them. We
inspire others to cook better and eat better. In a fast-food culture,
that’s a good thing.
How do you feel about the F-word – foodie?
For lack of a better word, I can live with it. Sure. Why not?
Yield: 6 servings
2 pounds beef shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
4 onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup Burgundy
6 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 garlic clove
Bouquet garni (1 sprig flat-leaf parsley, 2 sprigs fresh thyme and 1
bay leaf tied together with string or bundled in cheesecloth)
Salt and pepper
Water (amount depends on size of pot)
A little chopped flat-leaf parsley
Season meat with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or large,
heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over high heat until it is almost
smoking. Working in batches, sear the meat on all sides until well
browned. Set aside. Add onions to the pot. Lower the heat to
medium-high and sauté until the onions are soft and golden brown,
about 10 minutes. Sprinkle flour over onions and continue to cook for
5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine, and scrape anything that
sticks from the bottom of the pot. Bring mixture to a boil. Return
the meat to the pots, and add carrots, garlic and bouquet garni. Add
just enough water so that the liquid covers the meat by one-third -
meaning you want a ratio of 3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat. Bring to
a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about 2 hours, or
until the meat is tender and breaks apart with a fork. Check stew
every 15-20 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the
meat does not stick. Skim off any foam or oil that collects on the
surface. When done, remove and discard the bouquet garni, add chopped
parsley to the pot and serve.
Source: “Les Halles Cookbook” by Anthony Bourdain
The stats and search refers on this site indicate that folks are looking for my food blog. I wrote a food blog the Tacoma News Tribune from March 2006 to July 2008.
When I quit the Tacoma News Tribune editors changed the name from Ed’s Diner to TNT Diner and stripped my byline off all posts.
If you’re looking for South Sound Eats, which was more than a blog, you can find a text-only snapshot of South Sound Eats thanks to the Wayback Machine. Otherwise, South Sound Eats is offline because I could no longer pay the bills to keep it alive.
See all the categories listed with this post? I covered all those and more in my blogs.
Yeah, I joined the meme.
BY ED MURRIETA
Joel Huesby doesn’t behave like the sort of person who would tip a cow, much less tilt Big Beef’s windmills.
He looks a stranger square in the eyes, offers a lean hand and introduces himself as a “holistic manager” and “sunlight harvester” who raises livestock in a low-stress environment with no growth hormones, antibiotics or other hallmarks of the virtually monolithic meat industry.
Wonkishly idealistic yet mild-mannered, Huesby is just a fed-up, fourth-generation farmer from the Walla Walla Valley who won’t take a lot of things any more.
“A lot of people in the cattle industry, which is where I grew up, are price takers,” Huesby said recently over omelets in Seattle. “The packer says, ‘All right, this is what I’m giving you and that’s it.’ The cattlemen have never liked that because they have no control over the marketplace. And the packers, who are few, say, ‘Take it or leave it. We’re the only game in town.’ “
Twelve years after returning his family’s wheat fields to pasture, Huesby is sowing an old-fashioned network of sustainable livestock production, meat processing and direct-to-consumer sales that he says benefits farmers and consumers by localizing and protecting the food supply at a time of rising food and oil costs, agricultural diseases and terrorism concerns. Read the rest of this entry »
BY ED MURRIETA
The eastern shore of San Francisco Bay hardly inspires images of amber waves of grain. But it’s right here in Albany, eight traffic-choked freeway lanes away from a horse-racing track on the water’s edge, where a U.S. government plant geneticist may change the nature of wheat plants and commercial bread production.
Ann Blechl works for the Agricultural Research Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, whose tax-payer funded mission is to find solutions to agriculture problems that affect Americans from the field to the table.
A team led by Blechl is trying to solve a problem that affects large-scale commercial bakeries: how to control the stickiness of bread dough made from certain wheat flour.
The conundrum is ironic: Overstickiness may have cropped up as a result of a “breakthrough” 20 years ago, when researchers cross-bred rye with wheat in order to obtain a more hardy wheat plant. Now it may take genetic engineering to isolate and remove the rye gene that is suspected of causing wheat flour to produce sticky dough.
Ed’s note: Submitted two weeks before I quit the corporate newspaper job and set out on my own.
The formal restaurant review as written by an anonymous critic is an out-dated concept that short-changes readers. Here are my recommendations for restructuring how the News Tribune covers food and restaurants in a way that gives readers more content — delivered faster, delivered with more immediacy and produced at a lower cost to our company.
1. Eliminate restaurant reviews based on multiple visits over extended periods of time. Replace traditional reviews with frequent blog reports of the “first bite” and “second bite” variety.
On the Internet, where everyone’s a critic, amateur blogs and restaurant review sites abound. Newspapers, especially one our size and resources, and their readers no longer need the traditional restaurant critic; instead, they need a guide — the South Sound’s Best Foodie Friend who tells readers about great new pizza and burger places, incredible winemakers’ dinner, last night’s fabulous Yukon River salmon at Sea Grill and things like my latest finds at the Korean supermarket food courts.
Not only would readers get more content, they’d get it faster; readers want to know about new and interesting places to eat now, not three months from now when the traditional restaurant review is ready for publication.
Writing more frequently, and with more immediacy, also would benefit readers by making the News Tribune’s online restaurant guide timely, urgent and useful. Restaurants that may not otherwise be reviewed could now be featured in all of our platforms: web site, restaurant guide and newspaper. Restaurants that haven’t been reviewed in years could be revisited for readers.
In addition to giving readers more content, my recommendations would enhance the value of the News Tribune’s restaurant guide as an advertising asset.
2. Rethink whether the restaurant critic’s anonymity serves the newsroom or serves the readers. As a half-time anonymous critic and half-time ambiguously anonymous reporter who is also expected to report and write features about food and life in the South Sound, I short-change readers in the areas of multimedia, immediacy, accountability and the type and scope of stories I can report.
Tearing down the wall of anonymity would enable me to give readers multimedia, immediacy and accountability. I could take and post photographs of every meal I eat. Readers could see for themselves if the critic’s pork chop was bigger than theirs or whether he got more mashed potatoes than they did.
I could interview chefs in their natural environment – in their kitchens, where, as a reporter who knows my way around kitchens, I could give readers an insider’s look at the food and people they want to know about. I could more freely write about farmers, winemakers and other food purveyors who work directly with chefs. I could attend and freely report on food events and trade shows.
Tearing down the wall of anonymity would enable me to build upon the community that I’ve created with Ed’s Diner. I would like to further engage readers and build my blog community by dining with readers. I would be accountable to and transparent with readers, who would be able to see and judge for themselves whether critics receive perks that regular customers don’t. (In my world, the answer is no.) My reviews could publish side-by-side with readers’ views. The News Tribune could milk this marketing-wise.
3. Examples of precedent are few. To my knowledge, only the New York Daily News has had the vision to raise the public profile and reader accessibility of its restaurant critic. Earlier this year, the Daily News hired a new critic: Restaurant Girl, the highly visible and photogenic creator of a popular New York City restaurant blog. Daily News editors did not respond to my telephone messages or e-mail inquiries. However, in her debut column, the Daily News’ Restaurant Girl argued that critics are the readers’ links to restaurants, chefs and their food. Chefs, Restaurant Girl argued, should be given the opportunity to present their best to critics – and through critics to readers. To that same point, several chefs have told me that they would like to serve me non-anonymously and let the chips fall where they may. Success, of course, depends on the integrity of the critic and the trust the critic has with readers.
At the Los Angeles Weekly, Pulitzer-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold is no longer anonymous. A distinctive-looking man, his picture was widely published, online and in national newspapers, after he won his Pulitzer in 2007. Gold reports no adverse effects on his ability to perform his job with impartiality.
At the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, two former restaurant critics report that they have been better able to serve readers – in the newspaper and on their blogs – since they transitioned from full-time critics to food writers. (Both newspapers replaced staff critics with freelancers.)
In a business climate that demands more content with fewer resources -– and in a market that cannot afford a full-time critic – new rules must be written. More content must delivered faster, delivered with more immediacy and produced at a lower cost to our company. In addition to the trust of readers and a track record of professional integrity, I believe I have the vision, skills and background in online publishing to take the News Tribune and restaurant criticism in a new and better direction.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.