The Nasty Bits
2007 reissue of 2006 release, Non Fiction
Bloomsbury USA, $14.95, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 1582344515
Warning: Quoted material in this review includes language that might be objectionable to some readers
When I first came across Anthony Bourdain in 2001, I referred to him as a "gonzo bon vivant pirate chef." He continues the stories he began in Kitchen Confidential in The Nasty Bits, although in this book he not only writes about the realities of being a [bad boy, natch] chef, he also writes about his travels around the world as a foodie, both for The Food Network and more recently, The Travel Channel. If you're a fan of either of his shows, his guest appearances on Top Chef, or any of his bloggings around the Internet, you'll also like this book.
Foodies are familiar with most of the chefs Bourdain pals around with, and the fly-on-the-wall view he gives into their personalities, the music they listen to, their kitchens, and their equally foul mouths, fascinated me. One favorite but flagrantly filthy snippet involves his recollection of a conversation with Aussie chef Donovan Cooke: "You reduce the fucking jus, right? And you don't bloody skim it. You emulsify the fucking fat right in - at the last second. If the sauce breaks? What do you mean if the sauce breaks? If the sauce breaks, you're a fucking cunt."
Bourdain is an intellectual cook...well, he reads a lot. I was surprised last year to see him as an expert on Typhoid Mary on a PBS documentary and came to realize he'd actually written a book about her. He quotes liberally from a memoir written by George Orwell in the 1930s of his experience as a dishwasher and kitchen assistant. Apparently kitchens haven't changed as much as you might think.
Bourdain is proud of his journeyman status; although he hangs around with the top chefs of the world, he doesn't consider himself at their level. I've never been to Brasserie Les Halles, but given that its bistro food (by definition) isn't at the same level as Le Bernardin or The French Laundry, I take him at his word. It's a blessing, really, because his descriptions of where cooks and chefs go after hours provide a lot of the book's richness.
In both books, Bourdain lauds the Salvadoran and Mexican line cooks who actually prepare the food you eat in most fine dining restaurants. I appreciated that, but liked even more reading about his continued disdain of celebrity chefs (he went after Rocco Dispirito's appearance on Top Chef last year, and takes him apart for a full chapter here).
If it seems that much of this review is gossipy, and based on foodie trivia, that's a result of the cult of personality that's grown around Anthony Bourdain. It's impossible to separate the cook and writer from the gonzo pirate who rails about American fast food or is sublimely happy eating local delights that most of us would find absolutely disgusting. Nasty bits indeed.
-- Laurie Likes Books
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