Editor’s note: The following is a Daily Gazette story from Nov. 11, 2009, previewing Anthony Bourdain’s appearance at Proctors. It was written by former Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha. Bourdain died Friday in Strasbourg, France.
He’s touted as a celebrity chef by the media, but Anthony Bourdain doesn’t see himself that way. “I’m a lucky ex-cook who gets to tell stories,” he said during a phone interview from his home in New York City. Lucky is right. As host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” he gets to explore the world, sampling exotic dishes along the way.
But Bourdain’s career hasn’t been all glitz and glamour. In fact, he spent the majority of it sweating and stressing in insanely busy restaurant kitchens. His odyssey began with a stint as a dishwasher in Provincetown, Mass., and continued through a stew of crazy cooking jobs that ultimately led him to the executive chef gig at New York’s famed Brasserie Les Halles.
Bourdain plated up his life story, along with plenty of shocking tidbits about what goes on behind kitchen doors, in his best-selling novel “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” which was published in 2000. After that, offers started to roll in: more book deals, and proposals from TV producers.
Over the years, Bourdain has seen it all, done it all, eaten it all, and much to his amazement, has lived to tell it all. And tell it he will, in his show at Proctors on Sunday evening.
What’s on the menu? Bourdain’s pretty much going to wing it. “I know I’ll be talking for a while, and taking questions from the audience. How rowdy or funny or unpredictable it is, is based entirely on who turns up in the audience and how much they’ve been drinking,” he joked. “I hope it’s a rowdy crowd.”
Bourdain plans to share some of his more colorful -- and often off-color -- culinary adventures, expound on the joys of good food and offer tips for the foodie traveler. “I must have been in well over 100 countries by now. I figure I’ve gotten pretty good at traveling and eating while traveling,” he reasoned.
Keeping it simple
Just back from an eating excursion in Ecuador, Bourdain was relaxing at home for a day before setting off on his next assignment. When in his own kitchen, he likes to cook simple dishes, like beef bourguignon or a slow-braised dish, “something forgiving and delicious,” he explained.
“Keep it simple” is the advice he offers to all home chefs. “If I have company coming over, I’m only cooking something I’ve cooked successfully before, something that’s durable, that I can make in advance,” he said. “I try to keep it simple, rustic, fun and within my comfort zone.”
Even professional cooks, he noted, are ultimately in the pleasure business, so when he hosts a dinner party, he wants everybody to enjoy the evening, including himself. “If you’re struggling and sweating and becoming a nervous wreck in the kitchen over something a little too fancy for your skill set, then no one’s having a good time,” he said.
In Bourdain’s mind, food is inseparably intertwined with pleasure. He waxes poetic, in “Kitchen Confidential,” about the taste, texture and presentation of briny, raw oysters; Tuscan bread soup; and chilled lobster, stacked on fava bean puree. His favorite cuisine is Japanese -- sushi in particular -- but he’s willing to try anything edible once. Once, he noted, is sometimes way more than enough. “That rotten shark in Iceland,” he recounted, “they putrefy the shark. It’s sort of a national dish. That was pretty disgusting. I wouldn’t eat that again.”
The fulfillment Bourdain derives from making his TV show is similar to the gratification he gets from cooking: both involve creating. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of making things,” he said. Although he enjoys his current work, a part of him longs to craft behind closed doors, like he used to in restaurant kitchens.
“In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be on the show,” he admitted. “I would just love to be behind the scenes writing it, and maybe doing the voice-over, or writing the voice-over. I like telling the stories. . . . I don’t get any particular kick, honestly, out of being recognized on the street or being on TV.”
Still, Bourdain’s job provides some pretty amazing perks. “I find myself reflecting on my life from dunes in the Sahara and temples in Asia on a fairly regular basis, so that doesn’t suck,” he said.
He encourages everyone to get a taste of what the world has to offer: “If you’re lucky enough to have the ability to travel, by all means, do so, and be open to new experiences. Let things happen. Try to get away from the organized tour. It’s a big world out there, with a lot of good stuff.”
The following recipes are from “Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook.”
Steak au Poivre
Use sirloin or filet mignon. Filet, while tender as all get-out, lacks somewhat in the flavor arena. A healthy wallop of crunchy black peppercorns more than compensates.
4 8-ounce steaks
2 ounces freshly cracked -- not ground -- peppercorns
2 ounces olive oil
4 ounces butter
1 ounce good Cognac
4 ounces strong, dark veal stock
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Moisten the meat very slightly with oil, then dredge each of the steaks in the crushed peppercorns to thoroughly coat. Don’t be shy with the pepper.
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add 2 ounces of butter. Place the steaks in the pan and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side.
Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until desired doneness, about 5-7 minutes for rare, 10 minutes for medium rare, and so on.
Remove from oven and remove steaks from pan to rest. Have I told you yet to always rest your meat after cooking? I told you now.
Return the skillet to the stove top and carefully stir in the Cognac. Unless you’re a pyromaniac, I recommend adding the Cognac to the still-hot pan carefully off the flame, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to get every scrap, every peppercorn, every rumor of flavor clinging to the bottom of the pan.
Now place the pan on the flame again and cook it down by about half. Stir in the veal stock (and demi-glace) and reduce over medium heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with French fries or sauteed potatoes.
Note on Searing: With any recipe that calls for searing meat and then using the pan to make a sauce, be careful to avoid blackening the pan -- your sauce will taste burnt. Avoid by adjusting heat, say to medium high, so it will still sear the meat but not scorch pan juices. But stoves and pans vary, so pay attention.
Charlotte de Marron
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 ounces dark rum
16 ounces chestnut puree
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
26 ladyfinger cookies
For the simple syrup: In a small pot, combine the water and sugar and bring it to a boil. Let it boil for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.
For the filling: Place the chestnut puree in a mixing bowl and soften gently with fingertips and a spoon. In a separate bowl, beat the cream to soft peaks with a whisk or electric mixer. Add the sugar and continue to mix until it holds its soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the chestnut puree.
Assembly: Line a rectangular terrine mold with plastic wrap, using enough extra so that the top of the charlotte can also be covered. Soak the ladyfingers, one at a time, in the simple syrup until they are soft but still firm enough to handle. Place the soaked ladyfingers in the bottom of the terrine, in a single layer and line the sides of the terrine in the same fashion. Spread half the chestnut filling evenly over the ladyfingers until the terrine is half full. Top that with another layer of soaked ladyfingers and that layer with more chestnut filling. Fold the plastic wrap over the terrine and store refrigerated for at least 4 hours. Just before serving, unmold the terrine and serve in thin slices.