When Ashley at (never home)maker started up an online foodie book club, I was all in. Not only do I love reading, but I love reading books about food. Not just cookbooks, but personal accounts, methods, stories, ideas, hopes, dreams, biographies. etc etc etc. I think this is a wonderful idea and am super excited to share my review of the first book. I think I might be the only UK-based reader in the group - will have to check once everyone has written their reviews too. And by the by, if you like this idea then you should totally join!
Anthony Bourdain - the nasty bits: collected cuts, useable trim, scraps and bones
The first book in the club was this collection of articles and written pieces by anthony bourdain, a famous American chef who hosts the TV show "no reservations", in which cameras follow him around as he samples local cuisine around the world. I have to confess, I've never ever read any of Bourdain's previous books or articles before and have never watched an episode of No Reservations. I have only ever experienced him as a guest judge on "Top Chef". I guess that gave me enough to work with, since he is most well known for his rough n' tough personality and no bullsh*t style.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I love when an author writes personal accounts with conviction and authority, when they aren't using fancy language just for the sake of it, when they come across as down-to-earth and honestly obsessed with their particular subject. Bourdain does exactly this. And I love the variety of articles that have been chosen for this book - even more so that he included a notes section at the end, giving updates on his views since the articles were written.
The best example of this is in the article "A Drinking Problem", in which Bourdain has no problem ripping into the fairly recent British phenomenon of the gastropub. Later, in his notes, he takes back what he said - noting, "I think I had my head up my ass when I wrote this thing." Bourdain seems to be into gastropubs now. But they are quite a unique concept, certainly unique to the UK. A really decent meal inside the four walls of a pub - an establishment that has historically been equated with beer, beer, beer, and maybe some average fish n' chips. But certainly not fine dining and a pint of organic cider. Or a WINE LIST. That's different.
While, for the most part, I read through this book with a smile on my face and a growing appreciation for the Bourdain, I came across a few stumbling blocks. These all relate to the fact that he HATES, LOATHES, DESPISES vegetarians and anyone who doesn't eat "normal" food. I understand. He is a classically trained chef, and classic food (and cooking schools) is centered around a diet rich in meat and dairy and eggs and any other animal products and byproducts you can think of. It's just a shame that he hasn't yet begun to appreciate the evolving world of food, even with his worldwide travels and years of experience. I get it - Bourdain is a guy who is stuck in his ways, who isn't ever going to appreciate "health food" or veganism; he's never going to accept food allergies or intolerances, and will always side with the waiter or chef who gets annoyed when a customer has to amend something on the menu because it contains gluten or dairy or eggs. That is a shame.
I do see where he is coming from. As a chef, you have put a lot of work into creating a beautiful menu that you are proud of. When a customer wants to change something that you yourself have thought up and created night after night, it can come across as rude, ignorant, disrespectful. But (and I'm only speaking for the food allergic or intolerant here - not the folks who just "don't like" something) don't you think I WANT to eat your dish your way? If you're serving up a gorgeous pasta dish with cream and cheese and eggy pasta and beautiful herbs, believe me, I'm jealous of those people who get to try it. Just because I've got a few dietary restrictions doesn't mean I shouldn't be allowed to dine at your restaurant. And 9 times out of 10, I will have to make substitutions and adjustments to a menu item (especially if the place in question has a michelin star). But the last thing I'd want to do is annoy the staff. This is something that I'm not alone in - feeling embarrassed, sheepish, guilty when ordering an altered dish.
So while I see Bourdain's appeal - being a tough, meat-eating, effing and blinding, mob-loving New Yorker - I just wish he'd supplement that with a tiny bit of tolerance (respect may be too much to ask) for the folks who appreciate fine food but suffer from a restrictive diet. There are still a few of us who are brave enough to step inside your restaurant's doors.