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January 23rd, 2002 Caryn B. Brooks | Food Reviews & Stories
 

A Cook's Book Tour

     
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This one's for my homies: Anthony Bourdain (left) and fan Anderson.
IMAGE: caryn b. brooks
Anthony Bourdain's smoking in front of Wildwood restaurant last Saturday morning when he spots him. Black pants, black shoes, black shirt, hair askew, anarchy tattoo on hand, bandage on finger. Bourdain points at Jonathan Anderson and says, "You must be in the business." Score one for Bourdain. Anderson's been manning the grill at Mother's Bistro for the past two years but recites a long and sordid restaurant history that mirrors Bourdain's own, which we devoured in Kitchen Confidential.

The points come early at this special morning reading of his latest book, A Cook's Tour. True, there are a lot of restaurant people here, but they're mostly freshly washed commandos rather than the grizzled vets that seem to be Bourdain's own traveling Skull and Bones society.

So why do squealing, Burberried, middle-aged ladies give him the Elvis treatment? And why do even the most jaded guy-guys let go of their guile when he's around? Because, as Miss Dish is well aware, the super value meal of smarts, well-honed shooting-the-shit skills and a carefully built image of fighting "The Man" has played well in America since guys in fake mohawks turned Boston Harbor into a big pot of tea. Anthony Bourdain, Francophile or not, is purely American. And Miss Dish believes he could be writing about flossing his teeth and the nation would smile.

Take Miss Dish's word: She's interviewed hundreds of people hawking their stories. Still, she's never witnessed a quote machine quite like Bourdain. Following are examples of extemporaneous Bourdain.

On the state of eating in America:

"The slow-food movement is a great idea, but it's a luxury item. In this country we're moving backwards, and it's going to be hard to catch up."

On writing about eating in foreign countries with questionable sanitary conditions:

"I violated every warning in the Lonely Planet guide books. People need to be less fearful of bacteria. Bacteria are your friends. Food is based on it--it's always a game between the rotten and the aged."

On why the Food Network keeps supporting him even though he slags them at every turn:

"They're sick of their own product."

After the reading, Miss Dish cornered the highly ectomorphic Bourdain (does anyone else think he looks like Fred Gwynne of Herman Munster fame meets Moe of The Simpsons meets a Day of the Dead totem? Anyone?) to pummel him with questions. She discovered that the rock star he'd most like to cater for is Courtney Love (because "she's gotten a bad rap--she's egomaniacal, tough and defiant just like a male rock star"). Miss Dish also found what could be the one topic that Bourdain seemed scared to touch. She asked him what he thought of both James Beard and the Beard House culinary association. He "pleaded the fifth." After Miss Dish teased him about being frightened, he told her it was because "I don't want to hurt my associates." Wow--no way was Miss D. going to back off then. After a long pause, he said, "In the past I've compared them to the Gambino crime family." Though he also offered some positives--Beard is an important figure in American culinary history, the Beard House is good for education--he let it be known that he thinks it's dangerous that an organization led by so many nonprofessionals wields so much power. More to come?

 
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