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Tag Archives: Anthony Bourdain

“A sin would be to mistreat the dishwasher” – Ferran Adria…

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…from the latest episode of “No Reservations”, Anthony Bourdain’s  TV series. The show focuses on the closing of Adria’s famed 3 Michelin starred restaurant, El Bulli.

This is so true. There is no more integral cog in the wheel of the restaurant, and the least paid, than the dishwasher. I’ve said as much in previous posts and reaffirm that through the auspices of Mr. Bourdain.

Think about it – a restaurant can actually do without an Executive Chef, but it can’t do without a dishwasher.

It’s incumbent on all waiters to give the requisite respect to the lynchpin of the restaurant, the dishwasher.

PS, the dishwasher in the picture is a future restaurant owner, Peter Demos of Demos Restaurant of the Nashville area. Perhaps it would help every waiter to think of each dishwasher as his or her potential employer.

You know you’re a foodie when…

…you’re watching Tony Bourdain in Vienna and you say, “He’s drinking out of a Spiegelau wine glass! It’s an “Authentis” Burgundy glass! Why is he drinking white wine out of it? And hey, I’ve even got one of those glasses”!

That’s when you say to yourself, “Have I’ve gone too far? Am I a lost boy”?

That’s on top of me going to a new Vietnamese restaurant this afternoon and being disappointed with the  Bánh mì sandwich and the vermicelli dish that you find in most Viet restaurants (you know the one – it’s got cut up pieces of spring roll, cilantro, grated carrots, “BBQ pork”, ground peanuts and a side bowl of sweetened fish sauce. First of all, the Bánh mì barely had any crunchy bits like cucumber and carrots, and had some very stalky cilantro stuck in the middle. The pork was the requisite reddish color but had hardly any flavor. Plus, it wasn’t even cut in the middle. Sad. Then, the vermicelli dish had some sad bits of cilantro and a sprinkling of carrots and almost indiscernable cucumber, the fish sauce tasted more vinegary than sweet, and the spring rolls were basically Chinese spring rolls (I don’t know what makes them different, but the Vietnamese spring rolls you usually find in the dish are far more succulent and tasty). But the final insult was the fact that the vermicelli was overcooked and comprised most of the bowl instead of having a good ratio of noodles to “good bits”. Oh wait, I forgot – I had to send back the lemonade because it was a commercial mix  instead of that really good “homemade lemonade” that you find in a good US Vietnamese restaurant. Hell, it even said “homemade lemonade” on the menu. I told my waiter that it tasted like Countrytime and she told me that it was actually Minutemaid.

I turned into one of those passive-aggressive diners that we waiters all hate, only I dropped the “aggressive”. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the very nice, accommodating waiter that it wasn’t her fault but her restaurant’s cuisine sucked eggs. I was hard enough for me to send the flipping lemonade back ($2.75 – are you kidding me??!!??)

I feel badly because I won’t be going back, especially since there are three good Vietnamese restaurants within 3 blocks of there. I feel especially bad because I didn’t have the heart to tell my waiter. I’m a baaaaddd diner.  But even worse, I feel weird that I had such emotions over a $10 lunch. I guess that makes me a foodie of sorts – a foodie on a budget.

God, somebody please help me…

The great coc au vin controversy

Several seasons ago, Top Chef contestant, Casey Thompson, was undone by her take on coq au vin during an elimination challenge at The French Institute. Well, she wasn’t undone per se because it didn’t send her and her knives packing, but it cost her a win, even though it was possibly the best dish.

What kept her from being Top  Dog that day?

She called the braised chicken dish coq au vin. The result was coq au vin lite, if you will. Some will say, “How can you expect to cheat a dish that is a national signature dish in front of judges who represent the leading cooking school in the US of that country”?

Well, perhaps we should back up and talk about the dish and the controversy.

What is coq au vin and how in the hell do you pronounce it?

It’s pronounced (roughly) cocoa van. Easy enough. So it means chicken with wine, right?

Well, sorta.

Technically, it’s cock with wine (OK, get your sniggering out of the way). The older the cock the better (OK, get off the floor). It’s a dish that’s thickened with the blood of the cock or some other animal like a duck or goose or even pig, since you usually won’t get enough blood out of a wizened old bird to thicken the sauce by itself.

The key components to the classic version of this dish are rooster, blood and time…three things that are precious commodities or outright unobtainables on Top Chef. I mean, when was the last time that you saw rooster at your local Whole Foods?

Why rooster, you might ask? Why would you even want to bother with an old wrinkly sinewey tough bird in the first place?  Why, it’s the sinew and the “toughness”, silly. Sinew is connective tissues made from collagin and elastin and is dissolved through prolonged exposure to moist heat. Muscles which have been overworked are also tough, but they have enhanced flavor components not present in young, unworked muscles. They too benefit from a long braise and the combination of the melting of the connective tissues and the tenderizing of the muscle meat adds to the rich flavor of coq au vin.

All of this begs the question – why rooster? They don’t have much usable yield and French farmers running household farms weren’t probably awash in roosters. In fact, generally, really small operations usually only have one or a small handful, which get exhausted from all of the “pollinating” after about 3 years. You usually only need one rooster for a dozen or less hens. So, not only can’t you fill a pot with chicken meat from the roosters on hand, it’s a time-consuming dish. My theory is pretty simple – you never threw out anything that could be eaten. You never knew when the next revolution or world war was around the corner.  The rooster had to go eventually, so the French found a way to utilize these tough old birds and, in doing so, they created a classic dish.

This dish is best braised for hours and hours. You use aromatics like celery, onions, garlic, and bouquet garni, utilize lardons (thickly cut bacon),  tomatoes and mushroom (if desired) and serve with a starch like boiled potatoes or pasta (traditionally, the French also serve it with green beans). Thing is, the French realize that you just don’t run into roosters every day unless you’re a farmer or happen to live near one. So, even the French have adapted the dish to modern times.  Larousse Gastronomique even mentions that the dish is often made with regular chickens these days and, in fact, doesn’t even mention roosters in the recipe that it provides. Neither did Julia Child back in the day. Even the guy who decries the homogenization of regional cuisines, Anthony Bourdain doesn’t even mention roosters in his recipe and only adds an addendum at the end of the recipe about “being adventurous” and adding blood instead of using flour as a thickening agent. 

If you search the internet for coq au vin recipes, it’s almost impossible to even find one that has roosters in the recipe and demands blood as a thickening agent.

So, why all of the fuss on Top Chef?

Ironically, most of the agitating about the authenticity of the dish came from Italian heritage’d Tom Collichio. In fact,  IIRC  Sirio Maccioni loved the dish, as did the judges from the school itself. But leave it to Collichio to throw the book at Ms. Thompson because it wasn’t really a coq au vin. C’mon dude. She didn’t try to call a Pop Tart a bruschetta. He spent a lot of time trying to convince other judges that she had fired a torpedo into French cuisine.

So Casey, here’s your redemption, despite your recent ceremonial throwing-under-the-bus of your fellow Top Chef runner-up Carla, which I have to say, showed some cat-like qualities. At least you performed a mea culpa…

I would have offered an “authentic” recipe, but, believe it or not, I couldn’t find one. Not even in any of my “French” cookbooks – not even purist Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. That should tell you that Thompson was probably cheated out of a win, since Collichio’s objection was seemingly what gave competitor Hung the win. It probably didn’t make any difference in the end, but still… 

If you actually want to make the real thing, I would suggest that you take a reasonable-sounding recipe and substitute rooster for chicken. Have your butcher find you some pig’s blood and reserve about a half a cup of it. Make sure that if flour or a roux is used to thicken the sauce, ignore that part of it. Make sure that you slow braise the rooster for a long time over low heat (I’d give it at least 6 hours). As you get to the end of the process, instead of adding thickener, slowly add a little blood and incorporate it, adding just enough to start the thickening process. Add a little more and keep repeating until you get the consistency that you are looking for. If you add the blood too quickly, it will cause the sauce to seize and harden. 

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

A rumination on the scrubbing if the line cook/chef pirate image

Photo Salon/AP

At Salon, Francis Lam is worried about the kitchen.

And probably for good reason:

Ten years ago, Anthony Bourdain became a star when he released “Kitchen Confidential,” his restaurant-as-pirate-ship memoir, and pretty much single-handedly defined our image of the “real life” of restaurant cooking: a manly adventure of hot-shit line cooks and sodomy, rum and lashes of cocaine. It’s an intense world where the abuse comes from all angles, and, as in sports or war, is filled with heroic, violent mythmaking.

So when a chef in Canada got canned last week for speaking a little too frankly to a journalist about life in his kitchen, Tim Hayward speculated in the Guardian that the chef may have just been trying to join Bourdain’s party: “By telling the gritty truth like ‘chef’ [Gordon] Ramsay does it, surely he should have expected admiration, kudos and unlimited girls …” But for the chef’s sake, I hope not. Because that ship has sailed — a culture drowning, ironically, in the very waves of celebrity Bourdain helped to create.<snip>

The article is headed by:

Why kitchens stopped being like pirate ships

10 years after Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” the bad-boy chef is an endangered species

The post is a must-read, and you are hereby commanded to go here:

http://www.salon.com/food/francis_lam/2010/04/01/bourdain_kitchen_confidential_no_more/index.html

Story on mobile dining in LA on CBS Sunday Morning

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I just finished watching a pice on the burgeoning mobile street food movement in LA, a trend started with Kogi, a true groundbreaking company…so groundbreaking that it recently came close to filing a lawsuit against Baja Fresh, which had decided that Korean-styled meat served from trucks was the next big thing and used the word Kogi (which means “meat” in Korean) to describe their product. Read about it here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=370002

The CBS story showed the wide variety of new “street food” dining choices in LA, from gourmet hot dogs run by the former Chez Panisse “meat forager, to a truck that predominately offers homemade ice cream sandwiches.

The wrinkle is that, with Twitter, you can guide followers of your output to specific locations throughout the day easily instead of purely relying on foot traffic to provide you with hungry customers. I’m sure that eventually, there’ll “be an app for that” as well. Perhaps you could pick up your iPhone and beam a message to your favorite vendor that you have an office-full of hungry employees that want to line up for your goods, or perhaps simply send your location to be plotted as to time and place and let the vendors themselves plot the dots to determine the best places to build their daily circuits around. Hey developers, feel free to use the idea – just put this blog URL in the credits and give me a plug :chuckle:.

The bottom line of this story was “it’s the economy, stupid”. However, I think Anthony Bourdain would tell you that it somehow misses the point – that America, due to its lack of large-scale pedestrian traffic, has been woefully behind the rest of the world in the amount, diversity and just plain rib-sticking quality of street food. I suspect that, a lot of what’s driving this new trend is a craving for the more savory, the less formal, the sensory experience of the sounds and smells of food being prepared in the moment on the street. The connection between a country’s culture and its dining, hit head on by the street vendor. Twitter and mobile apps might be just the key to unlocking this experience, so sorely lacking in the US, to the majority of Americans. It might be a little bloodless and calculating and an end-around of the logistics that make America so different from the rest of the world, but who cares? If I can get even the pale imitation/equivalent of a barrel-cooked jerk chicken in Kingston, I’m a happy camper. Besides, perhaps it is the perfect representation of our culture, as expressed by street food.

Even in my mid-southern city, rolling taco trucks have become popular. I hope it’s only a matter of time before someone comes up with a creative mixed cuisine concept that can become popular in a town not known for its ease of vehicular travel.

I was hoping to link to the segment, but they don’t have it up at the moment. Perhaps later…

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Thailand on this weeks “No Reservations”

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Regular readers of this blog know how enamored I am with the cuisine of Thailand. So I am happy to point out that the newest episode of Anthony Bourdain’s great show, No Reservations, takes place in Thailand.

I can’t wait to experience Tony’s descriptions of the distinct flavor and texture profiles of this great and noble cuisine. And I’m sure there are going to be some passing references to debauchery and decadence as well.

I suggest that just before you watch the show, that you dust off a copy of Alex Chilton’s song Bangkok and listen to it at maximum volume.

This makes me very happy indeed.

The show airs on The Travel Channel at 9pm CDT Monday night.

Be there. Aloha.

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http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Anthony_Bourdain

http://anthony-bourdain-blog.travelchannel.com/