A Fond Farewell to the Bard of the Bistro

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The loss of Anthony Bourdain hit the food world hard. He was intense, driven, foul-mouthed (his books introduced the obscenity into recipes) but also charming, friendly and curious. His friend Fergus Henderson once described him to me, ‘Delightful. You should meet him.’ Sadly, this was never to be. We may be deprived of this idiosyncratic and compelling individual – but we still have his books, an unparalleled corpus compounded of steamy culinary memoirs and singularly intense recipes. Bellowing the virtues of simple techniques, great ingredients and profound flavours, Bourdain was the streetwise bard of bistro cooking. By Christopher Hirst

This extract is from  Don’t Eat Before Reading This, the 1999 New Yorker article that was the basis for his acclaimed first book Kitchen Confidential

Since we work in close quarters, and so many blunt and sharp objects are at hand, you’d think that cooks would kill one another with regularity. I’ve seen guys duking it out in the waiter station over who gets a table for six. I’ve seen a chef clamp his teeth on a waiter’s nose. And I’ve seen plates thrown — I’ve even thrown a few myself — but I’ve never heard of one cook jamming a boning knife into another cook’s rib cage or braining him with a meat mallet. Line cooking, done well, is a dance — a highspeed, Balanchine collaboration.

I used to be a terror toward my floor staff, particularly in the final months of my last restaurant. But not anymore. Recently, my career has taken an eerily appropriate turn: these days, I’m the chef de cuisine of a much loved, old-school French brasserie/bistro where the customers eat their meat rare, vegetarians are scarce, and every part of the animal — hooves, snout, cheeks, skin, and organs — is avidly and appreciatively prepared and consumed. Cassoulet, pigs’ feet, tripe, and charcuterie sell like crazy. We thicken many sauces with foie gras and pork blood, and proudly hurl around spoonfuls of duck fat and butter, and thick hunks of country bacon. I made a traditional French pot-au-feu a few weeks ago, and some of my French colleagues — hardened veterans of the business all — came into my kitchen to watch the first order go out. As they gazed upon the intimidating heap of short ribs, oxtail, beef shoulder, cabbage, turnips, carrots, and potatoes, the expressions on their faces were those of religious supplicants. I have come home.

From Don’t Eat Before Reading This, Anthony Bourdain’s essay in the New Yorker (1999)


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