That’s Just Nasty

I have a great deal of respect for Anthony Bourdain. Not for his ex-junkie, drinking, smoking, vegetarian-hating, pig-killing, squeasel-eating antics, but because he tells it like it is. He’s one of those folks who talk first and think later, someone who regularly gets pegged as being the guy who says what everyone else is thinking but are too afraid to say out loud. And most importantly, someone who puts his honest opinion out there and is willing to take the heat when it doesn’t go over favourably.

I also respect Bourdain for being a real guy who’d rather eat pho on a streetcorner in Vietnam than put on a suit and tie and go to an upscale hot new restaurant just because it’s the thing to do.

The Nasty Bits is a collection of Bourdain’s writing from the past few years since he left his gig at Les Halles in NYC to become the punk rock version of a food celebrity, with shows first on The Food Network and then with the Travel Channel. Published in a variety of magazines and newspapers, The Nasty Bits touches on anything and everything that touches Bourdain – from being seated on a plane next to an obese woman on his way home from a conference where he took on the heads of McDonald’s, to the interview with molecular gastronomy chef Adria Ferran of El Bulli which ultimately led to the decision to leave The Food Network (they were against spending the money to send him to Spain and instead were trying to force him to into the more traditional celebrity chef niche).

He writes about everthing from his favourite places to eat in New York to his favourite places to eat in Singapore. He cooks in a suite on The World, the condo-cruise ship, describes a food tour of Las Vegas while emulating Hunter S. Thompson, and rags on both Emeril and Rocco DeSpirito, and then apologizes to both in the end notes, which lend some very interesting insights into the rantings of the articles themselves.

The most intriguing piece for me is the article “Are You a Crip or a Blood?” in which Bourdain groups chefs into two categories. Crips are the chefs who insist on the finest of everything, while Bloods are the everyday folks running Mom and Pop joints, especially in poorer countries, who cook for flavour and love. The end notes explaining the piece hit a nerve with me:

As much as I admired and appreciated the slow-food movement, and the increased interest in better, more seasonal ingredients, there was a whiff of orthodoxy about it all that I felt contradicted the chef’s basic mission: to give pleasure. I’d met a lot of hungry people in recent years and I doubted very much whether they cared if their next meal came from the next village over or a greenhouse in Tacoma. The notion of “terroir” and “organic” started to seem like the kind of thinking you’d expect of the priviledged – or isolationist. The very discussion of “organic” vs “nonorganic”, I knew, was a luxury. I’ve since come to believe that any overriding philosophy or worldview is the enemy of good eating.

I don’t know that I agree with Bourdain completely on this, as he sort of falls into the definition of the narcissist Wayne Robert’s describes in a recent NOW magazine article on the local vs organic debate, but having been to a number of events where a lot of priviledged white folks sit around and try to figure out how to bring organic/local/slow food to the masses, it does make one wonder how the issue plays out to the folks who have no choice but to resort to food banks each month.

If you’re a Bourdain fan, or if you just have a hedonistic streak when it comes to food, The Nasty Bits will be a fun and intriguing read. It’s a look into the man’s darker (and lighter) side, and his sharp wit and biting sarcasm are sure to amuse.