How Anthony Bourdain Got Me to Cook

The first time I watched “No Reservations” was on an airplane in route to Kolkata, India via Jackson, Mississippi.

It just so happened to be the episode where he was in Kolkata eating street food and dodging cock-fights. I got real nervous. “This is where I’m going to live for four months??”

I’ll save the India story for another time, though it’s a place you can never forget. India, specifically Kolkata, has this way of sticking to you wherever you go.

I didn’t really watch his show again until two years later when I found myself itchy to travel. Travel shows have this way of itching that scratch, if  just temporarily. I was really getting into food. I found myself cooking southern food for friends and it slowly became something comfortable for me.

Sitting down after a long shift at the cafe, finding an episode I hadn’t seen yet and indulging my senses in the sights and sounds of something unfamiliar was becoming a comfort for me. Not only was the cinematography something I was addicted to, the narration and writing pulled me in. Finally, a travel show where I don’t feel nervous that the host will make an ass of the typical American traveler.

Watching Bourdain has always felt honest. He would sit and eat with families and locals and make them feel comfortable. He was kind to the people he met and was most importantly, culturally appropriate.

He never called their customs, “weird” or made a big deal about them or the food they cooked. He always seemed thankful for the opportunity.

Also, I liked how much he cussed and smoked and drank. It is, at times, decadent to watch No Reservations. I am one of thousands who claim to be a fan of the show, so there’s nothing unique about any of this.

Food became important, as I watched people in different parts of the world cook for Tony. The mix of social, economic, and culinary details were always present. It was a show much more realistic. It gave me hope that I could be a traveler, and not a tourist.

The downward spiral began. I picked up Kitchen Confidential and fell into it hard. Just getting into the industry, I was so curious about everything. What does it take to be a cook? Could I make it? Are chefs and cooks really this neurotic? Well…yes and no.

I picked up some knives after taking a knife skills class down the street from where I worked at the time. I started out with a Global utility knife, which didn’t come close to quenching my need for the things. Eventually, I saved up and have a pretty rad set of Global knives. Also, the infamous F. Dick offset serrated knife he talked about in Kitchen Confidential.

Oh yeah. I ate it up big time. But I also didn’t know what else to do. Tony was bad ass and right on. In KC, he talks about what it takes to be a cook day to day. How Food Network has made cooking for a living look like a dinner date with Jeffrey and Ina Garten…(ewh…) Hey, I like Barefoot Contessa. It’s all good.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford culinary school, so I started teaching myself. I bought into the whole celebrity chef thing hard. I developed a man crush on David Chang and bought Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. The typical first steps of a foodie. But I wanted to be different.

I wanted to work. I wanted to do more than consume. I wanted to understand.

I started throwing dinner parties and became sort of good at it.

I catered a few friends parties and pulled it off — though sometimes just barely.

And needless to say, I am just starting my life working in a kitchen. To say Bourdain is responsible for all of this is not true, but he was a catalyst for most of it.

I have to say the Two Fat Ladies made a great impression on me as well, to give credit where it’s due. I mean, bubble and squeak??!

So thanks Tony. I know you probably aren’t going to be in Portland any time soon, or even read this, given that we’re a city full of foodies/hipsters/industry folk, but if you do, it’d be a pleasure to sit down and buy you a shot and a beer at one of my favorite haunts.

We can sit and talk sh*t about lousy customers and food writers because there’s nothing better than talkin’ shop in a dark bar after a long day on your feet.

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