Losing Anthony Bourdain
Year ago I met Anthony Bourdain briefly when he was on book tour in Montreal. I brought him scones.
I didn’t personally know Anthony Bourdain but I did meet him on one occasion and wrote about it in a newsletter at my website, www.Betterbaking.com. Here’s the original feature, with recipe.
No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain Meets……..Montreal
I shouldn’t bake and tell but I must. I just delivered scones to Anthony Bourdain. Not even extreme scones — just perfectly baked ones. He was here in Montreal on book tour, promoting his newest, No Reservations, Around the World on an Empty Stomach, Bloomsbury 2007. I was invited as a member of the media. I knew I had to bring something. Chefs love it when someone else cooks.
Scones are a great bring-to gift. They’re heroic in that they’re quick, easy and always impress. So for Anthony Bourdain, I made very special Chocolate Mandarin Scones bespecked with semi-sweet chocolate, set in a buttery, cream-kissed batter, studded with currants and topped with a tri-flavoured fondant of vanilla, orange and chocolate essence. There’s nothing better than baking for someone who eats everything and appreciates anything.
Like many people, I’d read a bit of Bourdain’s other works and like everyone else, had heard much about cuisine’s bad boy enough to presume that at the press conference, proceeding his sell-out appearance in Montreal, he’d be firing off things both risqué and raw, from tales of eating stuffed lizard’s innards, tossing back beating snake hearts, and ingesting all manner of deep fried, marginal things, stories of crazed chefs and in short, a host of shocking stories. Bourdain, celebrity of the professional kitchen and the hallowed halls of TV was synonymous with all things vaguely, outrageously related to what is loosely, broadly called cuisine. But what he’s really about is…..people. Food is incidental; everyone eats, most of us cook or have to and the conversations that come as a result of sitting down and breaking bread are what counts. No one gets that, save Julia Child, as clearly as Anthony Bourdain.
Still, at the media gathering, I didn’t know really know what to expect and wondered if outrageous people, such as Bourdain’s reputation pronounced him, would be predicatably petulant and difficult. The other journalists were already restless and making asides. When Bourdain arrived he was surprisingly quiet, even demure; he sat down without fanfare amongst the gathered journalists, offering a warm hello and a genuine thank-you for the media turn-out. It was like one of your distant, most charming cousins, turning up on your on your birthday because they remembered and not only remembered but also thought to bring a small gift along with innate nice manners and no small amount of charm.
The local journalists brought up provocative questions (Is foie gras dead? What’s the deal with unpasteurized cheese? Who is the fairest chef in France? Is Nigella Lawson as fabulous off camera? What’s wrong with cooking today?” What does he have against culinary school graduates?). Bourdain did say food was theatrical, at one point.
I simply could not think of what to ask and was frankly intimidated. But then I heard someone say something about food and cinema and I realized with an inner start that the voice that asked the question came from me.
“Excuse me, but speaking of theatre, perhaps you could shed some light on when chefs became showman, and instead of teaching, we started performing like pop-rock acts. When did chefs who are supposed to lead and teach about food morph into performers and why do we seem, do home cooks, seem to want this?”
Bourdain speculated that first there was Julia and Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck but probably Emeril was the one who made food part of celebrity fanaticism. But really, he said, what seems to drive droves of people — viewers — who seem to need to slurp up food shows rather than perhaps, live their own lives of passion is a pervasive lack of passion or somewhat bereft sex lives (actually, he didn’t put it quite as sedately as I just did but you get the point). Talk of celebrity, theatrics and chefs made him recall his favorite food film,which was Ratatouille (it made him weep) as well as Big Night (a close tie).
Bourdain chatted more — as comfortable as if he was in our livingroom, about his new book (all travel text, tons of amazing photos, lots of character, gusto and more than a few profound reflections), and also about his innate respect for the working chefs from Mexico, Salvador and all points of the planet (notably the unentitled plarts) that produce young men and women who are already ‘adults’ versus culinary school graduates who (despite being a culinary graduate himself) “ are just kids’ playing in the kitchen.
Peppered with questions, and in anticipation of a full house after us, and two hours of entertaining a mass of people, what emerged was as man who loves food, loves people and vitality, dislikes fundamentalism in any form (whether it be terrorism or vegetarians which he loosely lumped together) especially as it pertains to a non-curiosity about food or life.
Here was someone, despite a reputation for edginess, who was passionate, invigorated, and in a strange way — simply…soulful. He admitted to enjoying his life and profession (“Let’s face it. My life doesn’t suck”) and its perks but confessed to being as happy –left alone, to cook, eat, and wander the world — cameras kindly pointed on someone else. Asked about what he admired in food –he was clear — Americans doing French food, fine, or preferably a French chef in Northa America doing it differently than the same chef would do in France. Asked who he respects in cookbooks, the come back was quick and clear: Julia! Julia Child. You can’t go wrong. Her books are the best. And always, just go back to the basics’.
One last question:
“Did Chef Bourdain intend to enjoy some Montreal snack food, such a poutine, while here?”
”Yes, he said, with gusto, Sometimes you just want to eat that or deli.
That seem like a good moment to hand over the bag of warm scones.
“Between planes and trains and hotel rooms, duck spleens and as Bourdain noted, ‘the inevitable hotel room mini bar’ a fresh scone is going to taste awfully good”.
I know food and I know about human appetite. As a chef and as a mother, it’s a no brainer. It’s what we do. And maybe, because I’m human, I wanted to be seen.
The interview ended and somehow I fell in beside Bourdain as the press group made our way down the ancient stairs in this turn-of-the- century old opera house (The Corona Theatre) in Montreal, where outside, some 1500 or so people were waiting in the rain, in anticipation of the sold-out event where Bourdain would appear and just talk, not cook but keep those people awed and captive. As the two of us walked we talked about why cooks are all crazed and wild and bakers and pastry chefs more sedate. “Can you be a bad boy baker?” quizzed Bourdain me. “Absolutment, I said.
I met a chef who loved what he does. I also saw, despite world class fatigue and sophistication — humility. More than that, he loves food, and people –and is, as far as I can tell, appreciative of every facet of food and has a love-intolerance relationship with professional cuisine and an ongoing adoration — nay fascination of the incredible, exotic, world cuisine that happens outside those elite doors. That he, his loves, talents and pervasive hungers became performance art is coincidental. That we are drawn to it and him says more about us, than the performer. Bourdain is right about that. We need our own passions.
That feature was written in 2007 and Anthony Bourdain went many more incredibly miles until June 8 2018. They say the good die young but it’s not so much that as we miss them (and need them) disproportionately more. People who speak the truth, with good hearts, no matter how raw or edgy they can be or polarizing or shocking are too few among us. We feel the loss because everyone who speaks the truth and has unflinching morality is a light in this world. Bourdain wasn’t just a father, friend, husband, partner or chef — he was an exceptional soul and spirit that enlivened this world. He will be missed.
Here’s the recipe that became the scone gift. If you hurry and make them now, you and Tony will be likely enjoying the same treat, at the same time, in real life.
I wrote this feature in 2007 for my readers at my website, www.betterbaking.com. I didn’t know Bourdain personally beyond that one meeting and my heart goes out to his family and personal friends that did and must endure his untimely passing.
Marcy Goldman’s Scones for Anthony Bourdain
Aka Swiss Chocolate, Currant, Orange Glazed Butter Cream Scones
These are the most amazing scones in that they are bursting with flavour and fragrance and all at once rustic but elegant enough to suit a king. Finish them off three ways — with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, the tri-flavour fondant, or just the butter and sugar before baking treatment. What makes these special is the ground-up chocolate counter pointed against the sultans and currants and then the crown of fondant and orange zest. These were so good that I ate the leftovers at 2 am while reading Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (almost) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup Swiss, semi-sweet chocolate bar, in large pieces
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup, approximately, whipping cream soured *
¾ cup plumped raisins
¼ cup plumped currants
Melted unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure orange extract or ¼ teaspoon orange oil
½ teaspoon pure chocolate extract
Coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
- to sour the cream, pout 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a measuring cup. Pour to the one cup mark, with the cream. Let stand and allow to curdle.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Arrange oven rack to upper third position. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper.
In a food processor, place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda together and whiz to combine. Add in the chocolate and pulse to almost grind up the chocolate within the floury mix. The mix will turn a bit beige. That’s ok. Add in the chunks of butter and pulse to break the butter into the dry mix until it is lumpy.
Turn the mixture out into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs, and most of the cream. Mix to make a shaggy mass and then add in the raisins and currants. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently to make a cohesive dough. Pat into 1 inch diameter and cut into wedges, about 10 or so. Brush the scones with melted butter and dust with sugar or coarse sugar.
Place on baking sheet and baking until just browned on top and around the edges (more around the edges), about 16–18 minutes.
For the fondant, mix the confectioners’ sugar with the extracts and milk or cream, as required, (very little) to make a soft spreadable fondant. Smear or spread on a few scones (some scones leave butter topped, some dust with confectioners’ sugar and some apply fondant). Before the fondant sets, place a few pieces of semi-sweet chocolate on top and some shreds of orange zest. Let set.
Makes about 10