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Goodbye, Chef Bourdain

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

Dear Chef Bourdain;

It’s been six months since you killed yourself. The weekend after, some friends of mine and I had a final “Bourdain Dinner” where I tried to finish one or two of the items that were left undone in this project, started so long ago. We made “skate” grenobloise, and despite driving all over Los Angeles we didn’t find any skate. Several places promised they had it, but it was lies. We ended up at an asian fish market that I am positive you would have loved for the wide variety of strange foods there. We were half-stewed because one of my compatriots (who was also present for the very first Bourdain dinner, “Chicken of the Gods” – appropriate that he was also there for the last..) showed up much earlier than I expected. I’d laid in a fair amount of wine and booze for the day and evening, but maybe having some “breakfast wine” wasn’t the greatest idea. But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a Bourdain idea. “Should we drink breakfast wine?” What would Tony Bourdain do?

So there we are slightly legless at the Asian fish market, and up the hall is a Philippino fast food place that serves halo halo, just like you had in the LA episode with Dave Choe. We got ourselves a cup and as you said yourself, it makes no goddamn sense, but I love it. We ended up with …. I dunno, chef, some kind of fish that’s supposed to be a little bit like skate, maybe giant perch, I think? Eventually we ended up back at my house and we watched some of our favorite No Reservations and Parts Unknown episodes, and I made “skate” grenobloise and whipped up some kind of rice dish. It was pretty damn good, as I recall.

But that was six months ago. And I haven’t been able to write this letter, because this will be the last one. How I feel about your suicide is complicated. It’s not that I need to “process my feelings” or anything like that, they’re no less complicated now than they were when you died. But the edge is off, and while it doesn’t feel any less heart-breaking, at least today it feels like I’m bigger than the grief. Like if that heartbreak gives me any trouble, I can beat it up and take its lunch money.

The way you died is terrifying to me. Because on paper, you had it all. You had a career the rest of us can (literally) only dream of, travel anywhere you want, fame, fortune. More than that, you had the respect of your peers; you were famously welcome everywhere, and beloved by all for your ability to bring people together, to get them to see what’s good in each other. All without being saccharine-sweet or phony. You were an edgy, authentic, snarky bastard all the way. But above all that was honesty, and people love that. I love that. You had a daughter, an 11 year old daughter. You had friends. You were healthy – healthier and more fit than you’d ever been. What was missing, chef?

That scares the hell out of me, chef. I don’t have … any of that, except the daughter. I don’t have a dream career, though I’ve got a good job. I have to save for travel and don’t get to do it nearly often enough. What friends I had are scattered by either distance or my divorce and I rarely see them. I am not loved, or married, or dating a movie star. I am not fit, and my health has been spotty. (Though fine now, thank you for asking.) I have the daughter though! She’s five, not 11, but she’s a constant source of joy. I can’t imagine leaving her behind. For one thing, I wouldn’t want to scar her like that. For another, I want to see how she turns out. I think she’s going to set the world on its edge, and I want to see what she does. I can’t tell if she’ll be a villain or a hero, but I’m sure she’s going to be brilliant.

But none of that was enough for you, chef. Why not? And if that kind of success doesn’t inoculate you from the darkness, I’m pretty sure that means nothing outside the self can. The only way to be safe from your demons is to fight them yourself, because fame, and fortune, and luxury, and love, and family and friends and all your dreams come true aren’t good enough, apparently.

That is a hard truth to handle. That’s what’s taken me six months to wrap my head around. And what broke it open was an article I read today , one little quote, seemingly inconsequential. It’s this, Matt Goulding (producer): He [eventually just got] tired of eating. You could see it. Very rarely he said anything more than, “Mmm, that’s really good.” I said, “You don’t talk about food anymore.” And he was like, “What do you need me to tell you? You need me to tell you how the acidity plays off of the richness of the cream sauce? And how the crunch helps refresh your palate? Bullshit. You don’t need me.”

“He eventually just got tired of eating.” I think that’s it, right there. I mean, what do I know, I’m just some guy that met you once in a bar on Santa Barbara, and likes the stuff you made? But that could do it, it seems to me. No joy. No joy in the food anymore. What happens when you’ve got everything, and there’s no joy? What happens when you have an amazing opportunity, one after another, but there’s no joy? There’s a sense of appreciation for what an honor it is to get to do what you do, sure. And gratitude for the life you’ve lead, yeah. But … you stopped talking about the food, chef. That’s what made you famous. Or half of it, anyway – it wasn’t just the food, of course, it was the people making the food, sharing the food, eating the food. It was sharing their joy about food, and sharing it with everyone.

If there’s no joy, you’re just going through the motions. And I can see in a particularly dark moment, you might look at a future that is an endless trudge of doing things everyone is quick to tell you you’re so incredibly lucky to do, and find that unbearable. If you were just some schlub working at a pipe-fitting job in Hackensack, maybe you’d feel entitled to a little existential dread, and that would somehow be a comfort. Like, “Yeah, of course this all feels hollow, it SUCKS.” But what do you do if it really shouldn’t suck, if it ought to a non-stop carnival of fun and adventure….and you’re just done? But you can’t be done, because now you’re an industry. Now there’s all these people depending on you for their jobs, for their living – and their families too. If you were a little less famous and fortunate, you could just walk away, right, chef? But you couldn’t. Not and explain it to anyone.

And maybe five minutes more and you’d have shaken it off, just enough to get through the night. Because the news that Tony Bourdain quit his amazing job traveling the world and having a gas with friends from everywhere would be puzzling, but it wouldn’t be a punch in the gut the way Tony Bourdain killing himself was. Because you can come back from having a breakdown, or a sabbatical, or fuck – just walking away letting it all burn and living in a shack in the woods. A few years later when you’ve found your joy again, you can go on to your next gig. Or help young people new to the industry get their message out, and share the love that way. Or just retire and refuse to answer questions, like Salinger. Whatever, the thing is, fuck you, Uncle Tony, you killed yourself rather than find out if you could do any of that.

I’ve got a fraction of the blessings you had. But I’ve got a fraction of the responsibilities too – the only people that depend on me are my daughter, and Assistant-Chef-Bourdain. (Aka Blink. And my other dog, too, though she hasn’t experienced the leftovers like Blink has.) I don’t see my friends very often, and they’d barely notice if I was gone – I wouldn’t leave a huge hole in the world, the way you did. But I don’t have any addictions, either. And most importantly, I still talk about food. I still enjoy eating. I still feel the joy. I’ve got something that I think, at the end, you didn’t have, and I think it killed you.

I don’t know, chef. That’s just my intuition. But it helps me find your death a little less scary. Because I have had depression too. I’ve struggled with my own demons, too. But now I know; when I don’t find any joy in the things that mean the most to me, it’s time to reach out for help. Because I am now, and I hope I always am, hungry for more.

Goodbye, Chef Bourdain. This is my final letter. It’s been a hell of an experience, learning from you. In the last eight years, I learned to cook, I learned to write a little better, I learned to experiment and try anything anyone offers me.  I won’t forget, just like you told me in Santa Barbara – the cassoulet needs a little more oil. And most importantly, I promise, I won’t fuck up my meez. Goodbye. Thank you. Fuck you. Nah, thank you, that’s the important port. But fuck you a little. My dream of cooking for you and Chef Ripert will never come true. Goodbye.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Petatou ala Han Solo

August 26, 2011 1 comment

Petatou Les Halles. Yes, those are Tie-Fighters and the Millenium Falcon

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Have you ever dreamt of re-enacting the trench run scene in Star Wars in edible, delicious, cheese-encrusted potato snacks? Yeah, me neither, but what the fuck, I did it anyway.

It’s pretty easy to do, too. As in your recipe, I mixed up a vinaigrette and smooshed it into the boiled potatoes with herbs and whatnot. I only had two metal rings for shaping the mix, so I also used the Star Wars Sandwich Cutters that my wife and I got as part of a wedding present. I wasn’t sure this would work – how firm are these things, after all, and how well would they keep their shape? I had to work the potato into the smaller crevices of the non-circular molds with a little bit of vigor, then coat it with goat cheese. I tried to make sure the goat cheese didn’t overhang the edge of the mold.

A bit of a baking, and then out they come to be covered in a reduced heavy cream mix, and then into the broiler they go to brown up. When they were nice and caramelized on the top, I pulled them out and eased the metal molds off, very gently. It all stuck together nicely, and they took the shapes of the molds pretty well, as you can see.

I put them on little plates and set them aside to nibble on while I continued with the Bourdain-a-thon recipes, and I’ve got more to write about all that.

In other news, I’m having a hard time sourcing some of the ingredients that the more esoteric dishes called for in the last passel of recipes on the list. So I’m hoping at the Epicurean Festival this weekend to score some of the rarer stuff. And if not – well, surely just some of the good stuff!

Whatever the case, I’ll be making more good stuff soon. Probably not with the Star Wars cross-over though.

Davy

P.S. My wife saw you and your wife just a few blocks from our house at Venice Beach recently. Why didn’t she say “Hello!” and recommend the blog to you? I couldn’t say. Hope you stopped at Jodie Maroni’s while you were down there!

Categories: Uncategorized

Celery remoulade Les Halles

August 4, 2011 1 comment
Celery remoulade by aghrivaine
Celery remoulade, a photo by aghrivaine on Flickr.

Dear Chef Bourdain;

Here’s a classic French side, basically a pretentious version of coleslaw. I brought it to a family dinner one night, and it went qutie well with the barbecued chicken and carne asada – just like coleslaw might have.

I tired using a mandoline slicer as you suggested, and it made a hideous mess, and as always, left me in mortal fucking fear of slicing my fingers or a good portion thereof, right off. So I just julienned it by hand. This resulted in uneven, malformed slices as you can see above. Still, when dressed with the vinegar, mayo, white wine, salt, pepper and mustard, it tastes quite nice, doesn’t it?

I had covered the celeriac slices with lemon juice to keep them from oxidizing. Isn’t it odd to call it that? It’s like vegetables rust or something. Anyway, that was a lot of lemon juice, and maybe a little too much, in fact.

But the dinner guests who had been to France were nostalgic about it, and it was a nice, refreshing, and unassuming side that wasn’t too hard to throw together. I call that nearer a hit than a miss.

But seriously, I need better knife skills.
Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Salad Nice Ooze

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment
Salad nicoise by aghrivaine
Salad nicoise, a photo by aghrivaine on Flickr.

Dear Chef Bourdain;

This one is really easy. Boil some potatoes, some eggs, some green beans. Put ’em in an ice-bath. Throw in some oil, red wine vinegar in a bowl you’ve rubbed with garlic. Toss in green peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, plus the quartered potatoes and green beans. Top with tuna, olives and anchovies.

It was kinda nasty, to tell you the truth. But you know, that’s anchovies for you. Super salty. I brought it to a family dinner, and while it looked gorgeous, it clashed with the BBQ chicken and steak. And fish-on-fish is a little much one of the fish is super salty, like a mouthful of…

Seawater. Yeah. That’s what I was going to say, and I’m stickin’ to my story.

Thanks for an easy recipe though, Chef!
Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Frickin’ Veal

June 23, 2011 3 comments

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’m down to the last half of the recipes in the book. Of course I took a lot of the low-hanging fruit for the first half, guts night notwithstanding. Now I’m trying to find the stuff for some of the harder-to-find ingredients.

Fuck you and your veal, Chef. Seriously, there’s no single ingredient that you use more than veal. You know, people don’t eat a lot of veal these days, have you noticed? Trying to find the more exotic cuts, most butchers are happy to oblige – if I buy a half a metric ton of it. And the dirty looks I get from other people when I ask for veal – you’d think it was THEIR baby I wanted to serve up on a platter. (Which would probably be fine with my wife.)

Frickin’ veal, chef! Why couldn’t you have gone nuts with like..chicken or pork chops or something?

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Vicious Saws Les Halles for Father’s Day

June 21, 2011 1 comment
Vichyssoise Les Halles

Vichyssoise Les Halles

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I’ve never had much reason to celebrate Father’s Day in the past. Without getting bogged down in therapeutic self-revelation, let’s just say my actual father is a shitbird who was far better gone than present, and the nearest analogue I had (my grandfather) was really careful to remind me in many ways that he was not my father and I shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking of him that way. So what a strange feeling it was to have a father-figure (my now father-in-law) who is not only worthy of respect and admiration, but also almost universally well-liked. This is the kind of guy you really don’t mind going an extra mile for on Father’s  Day. Or, for fuck’s sake, any day, but certainly this one in particular.

So what do you make for Father’s  Day, chef? Sorry, but the fussier French dishes in Les Halles Cookbook don’t really cut it. I wanted the kind of food that guys typically crave, but infrequently get unless they make it for themselves. Knowing also that my father-in-law has a perhaps strange obsession with coleslaw and corn-on-the-cob, I found more recipes in Ad Hoc At Home than in your book. But I didn’t want to bail on the project entirely, especially since I’m falling a little behind my goal of getting the whole thing done in a year.

So I settled on vichyssoise as a starter. It’s been quite warm lately, so a cold soup seems like a good idea. I decided to smoke some beef ribs (beef being his particular but not-oft-indulged favorite) and make coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob with lime salt and butter emulsion, and asparagus with poached eggs and smoked garlic-sausage. I spent the day before rubbing the ribs and letting them marinate, making the vichyssoise, and for the first time making my own sausage.

Nathan from Ikillit.com helped me with the sausage-making as well as the beer-drinking. He wouldn’t have any of the pork sausage, but we also made chicken and apple sausage, and since he’s murdered and dressed a chicken, that he could have. You know that expression “you don’t want to see the sausage being made”? Well, it’s not quite true. Really, you don’t want to see the cleanup. It’s fucking gruesome. There were literally gobbets of raw ground meat hanging from the wall, the cabinets, the counters…yikes, man.

Anyway, after the effort of making and packing the sausage (not a euphemism) knocking out the vichyssoise was no big deal. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m already planning my next batch of sausage, because it was really, really good. Good and fresh and lively in the way that lets you know what you’ve been missing with store-bought stuff. Next up, I think? Duck, plum and ginger sausages. (I’m not working off of recipes, I’m just improvising. It’s sausage, you can do that.)

So I chopped and sweated the leeks, then added the potatoes. Simmer in chicken stock – and then carefully – CAREFULLY – pureed, and combined with cream and seasoning. I brought it to a simmer without letting the cream burn. Then it just goes into an ice-bath and put in the fridge overnight when it’s thoroughly cool. In the middle of all the smoking, cabbage-chopping, corn boiling and so forth – it was a relief to be able to just portion the vichysoisse into mini-cocottes and serve when everyone arrived.

One mistake I made though, when seasoning I misjudged how much salt was in my salt cellar and just dumped it in. That horrible “Oh shiiiiiii…..” moment didn’t stop my other hand from stirring, thus keeping me from actually sifting the salt out. The result, it was a bit too salty. But that’s my fault, definitely not the recipe.

Dinner was a hit, I think – and the low-fuss starter course is part of what let me get it all out together. I’ll keep this in mind for future events, or just if I end up with a crap-ton of leeks for some reason.

I hope you had a great Father’s Day too, chef – though if your daughter isn’t making you man-feasts yet, clearly it’s your fault for failing to properly motivate her.

Happy Father’s Day;

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized

Butchershop Bar & Grill in Glasgow

June 7, 2011 1 comment

UK headquarters for the New Old School - Butchershop Bar & Grill

Dear Chef Bourdain;

What do you call this sort of new movement in cuisine, that takes the tradition and heritage of classic dishes, and updates them with a healthy dose of attitude; all with a lot of love and respect? Badass Gourmet? I think of it is as “New Old School” when I try to describe it to friends and other foodies. And I found the Mecca for the New Old School in the UK – Butchershop Bar & Grill, in Glasgow, Scotland.

I’m back from honeymoon and already cooking, but I had to take a second to tell you about this joint. My (now) wife and I were headed for the Kelvingrove Museum and half-starved from driving across a significant chunk of Scotland. Without anything to go on other than the exterior, we randomly pulled over and checked it out – but as soon as the owner, James, sat us down and gave us a menu, I was in love. The menu is all about the good stuff – classic cuts of steaks, you name it. We started with a parfait of chicken liver and pate de fois gras that was out of this world – like butter made from animals. I mean, butter is made from animals, but I mean – shit man, you know what I mean.

It must be in space, because it was out of this world!

For mains, I had a cote de beouf. I know you have it at Les Halles all the time, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it anywhere. James was happy to chat about his menu, and confessed that they nearly always have it, but took it off the menu because it didn’t move, but if it’s a special – everyone orders it. My wife ordered lamb’s liver, and it was succulent, earthy and decidedly lamby – perfectly prepared, beautiful ingredients. Weird – we saw lamb everywhere we went, but it was almost never on the menu; an affront to my wife who loves to eat anything innocent. I guess if the Scots were eating their lamb, though, they wouldn’t all have been gamboling around the meadows like they were.

Later in our trip we ate at some famous and highly regarded restaurants, like The Witchery in Edinburgh, but none of them held a candle to the Butchershop. If you’re ever in Glasgow again, Chef – drop in on James; he’s larger than life and his restaurant is a beautiful homage to classic steak houses with a bit of a rock-and-roll attitude. Something tells me you’d like that!

Davy

Categories: Uncategorized
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