“No Reservations” Season 7: Bourdain is Back

February 28, 2011

By Karen

The long drought is over. Anthony Bourdain travels to Haiti, where he meets Sean Penn trying to help the people recover from the earthquake. Travel Channel’s Room214 is MIA, so I didn’t get a sneak peak, but here’s the promo…

BONUS: Tony will be tweeting live @NoReservations during the episode. And remember, the new time slot is 9 p.m. ET.

The Bourdains just attended the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and returned to Miami Ink (where Tony got his skull tattoo and we got our first glimpse of Ottavia). This time, they got matching body art — a hissing snake. The Daily Mail published a great series of photos. And here’s a brief video of Tony under the needle.

All I can say is, when you can’t check out your wife’s new tat without your reading specs, you’re probably too old to be doing that stuff.

Rolf Potts at Gadling did a masochistic experiment to go “Around the World in 80 Hours (of Travel TV)” by watching Travel Channel. I only mention it because he ends his 5-part blog series discussing the NR Tex/Mex episode and how Bourdain personifies how good the Travel Channel could be (if it weren’t such a commercial-riddled crap-fest).

According to this Delaware Online recap, Tony outed himself himself as a cat person in Wilmington on the 22nd. Good work, Lupetto (Bourdain’s cat) and thank you! That should get certain felines around here who think my Bourdain posts make me a blog hog off my back.

During the Boston Phoenix interview about the NR episode Tony recently filmed there and his upcoming March 4 appearance with Eric Ripert, Tony called B.R. Myers “the asshole in the Atlantic,” while conceding that his anti-foodie article was well-written. Well, DUH! Myers quoted Tony.

The Dallas Observer thinks Jamie’s Food Escapes with Jamie Oliver on Cooking Channel may give Bourdain some stiff competition. The travel/food format is similar, but Jamie also cooks. If you want to check it out, it’s on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

And now, Top Chef All-Stars

Paula Deen took Tony’s place for last week’s Southern cooking challenges, which was probably a blessing. Tony declared North Carolina BBQ his favorite in the March issue of Budget Travel for its “purity” of being seasoned only with vinegar, salt, and pepper.

I’ve eaten a lot of NC BBQ living here in the South, and more often than not, its only saving grace is that big bottle of red BBQ sauce on the table because it’s so dry, you need lots of lubrication to choke it down.

Anyway, mustard was the undoing of one of my favorites, Dale. Now only Carla and Tiffany are left, although Tiffany has started to annoy me and I’ve developed soft spots for Antonia and Richard.

Mike is another story. Talk about your stereotypical Jersey scumbag (apologies to Morgan!). A few weeks ago, he shared his aversion to helping his competition, but he topped that in the latest Quickfire by hijacking a chicken oyster idea Richard had shared with him. Even worse, he WON $5K and, with a big smirk, gave Richard credit for “inspiring” him.

With that, Mike joined the ranks of every unscrupulous creep who has ever not deserved to win a reality show, beginning with Richard Hatch on Survivor: Season 1.

Thank God Richard prevailed by winning the Elimination Challenge and a trip to Barbados.

Tony didn’t blog for Bravo last week because he was at the SoBe Festival, but Bravo claimed a few days later that he was in Connecticut. Now I’m wondering if Tony’s messing with them by lying about his whereabouts. (He was speaking in Connecticut the night Top Chef aired on the 23rd, but probably didn’t get back to his hotel in time to see it.)

Max Silvestri wrote another great recap on Eater.

A new satiric series called Foodies is coming to the Web March 9 at www.freefoodies.com. It looks interesting, and I’ve marked my calendar to check it out.

Biggest Loser: TV’s Biggest Travesty

February 23, 2011

By Karen

Irked lately by the food snobbery on Top Chef, I swung to the other extreme by catching a bit of the anti-food series, The Biggest Loser, on NBC.

Watching people diet is even less fun than watching them eat, so I have only seen snippets of TBL over the years, but I thought its purpose was to help morbidly obese people get in shape and feel good about themselves, with viewers cheering them on.

Man, was I wrong!

In Season 11, torture and humiliation are constants, with contestants getting the boot if they fail to lose dangerously large amounts of poundage (like 15-20) every single week.

This season exploits couples — siblings or parents and their adult children. Last night, a mother who’d just gotten under 200 lbs. gained 8 back to keep the younger contestants from being sent home.

Most of the parents believe the kids have a greater need to get healthy, so the parents plot to get themselves eliminated.

By regaining more than a pound a day in spite of incessant, grueling workouts, this mother also proved to America what a fragile farce the whole premise of this show is, and you have to wonder how many of the previous 10 seasons’ contestants are waddling around today, even bigger than before.

Previously, I had tuned in near Valentine’s Day and was stunned when they locked the contestants, one at a time, in a room full of delicious chocolates, rewarding the person who ate THE MOST the “privilege” of crushing the spirit of 4 fellow contestants by making them switch teams.

The “winner” ate 35 pieces of candy, became a pariah to his fellow teammates, and then risked elimination because he didn’t drop a dramatic amount of weight.

The producers’ idea of getting these suckers into shape consists of taunting their willpower, destroying their morale, and subjecting them to brutal workouts.

It’s a sad testament to our society that the morbidly obese are so desperate for help, they’ll endure relentless psychological and physical abuse and total degradation on national television.

Oh, and did I forget to mention unrealistic expectations? During the weigh-ins, they are profoundly disappointed to lose “only” 7 pounds in a week. Some of the men have lost 100 pounds in less than 2 months. They must have Dr. Strangelove “monitoring” the contestants, as their disclaimer asserts.

I almost wish we really had the neocons’ fantasy “health police” so they could step in and pull the plug on this travesty. Instead, we’ll just have to wait for someone to die.

On second thought, maybe Top Chef isn’t so bad. At least the producers aren’t trying to actually kill anybody.

Bourdain to Curtail Road Trips

February 21, 2011

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s hard heart melts at his daughter Ariane’s tears whenever he leaves on yet another personal appearance marathon, so he’s severely curtailing his gigs in the future. I’ve only found 3 more through 2011, and 2 of those are with Eric Ripert.

It’s not that interest in Tony as a speaker is waning (although he plans to develop a lot of new material). Last night he sold out the 1,250-seat Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, Calif. In fact, he broke the record for selling out faster and sooner than anybody, so Gallo held a video simulcast to the overflow crowd for the first time ever.

The rest of us have one more week until Season 7 of No Reservations begins in Haiti. Here’s Travel Channel’s promo clip.

To verify last week’s contention that Travel Channel is dissing Tony, last Friday night watching Ghost Adventures, I timed Bourdain and Zimmern’s commercials from 7:30 – 10 p.m. with a stopwatch. Here are the results:

Bourdain 4 spots 1:30
Zimmern 6 spots 3:00

Zimmern got one full-minute ad, Bourdain didn’t, and all but one of Zimmern’s ads were at least 30 seconds long. Overall, it felt like Zimmern was in my face all night.

Palm Springs Metromix got an interview with Tony before his February 19 Palm Desert appearance, and he mentioned the possibility of Zamir getting a spinoff series.

And last week Tony returned to judge Top Chef All-Stars

We need a new word for “ridiculous” after last week’s elimination challenge. The cheftestants were forced to raid a closed Target to assemble complete cooking workstations from store merchandise and prepare meals for 100 employees by 3 a.m.

Bourdain paid tribute to the utter absurdity of the situation by showing up in a sweater he picked up at Mr. Rogers’ estate sale.

In the end, Angelo went home for over-salting potato soup, after Dale skated by on the same offense the week before.

The rationale was that Dale’s saltiness was merely annoying, where Angelo’s was lethal. I think tastebuds were destroyed.

I’m not sticking up for Angelo. I never liked him and I was glad he went. But the judges took us one step closer to the no-time, no-food challenge so they can pick the winner based on what he/she might have cooked.

And then Padma got uncharacteristically feisty when Mike mistakenly asserted his soup contained “fresh coconut milk.” She repeated, “Fresh?” as if everybody knows you can’t get fresh tropical produce at Target.

Gee, Padma, maybe Mike was a tad confused after running a marathon all night on no sleep, feeding an army with crappy portable appliances on a folding table. He’d have spent all his time draining coconuts if he could have.

Padma’s misplaced aggression probably arose from the sting of Sesame Street Muppet Elmo’s “TMI!” when she tried to tell him where cinnamon and cardamom come from.

But the night’s true douche moment was Colicchio and Bourdain’s reaction to learning Tiffany used creole seasoning in her jambalaya.

“You used a PREPARED seasoning?” A spice BLEND? From a JAR?”

Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! The unspeakable horror… dried herbs. Mixed TOGETHER!

McCormick, Mrs. Dash, and Emeril, there’s a special corner in hell waiting just for you.

Tony, back from his “overseas hiatus” in Pennsylvania, blogged for Bravo about Angelo’s downfall.

Later, defending the judges’ decisions in a post-show interview with Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch, Bourdain heaped praise on Colicchio, lest anyone forget he’s an American treasure…

“Tom Colicchio is a giant of the industry. He changed the world of cooking…. He’s a one man Rushmore.”

Now, readers, raise your hand if you’d ever heard of Tom Colicchio before Top Chef, and name one thing he’s said or done that has changed the way you cook.

Just one…

Coming up empty? Me, too. This is the sort of cliquish foodie-with-head-up-ass statement that makes people like B.R. Myers write nasty things about foodies.

To top it off, Eric Ripert tweeted that he’s never been in Target, and wonders how someone could even prepare Top Chef-worthy cuisine from ingredients purchased there. Take that, Middle America. I wonder if Ripert has Target confused with 7-Eleven?

In Top Chef recaps…

BestWeekEverTV did it with great illustrations.

And Max Silvestri at Eater was hilarious, as always.

We end on some disappointing news…

Tony blogged that his new graphic novel, Get Jiro, is looking great, but publication has been pushed off to some time in 2012. No reason given.

It’s Official: Tatiana the Tiger was Taunted

February 17, 2011

By Adele

Well, DUH! Through the Freedom of Information Act, the AP finally saw the full report of the Christmas Day 2007 attack on brothers Amritpal (Paul) and Kulbir Dhaliwal and their teenage friend, Carlos Sousa, Jr., at the San Francisco zoo by Tatiana, a Siberian tiger who escaped from her enclosure and killed Sousa.

In spite of eyewitness reports of the guys acting rowdy, branches, pine cones, and a 9-inch rock found inside the enclosure (that could only have been thrown there), a human footprint on top of the enclosure that just happened to match Paul’s, and even Paul’s admission that they’d been teasing the tiger, authorities tried to paint Tatiana as a big cat who just went ape and tried to shred them for no reason.

I guess people needed it to justify Tatiana’s senseless murder by uniformed chicken-shits who’d never heard of tranquilizer darts and were later awarded “medals of valor” for killing the cat at point-blank range in cold blood.

AP discovered that Laurie Gage, a tiger expert who contributed to the USDA report, had her statement stricken from the report: “With my knowledge of tiger behavior, I cannot imagine a tiger trying to jump out of its enclosure unless it was provoked.”

Long-time Cats Working readers will remember that Fred covered this story extensively, including the interesting lives of the Dhaliwal brothers. After the incident, they continued their routine of drinking and driving, stealing, drugging, lying to police, and bouncing in and out of jail.

Represented by lawyer Mark Geragos, in 2008 the brothers filed a civil suit and walked away with a settlement of $900,000 from the zoo.

On the first anniversary of Tatiana’s demise, local sculptor Jon Engdahl unveiled his memorial to Tatiana, sitting halfway up San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill. San Francisco Citizen got some great photos of the sculpture.

If you want to see all the actual documents, here’s a link courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News.

Travel Channel Tired of Bourdain?

February 14, 2011

By Karen

Season 7 of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations begins two weeks from tonight, and Travel Channel posted a video of Tony saying many of the shows were not only difficult to make, but “may be difficult to watch.”

That must be music to Andrew Zimmern’s ears.

I’d like to know why Travel Channel fails to mention in some of the new-season promos that Bourdain’s time slot has switched from 10 to 9 p.m., now that they seem to have settled on February 28 as the premier date, after initially announcing it as March 14.

Not to mention that Tony’s promos run less frequently than Zimmern’s and just about everybody else’s.

If you add all these little things up, you might get the impression that Travel Channel is subtly trying to sink No Reservations.

I’ve got a bone to pick with Bravo, too. Bourdain didn’t blog on Top Chef All-Stars’ week 9 when Fabio got ousted a lousy hamburger. Bravo posted on Tony’s page that he’s out of the country when the truth is that he’s making personal appearances around the U.S. most nights this month. He’s even tweeting about it @NoReservations.

Speaking of Top Chef, the snooze factor went WAY up with Fabio’s departure. Déjà vu to Tre and the glumpy risotto, Fabio was doomed by form over substance when he failed to serve greasy burgers that could drip on Padma’s ankles. Flavor wasn’t really a factor, except someone likened his burger to meatloaf.

Fabio’s done a lot of interviews since, but I thought Fancast got the best one, eliciting Fabio’s thoughts on Bourdain, Jersey Shore, and a variety of other topics.

Next up in week 10 of Top Chef, Bourdain is back at judges’ table and the Muppets judge the Quickfire challenge on — what else? — COOKIES!

Tony’s hitting the personal appearance circuit hard this month. Here’s what I’ve pieced together of his February schedule:

10 Red Bank, NJ
11 Easton, PA
12 Stamford, CT
13 Norfolk, VA
14 Glenside, PA
15 Pompano Beach, FL
18 Cerritos, CA
19 Palm Desert, CA
20 Modesto, CA
22 Wilmington, DE
23 New Haven, CT
24-27 Miami, FL (South Beach Wine & Food Festival)

Could screenplays be in Bourdain’s future? He’s been learning the ropes writing the restaurant scenes for HBO’s new season of Treme, including one where food critic Alan Richman guests. Remember him? Bourdain devoted Chapter 14 to him in Medium Raw, entitled, “Alan Richman is a Douchebag.”

Grub Street got Richman’s reaction to Bourdain’s screenwriting.

B.R. Myers, a South-Korea-based vegan opinion writer for Atlantic magazine, has foodies’ napkins in a knot over his recent article, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” and he quoted Bourdain to do it.

I agree with Myers to a point. Even after watching Bourdain all these years, foodies still creep me out. I resent their belief that the world would be a better place if we all aspired to ever-greater feats in the kitchen, and that anyone outside their rarified circle should give a damn about whom they’ve anointed this week’s “world’s greatest chef” or care what comes out of his/her kitchen if we live beyond driving distance.

99.99% of us eat what’s available and don’t dwell on it nor feel compelled to photograph it. (Yeah, that’s why there’s obesity, blah, blah. That’s a separate debate.)

In a nutshell, “normal” people eat to live. We don’t live to eat. But these days it seems we can’t swing a cat without hitting a foodie.

The judges on Top Chef bemoan cheftestants’ “ignorance” of certain dishes as if they’re supposed to know every cuisine on the planet. It’s food snobs setting impossible standards solely for the purpose of tripping up (mostly) competent cooks with solid track records in their own milieu. Watching them go down apparently holds endless fascination for foodies.

And what was sicker than the intro to Medium Raw, where Bourdain rapturously describes joining unnamed food celebrities to hide their heads under napkins while they devour hapless, endangered songbirds WHOLE? All that was missing was the female guests killing the birds by impaling them on their stiletto heels.

Foodie fetishism can be as ugly and unhealthy in its own way as living on junk food.

Anyway, Village Voice and Salon jumped in and defended foodies with stinging rebuttals of Myers’ rant.

An UnFoodie Stocks Up on Stock

February 9, 2011

By Karen

To put Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics classes to use, I bought a rotisserie chicken and stock fixings.

OK, I didn’t go absolutely CRAZY and roast my own chicken.

Bourdain recommends roasting the bones for richer flavor and color, and my class partner tried it at home. She said they didn’t brown, so she followed Bourdain’s helpful suggestion to slather on a can of tomato paste, which just made a mess she ended up washing off. So I used my bones as they were.

Assembling the stock, I didn’t throw anything into the pot I wouldn’t eat, which means I peeled the onions. And I used dried rosemary and thyme. I couldn’t see blowing $7 on fresh herbs when all but a few sprigs were destined to rot.

It was fortunate I filled my biggest saucepan nearly to the brim because 3 hours into what was supposed to be an 8-hour gentle simmer, the pot was about 2 quarts low.

Next step: figuring out how to get rid of all the boiled yuck.

Maybe you cooks keep a few bolts of cheesecloth around your kitchen, but I don’t, so I fished out the bones and sodden veggies with my wok spider, then strained the liquid through a paper towel in a colander. No chunks or herbs got through, and the paper towels were loaded with beige sludge.

I know you guys are dying to see my stock, so here it is…

After refrigerating overnight, the thick layer of fat I expected on top failed to materialize, so skimming it became my new challenge and I dirtied several slotted utensils before digging out a handheld coffee strainer. Then I froze 2-cup portions in double Ziploc® bags…

Now, someone, please remind me WHY I did this. And DON’T say “chicken soup.” No way am I going to reinsert the veggies I just tossed, and I’ve never eaten chicken in soup that wasn’t dry and chewy — even my grandmother’s, and she considered it her signature dish.

By making stock from scratch, I realize I’ve boldly thrust a toe into foodie world, but I’m not convinced this stuff will add enough flavor to anything to make giving up freezer space to collect old bones and spend entire afternoons housebound to watch a simmering pot is worth it. And making stock in our class’s professional kitchen with a cleanup crew and destroying my own kitchen are 2 entirely different matters.

And the REAL kick in the ass was, after all that cooking, I still had to ask myself, “What’s for dinner?”

I’ll tell you what I had. Tyson Anytizers®. Chicken with no waste, no hassle.

I know Bourdain would be groaning, “After all these years of watching me, have you learned NOTHING, you useless screwhead?”

What can I say?

Sarah Palin™

February 8, 2011

By Adele

Just when you think Sarah Palin can’t get any more ridiculous…. Her latest harebrained scheme is to trademark herself.

Yes, Palin thinks she deserves to be a household name, like Sara Lee, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, or Mrs. Potato Head.

In her application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Palin cited the reasons for the trademark as her website and educational and entertainment services, including motivational speaking in politics, culture, business, and values. OK, I’ll buy entertainment, but education? The only “knowledge” she has about the 4 topics she listed is stuff she makes up.

The Trademark Office has given her until May 29 to come up with better reasons.

You know where this is going, don’tcha? If Palin gets her trademark, she’ll use it as a weapon, claiming trademark infringement whenever a media outlet makes money by airing or printing uncomplimentary items about her.

She could tie the courts in knots for years.

On the other hand, this trademark move lays bare Palin’s plan to put profit above the presidency. When’s the last time this country elected a President™?

But now that she’s going commercial, nobody should feel bad about tuning her out like any other Mad Ave. gimmickry.

Bristol is also trying to trademark her name for motivational speaking, as if, “Keep your legs together until you’re legal,” is her own original concept.

I’m kind of surprised Bristol hasn’t applied to Lloyd’s of London to insure her dancing feet.

Note to Palin admirers: It’s become all about the money, and she intends to make her profit off YOU.

Bourdain’s in Pain

February 7, 2011

By Karen

Filming No Reservations in Brazil, Anthony Bourdain developed a nasty back ailment, but that didn’t stop him from tackling his next episode in Japan. I hope the back problem is nothing serious, because he’s got virtually no time this month to rest and recuperate.

February is loaded with personal appearances on both coasts. I’ve got him down for 12 between Feb. 10-23.

Trading Markets got an interview with Tony before his February 11 appearance in Easton, Penn., and Tony mentioned that he loves Copenhagen. Wha…? Denmark’s not hot and messy, and they use forks.

Travel Channel now says on the website that Season 7 of No Reservations begins on February 28, but they’ve been airing the date as March 14, so it’s a crapshoot.

UPDATE: I just read that NR‘s time slot has moved back to 9 p.m. A nod to Tony’s kinder, gentler persona, or a shot across the bow signaling that “his” time is no long sacrosanct? If Zimmern takes 10 p.m., I’ll puke.

(And tell me if I’m wrong, but didn’t TC used to list the show as Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations so it always appeared at the top of their lineup? Now Zimmern’s near the top with “Bizarre” and Tony is way down under N.)

The ‘Net typically goes quiet while Bourdain’s on the road for the show, but as this month of speaking gigs unfolds, we’ll undoubtedly get the usual cascade of interviews. I just hope local journalists lucky enough to snag one inquire beyond the grossest thing he ever ate, if he ever gets sick, and how he stays so thin.

Now, on to Top Chef All-Stars

They’re skating perilously close to my fantasy challenge sans cooking. Last week’s Quickfire was Padma’s ultimate fantasy challenge — cooking without eating. It was all about presentation.

(For the record, I thought Carla’s plate should have won – but Target’s couturier, Isaac Mizrahi, was mesmerized by Richard’s sophisticated black “ice cream,” which looked like a pile of  tub mold sprinkled with pond scum.)

Antonia won the Italian elimination challenge with mussels steamed in fennel and garlic. It was virtually IDENTICAL to the mussels we made in Kitchen Basics class — a recipe right from Bourdain’s FRENCH Les Halles Cookbook.

Tony defended the decision by explaining to Mike, Fabio and the rest of us rubes that the dish is wildly popular in southern Italy.

Since the judges no longer have Jamie to punt into next week for not cooking at all, maybe it’s become a matter of who cooks least.

Poor Tre went home because his risotto glumped exactly like the goop Trader Joe’s sells in a box. He and I both learned from the judges that good risotto is so silky smooth, it spreads on the plate like watery instant mashed potatoes.

Tony was a judge, but almost in spirit only. A couple of his one-liners survived, but he clearly ceded screen time to Lorraine Bracco. Obviously, in the cutting room, being Italian trumped being married to an Italian.

As always, Eater had a hilarious recap. (Thank you for the link, human Adele.)

During the Quickfire, as if it had any relevance, Padma plugged her line of jewelry. It was so reassuring to hear she can fall back on something she’s really an expert in if the cooking thing doesn’t work out.

Of course, I just had to see this jewelry, even though I suspected there would be softcore porn involved.

Sure enough. Padma’s modeling it naked on her home page. (Harry Winston, take note.)

Apparently, she’s been designing jewelry since 2009. Many of her necklaces are so understated, they’re almost invisible, to enhance your nudity. Her dangly ring designs are not what most women would typically wear unless they’re looking to lose some fingers.

Top Chef is down to the final 8, and I’m still rooting for my four favorites — Fabio, Carla, Tiffany, and Dale.

Cooking Classes: Lessons Learned

February 3, 2011

By Karen

I’m a proud new graduate of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics classes at Sur La Table with all 10 fingers intact. What did I learn? Let’s see…

I’m sure Bourdain’s curriculum adhered to whatever specifications Sur La Table provided. Its dubious value for beginner cooks was not entirely his fault, but a byproduct of the SLT kitchen/classroom setup. (I’m not picking on SLT here; I understand they are typical.)

Tony has been concerned about the notion of “selling out” for quite a while. If he ever sees these posts, I hope I give him a little food for thought on how far he’s willing to go in putting his name on things that don’t really do him proud.

My misgivings about the classes began when I saw Sur La Table touting them online as being “based on” Medium Raw. I assumed it was a typo until our instructor, Sue, repeated it on the last night of class, adding that MR was Bourdain’s “latest novel.”

If you know anything about Medium Raw (a 2010 New York Times bestseller — not some obscure, hard-to-find book) you know how absurd/inaccurate those statements are. And you have to wonder about the functional illiterates at Sur La Table who hired Bourdain to devise cooking classes based on rants about the food industry rather than on his freaking COOKBOOK. (Bourdain, no dummy, actually used his cookbook in developing the classes, and most of SLT’s class handouts were excerpted verbatim from it.)

But let it serve as a warning to any future students to take course descriptions with a grain of salt and set your expectations low.

We were told Bobby Flay is about to join SLT’s stable of celebrity chefs endorsing classes with a Flay book giveaway, which could be knitting patterns for all it seems to matter to SLT.

The 3 Bourdain classes had broad themes: starches, liquids, and proteins. However, what was never established was any common thread between the dishes we made each night. They had virtually nothing to do with each other (except that chicken stock from week 2 ended up in steak peppercorn sauce in week 3). It seemed a hodge-podge of recipes.

Where I do fault Bourdain is in selecting dishes we couldn’t possibly complete during class time. Many were from his Les Halles Cookbook, but why? We were there to learn basics, not French bistro cooking.

This was my first experience with commercial cooking classes, and it was disappointing. For $175, the only dish I really “made” was an omelet. I contributed minimally to 3 others, and either watched bits of preparation or completely missed the rest until they ended up on a plate. Partly my fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time every week.

But I could have learned more spending an evening watching Julia Child DVDs.

I don’t think the classes will win Bourdain any new fans, but they drove a bit of traffic through Sur La Table.

This weekend, I’m going to try making chicken stock, and bits of technique I heard in class will undoubtedly bubble up if I’m ever fixing similar dishes (but fish stew, fuggeddaboudit!).

Maybe that’s all Kitchen Basics was meant to deliver.

Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics: Session 3

February 2, 2011

By Karen

The grand finale of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking classes hosted by Sur La Table was all about protein:

  • Poulet Roti (roast chicken) with Herb Butter *
  • Steak au Poivre (seared steak with peppercorn pan sauce) *
  • Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stewed in red wine) *
  • Bourride (fish stew with aioli) *

(From Les Halles Cookbook, chicken page 181, herb butter 259, steak 130, bourguignon 202, bourride 114, aioli 257)

Interestingly enough, there was none of Bourdain’s favorite — pork.

Since we didn’t have time to complete all the dishes, our instructor, whom I’m calling Sue, had already started a pot of boeuf bourguignon and had 2 chickens roasting, although we replicated the recipes for practice.

Sue did her preliminary run-through and it was, as always, too much information. As I felt the now-familiar panic rising, I realized it wasn’t over my cooking skills, but a bad flashback to biology class. I had managed to dodge dissection duty in high school and switched to chemistry in college when I heard they were disassembling cats.

The dishes I wanted to avoid were the chicken and fish. If you’re a regular reader, you know I have a raw-chicken-skin phobia.

So my first choice was the bourguignon, but that group came together fast and I ended up on the fish stew crew.

It turned out to be the night’s gross-out dish on every level.

Sue had managed to snag us a sizable fish “frame,” which is every bit of the fish you would choke on, including the head, with its glassy, accusing stare.

The frame “sweated” in a Dutch oven while we chopped vegetables (fennel AGAIN). I diced carrots like a bumbling amateur and stuffed herbs into a little bag for the bouquet garni.

At our table, a newcomer had knife skills and other slick foodie moves. Then a woman whipped out a camera and snapped the poor fish skeleton staring up from the pot. Why?

While the frame boiled, the eyeballs turned into white balloons and camera girl ATE one. She said it had a hard center, so she must have chewed it, too.

Our lone male teammate cranked the food mill, a messy, pointless attempt to squeeze moisture from the frame. A pile of pulverized yuck ended up in the broth and had to be strained.

Feeling hungry yet?

Last week’s chicken stock reappeared, but I never saw it finished before it went into the peppercorn sauce.

The boeuf bourguignon was tasty, although a bowl of beef and carrots does nothing for me. The chicken was a little dry, but white meat does that. The steak was peppery, but pleasantly not overcooked.

Our fish stew was slightly overcooked globs of monkfish swimming in yellowish grease. That broth made a nasty, stinky mess for virtually no payoff. Sue told us it never goes over well.

For the first time, I realized that Sue seemed to measure the class’s success by how much we ate. Mistake, I think.

After I’ve slaved over a dish, the last thing I want to do is turn right around and eat it. And in none of these classes did we end up with any combination that constituted a “meal,” so I’d suspect anyone who cleaned the plate of having eating issues.

Tomorrow I’ll share conclusions about my attempt to learn kitchen basics from Anthony Bourdain and whether I’m turning into a foodie.

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