“Appetites” by Anthony Bourdain: A Book Review

By Karen

Since Anthony Bourdain hit critical mass, turning whatever he touches to triumph, it’s unsurprising that Appetites: A Cookbook is hitting best seller lists and getting rave reviews.

It’s beautifully produced under his own Ecco imprint, with recipe titles in a font that must be called BourdainHand. Its many full-page photos include several of wife Ottavia and daughter Ariane (never full face; he explains it’s her decision on how public to go when she’s old enough). Ottavia’s grappling dummy and Eric Ripert even make appearances.

Overall, the photos and artwork are intended more to shock and awe than illustrate. Bourdain told a talk show host (one of the Jimmys) that bookstores are wrapping the book in paper because the cover art is disturbing. Inside are gratuitous animal parts and guts, including a pig bladder inflated to float like a balloon.

appetites

I’m surprised the photo of Tony (page 176) armed and barely recognizable in camo hasn’t been hijacked by the alt-right. He could be Donald Trump’s poster boy.

It’s probably the only cookbook you’ll ever own with the words fuck and shit sprinkled throughout like condiments.

It’s dedicated to Ariane and Jacques. No, not Pépin, but Ariane’s BFF, the son of her Filipino nanny (see page 246).

As a Bourdainiac, I was fascinated by his deconstructions of what we’ve seen him eat. The dishes reflect his constant globetrotting, and perhaps unintentionally drive home that someone else cooked and cleaned up later. The book’s a towering testament to how thoroughly out of touch he has become with how regular people eat.

He claims the recipes are from his childhood, his travels, and “food memories” he shares with his daughter. If that’s true, Tony and Ariane are the creepiest father-daughter duo since Gomez and Wednesday Addams because 9-year-old Ariane must be possessed of the presence of mind to ask, “Daddy, can I have a Roast Beef Po’ Boy?” two days before she wants to eat it, because that’s how long it takes to make one (page 81).

Many recipes have a two-day lead time, not including shopping at specialty stores or Amazon to assemble myriad ingredients you’ve probably never heard of. This makes them also very pricey and will leave you with a pantry full of slightly used shit you’ll have no idea what else to do with.

For example, Korean Fried Chicken (page 165) looked good until I realized I was fresh out of gochugaru, gochujama, and cheongju, not to mention four QUARTS of oil, and I needed two days to fry it twice.

His whole steamed chicken, “Poulet ‘en vessie,’” (page 168) seems reasonable enough until you need to grab four whole truffles and 4 oz. of foie gras out of the fridge.

With each recipe, he thoughtfully includes a list of any special equipment needed. This often consists of a plate “lined with newspapers” for draining.

REALLY??!! Does he ever gaze out over his adoring, hip young audiences during personal appearances and see people who would ever dream of buying an actual newspaper? Would they even recognize one if they saw it?

Otherwise his cooking instructions and advice are pretty spot-on, if snarky, with occasional lapses into Les Halles-speak. For example, as an alternative to tossing his Salad of Boston Lettuce with Radishes, Carrots, Apples, and Yogurt-Chive Dressing (page 29), he suggests leaving everything “segregated, as for salade composée.” Got that?

My current idol, Jacques Pépin, gets mentioned in the first two recipes involving eggs for his cracking and stirring techniques. But Bourdain reveals himself as the unPépin of home cooking. Where Jacques relies on ordinary ingredients and simple preparation, with an eye always on the budget, Bourdain’s recipes are the polar opposite.

I noticed Tony lifted one recipe, Linguine with White Clam Sauce (page 126) from Pépin, which was named after Pépin’s wife, “Gloria’s Linguine with Clam Sauce.” The only differences are that they prefer different types of clams, Bourdain throws in butter (he uses vats) and he doesn’t mention topping with parmesan cheese.

Appetites probably won’t be your go-to cookbook when you need a quick and tasty meal on the table. If your idea of what constitutes a good recipe matches mine…

  1. Is it straightforward and uncomplicated?
  2. Do I already have most of the ingredients?
  3. Can I make it without destroying the whole kitchen?
  4. Can it be done in one day?

…for most of Bourdain’s dishes, the answers are no, no, no, and no.

I did like his tip on making a Grilled Cheese with Caramelized Onions (page 84). Instead of butter, he slathers the outside of the bread with mayonnaise for a nice brown crust. But then he blows it by recommending freaking Japanese milk bread, whatever the hell that is.

There’s no dessert chapter because Tony says he’s not a pastry chef and would rather have cheese.

Pépin, on the other hand, has many dessert recipes from his childhood that often call for a simple store-bought dough or cake, with fruit and preserves. They require no special skill, they’re quick, and they look tasty.

Bourdain’s chapter on Thanksgiving seems useful until he recommends roasting a small “stunt turkey” for looks and then a “business bird” you actually carve and eat — AND making stock with an additional 5-7 lbs. of wings and necks.

Blogger Treehugger totally went off on the stunt turkey, so I’ll let her handle that.

The book’s best, most usable chapter is Sides. I’d definitely try the Roasted Cauliflower with Sesame (page 241) because jazzing up cauliflower is a thing for me. And I’ve already tried Korean-Style Radish Pickles (page 251) because I had an abundance of radishes, although not the daikon he recommends.

It’s only been two days (he recommends three), but here they are. They look more like chopped hot dogs now, but they taste OK, slightly sweet, with a tad of bite.

pickledradishes

I consult my two Pépin cookbooks almost daily, Appetites isn’t meant to be like that. It’s more of a grand “Fuck you!” to the cookbook genre.

I’ll let it sit beside Tony’s also little-used Les Halles Cookbook and maybe ask for an autograph if he ever passes through Richmond again and forgives me for this review.

BONUS VIDEO: Tony recently stopped by to cook with Mario Batali on The Chew. They made Budae Jjigae, a Korean SPAM stew (page 58).

BONUS PLUS: Michael Brendan Dougherty in The Week had an interesting take on Appetites, comparing it to Alton Brown’s new book, Everyday Cook, as spiritual autobiographies.

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12 Responses to “Appetites” by Anthony Bourdain: A Book Review

  1. Bacardi1 says:

    Wow! I couldn’t disagree more with your review of this book. Husband bought me a copy the day it came out to add to my cookbook collection (think around 1,000 at this point), & I couldn’t be more pleased with it

    Have a completely opposite opinion to yours. Of course, this is coming from someone who was raised in an extremely cooking-serious family, & for whom cooking is not only pretty much 2nd nature, but a truly enjoyable experience every single day.

    With very VERY few exceptions, the recipes are easy to follow & do not require “specialty” ingredients or equipment to complete. (Of course, if you consider food processors, instant-read thermometers, blenders, Dutch ovens, or plates lined with newspaper “special equipment”, then yes, you’ll probably be stymied by this book.) The recipes do, however, expect you to have at least some basic knowledge of basic cooking techniques. Nothing fancy; all BASIC. I like this book much more than his “Les Halle” effort, which also graces my library. It’s definitely more home-cooking oriented than the Les Halle book’s restaurant fare.

    Frankly, I’m a bit shocked that you’re apparently so offended by this wonderful book (which is definitely not a “Fuck you!” to the cookbook genre) to the point that you seem to be making a major effort to dissuade people from purchasing it by frightening them into thinking that it will definitely be beyond them just because you seem to find it so. So please don’t quit your day job to become a cookbook reviewer – you’d starve.

    Oh – and Happy Thanksgiving!! : )

  2. catsworking says:

    Bacardi, that’s why I call myself the UnFoodie. 😉

    If your pantry is fully stocked with all the international ingredients so many of the recipes call for, more power to you. I read that book from cover to cover and found very little that I’d actually tackle, albeit more than I would in the Les Halles cookbook, which was his attempt at a conventional cookbook (as serious as he could be).

    After reading many fawning reviews of Appetites, I knew my take would rub the wrong way with the foodies who like to pretend they actually would make all these recipes. But I calls it like I sees it and I stand by every word.

    Any cookbook that serves up photos of chicken heads and feet instead of the dish is going for shock value more than instruction. I’ve seen him in interviews about the book. He’s delighted that it’s got a high degree of dysfunction. But when he says this is the stuff he whips up whenever he’s home, I say “bullshit.”

    I do agree that his instructions for making the dishes are generally good. Like he’s standing over your shoulder. But he jumps the shark in suggesting we pop ’round the corner to our friendly Asian market (as if most people even have such a thing) to acquire what many of his dishes call for.

    Jacques Pepin is still my guy.

  3. Bacardi1 says:

    Obviously you’re entitled to your opinion (it IS your blog), but it would be nice (& courteous) to perhaps emphasize the fact that you apparently don’t care all that much for innovative cooking rather than cast aspersions at those who do. THIS in particular:
    “After reading many fawning reviews of Appetites, I knew my take would rub the wrong way with the foodies who like to pretend they actually would make all these recipes” shows you to be more than a little mean-spirited about the subject.

    Sure there are millions of “foodies” (& I myself heartily dislike that term) who have more bark than bite when it comes to actually cooking the food they claim to like so much, but by the same token there are also millions (like myself) who like nothing better than spending time in the kitchen with their “plates lined with newspaper” specialty equipment & the internet nearby to look up “Japanese Milk Bread” & “Gochujang” if necessary (I don’t care much for the bread, although it’s not really difficult to make; but yes, Gochujang is a staple in my pantry/fridge since I do enjoy Korean cooking. . .)

    Again – by all means have your “opinion”, but does it really have to be at the expense of those of us who enjoy this type of cooking?

  4. Bacardi1 says:

    Oh – one more thing. You mention Jacques Pepin as “your guy”. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to peruse any of the absolutely beautiful cookbooks representing the French peasant food that Mr. Pepin adores, you’d find yourself facing quite a few pictures of both chicken heads & feet (along with other horrific – to you – similar livestock pics). Again – obviously you have a serious problem with this, but your reaction is not the norm & the inclusion of such photos is not intended as “shock value”. I think you should quit while you’re ahead, because you’ve obviously been rather sheltered re: real food & the cookbooks that embrace it.

  5. catsworking says:

    Bacardi, you’re beating a dead horse. Pepin has adapted to American tastes and “dumbed down” his recipes for us. I appreciate that, and I have made many of his recipes.

    Bourdain’s, not so much. Yes, when it comes to international ingredients and such, I am definitely an ignorant rube. Most Americans are. But I try to broaden my horizons, which is why I preordered Appetites last summer. It was billed as a book for home cooks. IT. IS. NOT.

    That your kitchen is fully stocked with Korean ingredients is lovely. Congratulations. I have a bottle of memmi in my fridge. Does that make you feel any better? I once spent a few months searching for Chinese cooking wine because it was nowhere to be found in Richmond. I found it an hour away in Williamsburg.

    You know the foodies I’m talkng about, and it’s not necessarily you. I don’t know you. I’m talking about the ones who take pictures of their meals, the more exotic the better. The ones who try to make the rest of us who don’t know what Japanese milk bread is feel bad.

    I am not going to debate this with you anymore. This is my blog and reflects my opinions. If you don’t like them, don’t read it. Simple.

    Boudain’s book is a bestseller. My opinion will not affect sales, trust me. I’m not going to say I loved it when I know I will use it very little. Would you rather I lie? Why start now? I’ve never pulled any punches with him before.

    I think that you deliberately ignored or twisted everything I wrote as soon as you hit the first word that got your tail in a twist. My point about newspapers was that few people have them anymore, not that they are such special equipment. Actually, the book calls for very few, if any, other utensils people wouldn’t have. That wasn’t an issue for me. Just the newspapers.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this.

  6. Mary Hunter says:

    Karen, I enjoyed your post. I have not read this cookbook, but it sounds like something a little out of my field. I also really enjoy Jacques Pepin’s shows, as I feel these are dishes I could actually prepare myself. Luckily, I do live in a town with an Asian market, but many people do not. I grew up in a state where there are probably no Asian markets at all. Tony is obviously catering to those who live in the urban areas, and that’s o.k., maybe that is his intended audience. (But those ranchers he visited outside of Livingston, Montana are not that demographic, are they?)

    That being said, I would like that we could all may be not on the same page about this, but not be condescending either. It is your blog, you were just putting forth an opinion, not being one of those fawning reviewers. And I really think Tony makes mac and cheese for Ariane. (not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

  7. catsworking says:

    Mary, thank you. I saw you had posted two comments that were similar, so I picked the one that seemed more thorough and went with that. Hope I got it right.

    Yes, these days it seems any conversation can instantly turn heated. I never expect everyone to agree with anything I say, but those people tend to move on to what they’d prefer to read anyway, so no harm done.

    We all need to express our opinions while we still can!

    There are Asian and Latino markets here and there in Richmond, but I think they tend to be near their demographic, not out in the ‘burbs where I live. But I have ventured into a few over the years, particularly when I was deeply into wok cooking.

    All our grocery chains are stocking more international ingredients, and I’d say Wegman’s has the best selection, but it’s still nothing like what Bourdain’s dishes require.

    As I was reading Appetites, I was picturing Tony toodling around NYC buying whatever he needed, or even having it delivered. Ah, to live in a city where EVERYTHING is right there.

  8. catsworking says:

    PS: Yesterday I made a double batch of Pepin’s Corn Souffle (also called Corn Parfait in another of his books) for Thanksgiving. I sort of took the best of both recipes, which have slight variations.

    I worried about making it in advance because it poofs up like a souffle but quickly deflates.

    But I took it to my sister’s still warm, it sat out for a while until I was really getting concerned (someone was late arriving), but after it was reheated in the oven, it miraculously plumped back up and was attractive and delicious. What wasn’t eaten got scarfed up as leftovers to take home.

    Pepin’s Parfait recipe said it’s best served immediately, but it could be reheated, and he was spot-on.

    I’ve made nearly a dozen of his recipes and not one has failed me yet.

  9. morganLf says:

    Thanks for the review. I suspected his “home cooking” would be fraudulent. Every one of his recipeies I’ve looked at are stupid. Gogugaru? Japanese milk bread? Oh blow me. Stunt turkey that’s just douchey. Hold up I gotta answer the door I have a delivery…back now just got my brand new truffle shaver!!!
    I have always found his food out of touch with the home cook. I guess he can’t walk back from heees Frrrench genes and fancy training. Want a good cookbook with easy fresh doable recipes? Any thing written by the late great Marcella Hazan. For the record I haven’t had a messy newspaper in my place for years I discovers this cool thing called the internet.

  10. catsworking says:

    Thank you, Morgan. I knew you would be on my wavelength.

    Of course he could never admit it after all the hype it’s gotten, but I bet Bourdain would agree with most, if not all, of what I said. If he doesn’t, then he’s sunk to culinary douchery..

    I took pages and pages of notes as I read the book, and what you see here is just a sample of the off-the-wall shit in it.

    Tony was never really a cook “for the people,” except in his earliest days in dives and when he was slinging brunch and hating every minute of it.

    This book shows how far he has come. For that, it’s great. He’s left most of us in the dust. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d like to see him come clean in some interview and admit that it’s not an ordinary cookbook. That would be truth in advertising.

  11. teresa johnson says:

    Thank you for the indepth and very funny review!

  12. karenwormald says:

    Teresa, you are certainly welcome! Thanks for being a reader.

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