Bourdain Slurps Noodles with Obama

September 23, 2016

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown is worth watching Sunday, September 25, 9 p.m. ET. He’s in Hanoi, Vietnam, and shares noodles and beer with President Obama in a small local joint.

Obama’s approval rating is at about 58%, so having a beer with a popular guy like Bourdain can only reflect well on Hillary. In fact, it’s a shame it’s not Hillary.

The intended contrast with Donald Trump is unmistakable. Not only would Trump never be caught dead in such humble surroundings, but you know he can’t use chopsticks and he’s incapable of small talk.

Luckily for Bourdain, Angelina Jolie’s divorce from Brad Pitt immediately eclipsed the Bourdain breakup announcement. The Bourdains can’t hope to have drama that remotely compares to allegations of Pitt being a substance- and child-abuser.

Today I read this Washington Post article where Tony mentions being in London during the Brexit vote (Parts Unknown to air Oct. 23) and did a double-take at the undated CNN photo of Nigella Lawson making Tony breakfast in her home.


As I’ve pondered Bourdain’s post-Ottavia life, the woman who sprang to mind as his next potential companion was Nigella. They’ve known each other for years, and he was there for her when her marriage fell apart while they were filming The Taste together.

I am absolutely NOT implying any illicit behavior, but if Tony does end up on his own, he could do a lot worse than Nigella. In fact, he DID do a lot worse before he met Ottavia.

On Parts Unknown last season, Bourdain wore no wedding ring. I should have mentioned months ago that it was his best ever, winning his 4th straight Outstanding Series Emmy. I’ve forgotten details, but every episode touched me in some way — tears, laughter, sheer wonder at the amazing cinematography.

Ottavia published an article in August on Lena Dunham’s site Lenny about how she got into MMA. Her byline included her maiden name and mentioned only her daughter, as if she’s a single mother.

So hints about the breakup were out there, even before the big announcement.

Bourdain has a new home-cooking book coming out on October 25 called Appetites. And he revealed in a recent interview with Uproxx that he’s about to start another book. I wonder what happened to the novel he’s been working on for years?

BONUS: Bourdain’s Russian sidekick Zamir Gotta has permanently defected to Buffalo, New York, to launch Zamir Vodka. And Trump’s worried about Mexicans.

DOUBLE BONUS: Here’s Bourdain’s latest episode of Raw Craft, a series he does for Balvenie Distillery featuring expert craftspeople. This one is in North Carolina with a pearl-wearing metalsmith named Elizabeth Brim.

UnFoodie’s Secret Crush on Jacques Pepin

August 25, 2016

By Karen

Before Anthony Bourdain’s new cookbook, Appetites, comes out on October 25, I must confess une affaire du tube with Jacques Pépin. Ironically, Bourdain introduced us with a No Reservations segment where Jacques demonstrated proper egg-cracking technique. At the time, I thought he was cracked.

Then everything changed.

PBS has been rerunning three Pépin series: Essential Pepin, More Fast Food My Way, and Heart & Soul. After just a few episodes, I became obsessed and bought the DVDs and companion cookbooks for the latter two series, and all summer I’ve been studying Jacques like a culinary school groupie.

(Essential Pépin is good, but uses more mis en place and time-skipping, which minimize all that’s really involved. In the other two series, Jacques’ cooking is more down-to-earth. Heart & Soul is my favorite. Alas, it’s said to be his last for PBS.)

On weekends, my mother becomes my sous chef. I send her the recipe so she can shop, then I go over and we watch Jacques make it on DVD before we try it.

So far, every dish has turned out well and my parents enjoyed them.

Every time I see Jacques chop an onion, “poetry in motion” pops into my head. I even bought a good chef’s knife and keep it sharp, but I’ll never come close to his dexterity.

Also thanks to Jacques, I now use herbs de Provence.

Unfortunately, no photos, but here are a few dishes I’ve done. Many recipes are available online.

Poulet à la Crème (chicken thighs elevated)

Gloria’s Linguine with Clam Sauce (loved it!)

Corn Soufflé (practicing for a Thanksgiving side)

Asparagus Fans with Mustard Sauce (finally, green sticks get some personality)

Soda Bread (so quick and easy, I’ve made it perfectly twice)

Not only does Jacques explain what he’s doing, but tells how he economizes, appreciates ordinary ingredients (white button mushrooms, for example), and even uses canned goods without getting snarky about it.

Years ago I learned Chinese cooking from Wok with Yan with Stephen Yan (no, not Martin). I also liked Emeril, but can’t say I soaked up any technique or made his dishes.

And then there’s Bourdain. He was never a celebrity chef, though they keep calling him one. He wasn’t famous at Les Halles, and he quit that job when Kitchen Confidential took off. I’ve seen him cook only a handful of times.

That said, he remains my biggest culinary influence. Just watching what he eats and says about food has opened new worlds. I know what mis en place means. I cook more creatively. I ate squid with ink in Lisbon. And now I appreciate top-tier chefs like Eric Ripert and Jacques Pépin and learn technique from them.

I’ve pre-ordered Bourdain’s book Appetites with expectations it’s more user-friendly than his Les Halles Cookbook and will join my two Pépin cookbooks as favorites.

So, thank you, Tony, for putting Jacques Pépin on my radar. And thank you, Jacques, for enriching home cooks by sharing your amazing knowledge with such charm and generosity.


Atkins Meal Makes Fasting a Better Option

March 28, 2016

By Karen

Since being on Weight Watchers®, I default to Lean Cuisine® or Smart Ones® frozen meals when I don’t feel like cooking. Anybody who eats these things knows they never quite look like the picture on the box. But my recent Atkins frozen meal took false advertising to a whole new level.

I tried Atkins because 1) I have a friend on a high-protein diet who says she’s flirting with size 6 and eats pork chops for lunch, and 2) the Atkins meals were on sale.

The Chicken Margherita pulled me in with this photo. By Weight Watchers standards, all that melted cheese qualifies as soft-core food porn…


But here’s what came out of the microwave…


As porn goes, it was the culinary equivalent of two hairy, sweaty people with dirty feet doing it doggy-style on stained sheets with rats running around the bed.

I’m embarrassed to admit I ate it anyway because I hate to waste food — even greasy red and green globs laced with chewy chunks — and that it cost me 11 WW Points Plus (out of my 26-point daily allotment).

Dr. Atkins’ stomach should be turning in his grave.

The cats got the last laugh when my dinner looked, smelled, and tasted (according to them) a lot worse than any canned food I’ve ever served them — including the many flavors of Fancy Feast® they hate.

And an hour later, I needed a sandwich.

Could Oprah Eventually Doom Weight Watchers?

February 16, 2016

By Karen

In 2012, I followed Weight Watchers® PointsPlus® system and lost about 50 lbs. Four years later, my scale fluctuates 6-8 lb., but I remain slim enough to wear all my skinny-sized clothes. To this day, I still count points and weigh weekly. Maintaining isn’t easy.

Last year, at Weight Watchers’ invitation, Oprah Winfrey agreed to lose poundage — again — in a grand way. For a $43 million investment, she got a seat on the board and became WW’s spokeswoman.

Now WW stock jumps every time Oprah opens her mouth, whether to insert food or not, and she offsets her weight losses with bank account gains.

In her latest ad, Oprah claims to eat bread “every day.” She’s lost 26 lbs. since August 2015, or about  1-2 lb. a week, eating bread. What bothers me is that she’s shown only from the neck up.

Check out this photo of her on CNBC. Unfortunately, it’s undated, so we don’t know which diet deserves credit, but Oprah certainly looks like she’s lost more than 26 lbs.

Oprah is following a new WW plan called Beyond the Scale, which “focuses on you, not just a number on the scale.”

It’s all about SmartPoints™ and FitPoints™. PointsPlus folks are screwed because our overpriced WW calculators and P+ cookbooks are now obsolete.

WW’s website offers nothing but empty tag lines unless you join, but independent bloggers with access explain the difference in plans. Instead of counting fat, carbs, fiber, and protein on PointsPlus, it’s all about calories, saturated fat, sugars, and protein on SmartPoints.

Bottom line, PointsPlus are rough on fat and carbs. SmartPoints slam you on sugar and saturated fat.

P+ works for me so I won’t switch, and I wish Oprah well. But we all know her dieting history.

Weight Watchers is throwing some big dice and obviously hedging their bets by saying SmartPoints isn’t “all about the scale.”

After Oprah loses the weight, makes the talk show rounds to show off her svelteness and sends the stock on one last big spike, will she become another yo-yo case, like most former members?

I’ve been there myself, joining WW twice before, only to regain all the weight and more. They welcome yo-yos back to their meetings like old friends.

Oprah has never before made the lifelong commitment that’s required for WW. Can she do it now? Or in a year or so, will we see her rebloated on an Enquirer front page, trying to elude the paparazzi (you know, like Kirstie Alley)? If we do, that flushing sound you hear will be the Weight Watchers brand going down the toilet, no matter how they try to spin the points next time.

Catching Up with Bourdain

May 26, 2015

By Karen

It’s impossible to “catch up” with Anthony Bourdain anymore. He’s always going at full steam in a dozen directions, but these are some noteworthy developments I’ve been tracking.

We’re mid-season with Parts Unknown on CNN. I particularly enjoyed Miami. I’ve been there a few dozen times, and did a double-take upon seeing our paths virtually cross for a split second when he flashed the Colony Hotel’s Art Deco façade. I stayed there in October.

Back in Tony’s Travel Channel days, you’d never imagine him becoming comedy fodder for the likes of Billy Crystal. But a recent episode of The Comedians on FX began with a parody called Unknown Parts, with Crystal strolling around in a silver wig, and then tasting several courses of human testicles, which all caused him to projectile vomit onto his co-star.

And then Tony popped up on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in a shot of his younger self out in some wilderness, saying armadillo tastes like chicken.

Speaking of popping up, something that has pooped out is a fourth season of The Taste on ABC. Not even Bourdain’s Emmy nomination as best host could save it.

I’ve always said the premise of cramming one meal onto a spoon was ridiculous, and the dwindling audience apparently agreed. It was the culinary equivalent of Dancing with the Stars staging all routines in a phone booth, or forcing aspiring American Idols to sing into an empty mayonnaise jar instead of a mic.

If The Taste accomplished anything, it was to give Nigella Lawson refuge and camaraderie while she was going through a personal nightmare. And it spawned worldwide franchises that may very well keep it a nice income stream for years to come.

Coming up June 2, Bourdain will be inducted in the RealScreen Awards Hall of Fame in Santa Monica as Person of the Year. Parts Unknown is nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Reality Series, and Tony for Best Reality Series Host. A&E is supposed to broadcast the awards live May 31.

Boudain hits the road July 7 for a 10-city personal appearance tour called Close to the Bone. Unfortunately, he’s coming nowhere near these parts. (I’m waiting for Tony to get wind of Richmond’s growing reputation as the newest foodie utopia and drop by for a few bites.)

And then there’s literary Bourdain. Still no word on the novel, but October 20 he’s got a prequel to his graphic novel, Get Jiro!, coming out. It’s called, Get Jiro: Blood & Sushi.

In addition, he’s co-authoring with Lauri Woolover a new cookbook called Appetites to be published by Ecco imprint in fall 2016. It sounds more down-to-earth than the French recipes and techniques he covered in the Les Halles Cookbook.

Speaking of Les Halles (as in, the market in Paris), Bourdain’s vision of a vast American counterpart in New York City took another step toward reality, after many months of speculation.

Bourdain Market will reputedly occupy 100,000 square feet (double the size of Mario Batali’s Eataly) in a new facility being constructed in the Meatpacking District on the Upper West Side at West 15th Street, Pier 57, on the Hudson River.

Here’s an excerpt from the linked Commercial Observer article…

Stephen Werther, Mr. Bourdain’s business partner, said that the food hall will ‘include a farmers market with an oyster bar, bakery, tapas bar and much more,’ according to Eater. It will house 100 vendors – some permanent, some for a few weeks at a time – and will include a rooftop beer garden.

The new food court will cost between $20 million and $30 million to build, Eater indicated.

‘We will work with the tourism boards to create a complete experience of the place. Not just prepared food or packaged food but serving ware, cookware, cookbooks, cooking demos, everything to promote the area,’ Eater quotes Mr. Werther as saying.

It sounds like a place where you could easily lose yourself for a weekend.

And, finally, in spite of the utter contempt he’s always shown toward the James Beard Awards, Bourdain’s series, Mind of a Chef, won for Best On-Location Food Program for the 3rd straight year.

If there’s one thing nobody can ever accuse Anthony Bourdain of, it’s being lazy.

Afterthoughts on “The Taste” Season 3

January 26, 2015

By Karen

Yes, I swore off Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste, after Season 2, but it pulled me back in. But I’m no Bourdainiac like Vanessa, that creepy fan girl on his team who cooked only to please her Tony.

Season 3 wrapped up last week, and I saw it all. Bourdain was a contender, but his last team member, Eric, got knocked out just before the grand finale, leaving it to Ludo and Marcus.

The premise is still ridiculous, but ABC’s pumping the hyperbole, calling Bourdain a “culinary legend” and the show an “international juggernaut.”

Bourdain’s too young to be legendary, but I’ll give him juggernaut. The Taste format is being reproduced worldwide. I hope Tony and Nigella get a nice slice of all that franchising.

What I liked…

  • Bourdain as host. He comes across as reasonable, likable, caring, the perfect foil for tantrum-throwing, trashcan-kicking Ludo.
  • The person who does Tony’s hair deserves an Emmy for confiscating his hair gel and ending the wet, mangy dog look.
  • Marcus Samuelsson. What’s not to like? He’s a cordial, articulate guy with an interesting background who knows his stuff.
  • Gabe as winner. He had the skills and the most favorite spoons. It was a nice touch that the judges allegedly didn’t know the winner themselves until they pushed the last button for their favorite.
  • They let us get to know the cooks better, although I felt like I knew Jen, Ludo’s token home cook, too well. At times I wanted to slap her even more than he did.

What left me wondering…

  • Where’s Bourdain’s wedding ring? He never wore it once, and it’s been missing elsewhere I’ve seen him. I hope it’s just a jiu jitsu thing, now that he’s in training.
  • Why doesn’t Nigella look in a mirror and kill the person who dresses her? In one early episode, her neckline was so low, her bra hung out. By mid-season when she was plumping up, she wore big horizontal stripes. And for the finale, they dressed her in full-on Morticia Addams. Nigella’s got a beautiful face, but she’s voluptuous all over and looks like haggis on legs poured into tight dresses she can hardly walk or sit in.
  • Why is every episode 2 hours long, even after they’re down to a few cooks? Didn’t ABC learn anything from over-milking Dancing with the Stars?

What I still don’t like…

  • Ludo, the once and future douche. He was more dickish than ever.
  • Home cooks pitted against professionals. Once again, Nigella was rendered moot almost immediately because her team of home cooks got creamed. No home cook has ever won.
  • A finale that dragged on for three rounds. Two would have been plenty.

So, I ended this season OK with The Taste, and I’d watch Season 4, although I don’t think it’s renewed yet. But I’ve got a new favorite: Master Chef Junior.

Stay tuned…

“The Taste” Leaves a Bad Taste

February 21, 2014

By Karen

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

And I lose 16 hours of my life I’ll never get back. (Well, 12-13. I DVRed so I could zip through commercials.)

Last night was the finale of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste, and two of my three picks to win, Marina and Lee, made it in to the final 3.

The ultimate challenge was to prepare a spoonful each of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in 2 hours. All the cooks had the benefit of coaching by Jacques Pepin. Pepin had earlier picked Marina’s chicken testicles as the winner of a challenge, making her the first home cook to reach the finals.

During that first challenge, Marina was even gracious enough to help Bourdain and Lee learn to use a pressure cooker to prepare tripe, without missing a beat herself.

Eliminated in that first challenge was Jeff, one of the strongest cooks, for a steak. This shocked me because Louise served undercooked lobster but, once again, she skated through.

On what planet does underdone seafood trump a freaking steak??!!

What became the repeating chorus for the whole episode was, “Nobody who plays it safe and makes steak deserves to win.” Remember that.

Now, fast-forward to the ultimate 3-dish challenge.

The dishes were (by my simplified descriptions, omitting the aoli and ramoulade, etc., BS)…

Lee: (B) Parmesan flan with a quail egg and asparagus, (L) Crab cake, (D) Steak with pureed cauliflower.

Marina: (B) Egg McMuffin with a quail egg, (L) Pork belly spring roll, (D) Short ribs with kale

Louise: (B) Quail egg with tomato sauce, (L) Oyster po’boy, (D) Steak with crispy potatoes and red wine sauce

In the end, Lee lost, Marina came in second, and Louise won. With, basically, steak and French fries.

Nothing against Louise, but she coasted through it all being a relatively mediocre middle-of-the-pack cook. And in the final moments, Pepin stepped in and salvaged her breaking wine sauce.

Marina, on the other hand, was daring, wily, bizarre, cooking things no one had ever tried. She deserved to win. She was robbed.

And poor Lee. He sabotaged himself by going all gooey over fellow contestant Cassandra, who was in the audience for the finale. They even gave Lee and his lady a touching scene backstage, forcing Louise and Marina to watch the lovebirds suck face.

If this mess is renewed for a 3rd season, unless I come down with selective amnesia, The Taste is joining Top Chef as a show I don’t watch. Enough already.

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