Gordon Ramsay Couldn’t Shake Bourdain’s Shadow

September 4, 2019

By Karen

Gordon Ramsay’s first season of Uncharted recently wrapped on National Geographic. On the NatGeo site you can watch his travels to Peru, New Zealand, Morocco, Laos, Hawaii and Alaska. The reviews were not positive, usually comparing Ramsay unfavorably to Anthony Bourdain.

Ramsay has been my guilty pleasure for years, though I admit he’s not for everybody.

He shows (I hope) his nice side on MasterChef Junior with adorably precocious kids. On adult MasterChef, the withering insults flow, but he leaves the heaviest dickishness to fellow judge Joe Bastianich.

I love Hell’s Kitchen when Ramsay, in bleep-filled fury, strips culinary bozos of their delusions of competence. He’s similar on 24 Hours to Hell and Back, trying to save failing restaurants by berating and humiliating the owners in front of their customers. I was also a fan of Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell. Not so much The F Word.

Bottom line: I’ve seen a lot of Gordon Ramsay. Uncharted was something else.

Ramsay denies ripping off the Bourdain formula, saying he got the idea in Cambodia during a 2004 visit. But comparison was inevitable because both men’s series focused on travel and food. Ramsay’s big twist was his trademark move: turning the food into a competition with a tight deadline.

Ramsay’s mission was to learn as much as he could about the place’s cuisine in a week, then to prepare a feast against a local chef, with invited guests blindly choosing which dishes they preferred.

To make it a “fair fight,” Ramsay gave himself the disadvantage of cooking outdoors with unfamiliar ingredients. He always managed to create something edible, but his dishes weren’t always the favorites. His willingness to come in second showed, at least, an attempt to be humble.

To develop his menu, Ramsay roamed around and had people show him where ingredients such as eels, ants, beetles, grubs, plants growing on cliff sides, fish and game were sourced. Gathering them was often physically grueling, showcasing that 52-year-old Ramsay works out a lot.

What Uncharted never showed was Ramsay strolling through city or village markets, looking effortlessly chic and cool in a rumpled shirt and jeans.

Also missing was the stunning cinematography that Bourdain’s Zero Point Zero film crew had honed to Emmy quality. Uncharted captured what it needed of Ramsay, but any tourist could have shot the uninspired B-roll.

Another glaring omission for Bourdain-spoiled viewers was compelling narrative. Ramsay’s voiceover was often nicely self-deprecating, but light on wit and insight.

Ramsay did break new ground by introducing the Ugly American’s cousin — the Ugly Scot. He mocked locals for going to extremes to snag ingredients. He spit out what he was served a lot. Apparently not a drinker, he missed those opportunities to bond with his hosts, settling instead for a quick sip of the local brew, then insulting it with a puckered face.

Most irritating to me were Ramsay’s ever-present deadlines, which he enlisted everyone into helping him meet.

“I want to hear all about your history, your culture and your cooking techniques, but I’ve got this feast to prepare in the morning, so chop-chop!”

Bourdain had a production schedule, but I can’t recall ANY meal in ANY of his series where he ever made his hosts feel like he didn’t have all day or night to spend with them, eating, drinking, just shooting the shit and enjoying himself.

If Gordon Ramsay accomplished anything with Uncharted, it was to unwittingly remind us of the extraordinary soul we lost with Bourdain’s passing.


Outraged at Balvenie’s Emmy Tribute to Bourdain? Get Over It.

September 19, 2018

By Karen

In February 2015, Anthony Bourdain partnered with The Balvenie, makers of handcrafted single malt Scotch whisky, to host a series of short videos called Raw Craft. It was notable because Bourdain always said how much he loathed celebrity endorsements. But in this situation, PRNNewswire quoted Bourdain changing his tune…

“For me, there is deep satisfaction in seeing people, with a particular skill set and a real passion, produce a beautiful thing which is why I’m excited to be a part of these programs in partnership with The Balvenie. There is no doubt for me, that if you can have it, you want the stuff where people have taken their time, paid attention to and personally care about how it was created. It is very important to me that these kinds of crafts continue into the future and we value artisans who make the decision to choose quality over quantity.”

This statement is not inconsistent with the philosophy Bourdain always espoused. He went on to film a series of 14 videos for Balvenie, giving exposure to a variety of obscure but dedicated small business owners.

After the partnership began, Bourdain made waves in the whisky world by sacrilegiously saying he preferred his whisky on the rocks, proving he was no brainless shill for Big Booze.

During the Emmys (and I swear on a bible I saw this spot BEFORE the “In Memoriam” segment, not after — it must have replayed but I fast-forwarded through it), Balvenie ran a 30-second tribute to Bourdain. Twitter had a hissy. Here’s the spot so you can judge its tastefulness for yourselves…

Maybe Trump and the GOP have destroyed my sense of outrage, but I found nothing wrong with this. It was a tribute to Bourdain’s commitment to quality, and a thanks. Basically, they showed him explaining how he chose to live and work.

(Well, until 2016, when he met a certain Italian actress. That’s another story.)

I believe fans who think this was Balvenie’s cynical attempt to cash in on their Bourdain connection one last time got the motivation wrong. I saw a sincere attempt to honor a man who, in his own way, was every bit the craftsman they consider themselves to be.

Maybe I’m being played by Balvenie, but next time I visit a liquor store, I’ll probably buy a bottle (if I can afford it) just for the experience of trying something Tony believed in.

And call me a sucker but, shortly after Tony died, my car swerved into the drive-through of Popeye’s Chicken because I suddenly craved his secret guilty pleasure.

We can reread his books and rewatch his shows, but I think sharing the foods and drinks he enjoyed would probably please him most.


UnFoodie Tackles Zucchini Chips

January 31, 2017

By Karen

My weight has been creeping up, so I’m back on the Weight Watchers® Points Plus plan in earnest to get things back under control. The biggest hurdle is that all crunchy, carb-based snacks cost way too many points, so I continue seeking alternatives. I consider things like celery and hummus more of a punishment than a snack.

Remember my experiment with collard chips? Once the acrid taste of burnt weeds had faded from memory, I was ready to try again when I saw this easy recipe for Sea Salt and Vinegar Zucchini Chips (the link is a short video) in Cooking Light magazine. At only 57 calories per 24 chips, it was WW-friendly.

And the stars were in alignment. I had a zucchini that needed killing and the other ingredients, so what the hell?

The article said, “Light, crisp, and just as good as their junk-food counterparts, these veggie chips are a revelation.”

The recipe…

1 7 oz. zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 48)
1 tbsp. malt vinegar
½ tsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. sea salt (which was laughably insufficient)

While preheating the oven to 200 degrees, I combined the sliced zucchini, vinegar, and oil in a bowl, tossed it, and let it sit for 10 minutes while I lined a baking sheet with parchment. I then laid out the zucchini and sprinkled it with sea salt. So far, so good…

zucchini-raw

After an hour…

Sure seemed like a lot more when I started. Time to flip them!

Sure seemed like a lot more when I started. Time to flip them!

Two hours…

Finally starting to brown, but still not crispy, and still shrinking.

Finally starting to brown, but still not crispy, and still shrinking.

After three hours…

The incredible shrinking snack.

The incredible shrinking snack.

Here’s what I ended up with. This bowl holds about a cup and I ate every chip myself without counting them — and then raided the cupboard for a real snack.

You won't be asking anybody to pass the dip.

You won’t be asking anybody to pass the dip.

To call them a “revelation” borders on Trumpian hyperbole. They were certainly not worth three hours of my life. My recommendation is to leave these wispy little time-sucks to the experts who sell them in bags.


“Appetites” by Anthony Bourdain: A Book Review

November 23, 2016

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.


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.

Breakfast?!

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.

Pepin


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…

AtkinsBox

But here’s what came out of the microwave…

IMG_0601

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.


%d bloggers like this: