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.
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…
- Is it straightforward and uncomplicated?
- Do I already have most of the ingredients?
- Can I make it without destroying the whole kitchen?
- 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.
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.