Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain opens up

Australia's most-popular food blogger Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, joins the Business Spectator team. Here she sits down with Kitchen Confidential's Anthony Bourdain to talk about food, life and his new book -- Medium Raw.

I am holding Anthony Bourdain’s mobile phone number. Three years ago, when I started my blog, never, ever did I think I would be in this position let alone interviewing Anthony Bourdain. I deliberately don’t have cable TV at home because when I have it I sit in the hotel room and just watch No Reservations.

When I read other reviews of his new book Medium Raw, I was a touch confused. I checked my copy of Medium Raw to see whether we received some bizarre edited version in Australia but no, it was all kosher. It seemed that I had a different interpretation of it to many of the other reviewers who had read it. I thought that it was a kinder, gentler Bourdain whereas they focused on his heroes and villains chapter. He is a provocateur of course but he also makes many very salient points and like Idol franchisor Simon Cowell, you may think that he is a bit blunt but he may just be right about things and he makes you think. He also champions the unrecognised in the industry as well as bringing chefs like the wonderful Fergus Henderson into the spotlight.

I was intrigued to find out what he was like. I knew he gave good quotes and that his opinions had changed over the years on various matters and that he himself has said that he likes being proved wrong. I also knew that his life had turned around from his previous novel. And without blathering on any more about what I thought, without any further ado, here is my interview with the intriguing Anthony Bourdain.

Not Quite Nigella: I’ve read Medium Raw, loved it, but I get the impression that after the anger in Kitchen Confidential that underneath it all you’re a decent and sensitive soul. Is that bad for your reputation?

Anthony Bourdain: I’m real glad you think so. I had hoped that that was the case and I was trying to write a book that was more like that than the other thing. Here it’s been received as a lot more vicious and out of control in a lot of ways I guess because I went after a lot of the more recognisable names in this part of the world, the elder statesmen of food writing. Yes I hope so. I thought I was writing a kinder and gentler book. I’m very aware of the fact that I’m not working in a kitchen. It's been years. Of course I’m aware every minute and every day that I’m the father of a three year old girl. That’s who I am now. I just wanted to write about it.

NQN: My favourite chapters were the first one which was pure food porn about the Ortolan and the one where you tell us about how you managed to convince your little girl that McDonalds was evil in a rather clever way. Did you ever think that you would be a father?

AB: I was determined not to be one until just a few years ago. I suddenly had an epiphany and I realised I wanted to have a baby now and I want to have a baby with this woman. I’m old enough.

NQN: What was your reaction when you found out you were having a daughter rather than a son?

AB: You know it’s funny I do not believe in this metaphysical mumbo jumbo but I was away shooting an episode and I came back and I looked at my wife’s face and I knew it was a girl. And a few minutes later we went to look for an ultrasound and they told us it was a girl. I was thrilled. It’s all about girls for me and quite frankly I’d like another one. I’m really really, really enjoying being the father of a little girl. I am the sun and the moon to this little lady and I’m enjoying that feeling.

NQN: I read somewhere that your daughter is growing up eating prosciutto flavoured baby food.

AB: (Laughs) Well baby food in Italy is very different than baby food here. She’s eating real food but she has unusual taste. Most of the time she eats like every other little kid like hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches but we’re in Italy a lot and her mother is Italian so she sees things on the dinner table that a lot of kids don’t see on a regular basis. She likes raw oysters and sardines and anchovies and pecorino. That’s kind of weird for a kid. I’m not trying to raise a foodie it’s just what she thinks looks good that mama and dada are eating.

NQN: You’re not going to put any raw oysters in her lunchbox at school?

AB: Oh god no that’s just so wrong. Let her be a little girl. That’s just not my intention at all of course. I’m secretly very proud and happy when I see her reaching for something like an oyster I can’t help but think it’s cool but I think she’s like a normal Italian kid.

NQN: Will she ever get one of those evil chicken McNuggets?

AB: She’s never had one and I will do my very, very best to keep her away.

NQN: What are your dreams for her?

AB: All I can hope for is a happy, healthy kid with no self esteem issues who knows that she is loved. Weird would be good, if she’s a little weird then that’s good.

NQN: If she grows up to be a chef?

AB: I would of course be mortified at the first mention of the possibility but then again secretly proud. Of course I’d be proud but I’ve lived that life. It’s a hard life. I would hope she would choose something else but I’m going to try to not steer one way or another. She’s going to make up her own mind no matter what I say so I just want her to be happy and feel good about herself.

NQN: Does your wife Ottavia work in food?

AB: Yes she worked in restaurants at front of house and she was the general manager of a restaurant when we met. We were introduced by Eric Ripert the chef of Le Bernardin. She doesn’t anymore though.

NQN: You’re doing a speaking show where you talk without props or entourage and you tell people what’s exciting or pissing you off.

AB: It’s a complete work in progress and the entire format could change at the drop of a hat and it’s a one man thing where I walk out and talk for an hour and then exchange questions and answers with the audience for an hour depending on the crowd. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I’m doing this in venues where they have bands play. I’ve done a few with friends like it’s me and Eric Ripert or Mario Batali and we’re sitting there talking with a moderator and it’s just done really very well.

Photo credit: The Travel Channel

NQN: So what is exciting you now?

AB: Paris is exciting again. Because of all of these new young, reactionary and revolutionary chefs who are serving up amazing food out of these tiny casual places for 35 euros for a full meal for a Michelin quality meal. I don’t know how it happened but Paris is suddenly a very exciting place to eat again.

NQN: What’s not impressing you?

AB: Anything that is angering me? Actually you know the direction that dining has been going in the last year has mostly been very positive I’m really happy with the food truck scene that has been expanding here, pop up restaurants and the general democratisation of food. Making the food better and the service a lot more casual. They’re all...

NQN: You just need another Sandra Lee to make another Kwanzaa cake. Did she send you one or a fruit basket like Rachel Ray did?

AB: No but she did come up to me at a party and that was one of those deeply terrifying episodes of my life.

NQN: It did sound bizarre. But you survived.

AB: Yeah yeah..but she pretty much had me for breakfast.

NQN: There is a chapter with heroes and villains in the book, are you trying to sort the good from the bad in this industry?

AB: Someone wrote in a review that that whole chapter is juvenile and it is a sort of schoolyard thing making the friends and enemies but it was fun.

NQN: How has travelling changed you? You must watch movies with subtitles?

AB: Sure (laughs). When you travel everything changes. It is a humbling experience and you see how insignificant you are and how little your world matters to the rest of the world. How much harder people work in the rest of the world, how difficult their lives are and how terrible things can happen to really good people. Those things make an impression. When you walk in another person’s shoes for just a minute it’s a life changing thing.

NQN: I read that your favourite destination is Vietnam?

AB: Surely it’s one of them. There are a lot of destinations that I’m very happy to see again Vietnam is way up there. The north of Spain I love San Sebastian, Barcelona, anywhere in Italy, Sardinia parts of South America. I tend to like places with palm trees. I’m a Mediterranean at heart with a love for South America and South East Asia. Clean, orderly countries I’m not as happy in. I like hot messy countries and dysfunctional, passionate countries with spicy food.

NQN: You write about the James Beard dinner and how unappreciative the diners were.

AB: And how clueless it just seemed like a moribund enterprise. The institution was moribund. The people there were clueless. Here you have this great chef that worked so hard and come such a long distance and I thought that his efforts were wasted on a bunch of irrelevant, clueless, doddering, semi senile idiots.

NQN: Did you get a reaction from them?

AB: What writers there are no writers at the James Beard House it’s like a dinner club for a bunch of old golfers. I have certainly got a reaction from the writers I mention in the book though.

This is an abridged version of the original blog post. To read on click here.

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