Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club, which this time focused on Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
Punk. Visceral. Arrogant. Sensitive. Offensive. Macho. Machismo. Inspiring. Shocking. Brave.
Those are just some of the words used to describe Anthony Bourdain at the recent Cookbook Club events that were ostensibly about his book Appetites: A Cookbook, but inevitably stretched far beyond to encompass Kitchen Confidential, his food-travel TV work, and the legend of this iconic figure. Some members who came along were long-time fans of his work. (Although ‘fans’ feel like too superficial a word for their depth of feeling and respect.) Some had no idea who he was at all before embarking upon it for the Cookbook Club events. If you are reading this in the latter camp, here’s a quick reprise that will hopefully make sense of the rest of this round up.
Bourdain was born in New York in the mid-1950s, plied his cheffing trade in the city through the eighties and nineties, then in 2000 released Kitchen Confidential, which was an explosive and searingly frank insight into the restaurant and chef culture of the time. It made him an icon among chefs and food-lovers more broadly—and he seldom ‘cheffed’ thereafter. Instead, he turned to TV work and a series of shows discovering international food cultures. Interestingly, a couple of members were from places in the world that Bourdain had visited for TV. It was a huge compliment to him that they both felt that the shows had gone beyond more usual superficialities and were presenting a truly authentic, in-depth look into their respective food cultures.
Big, gutsy food
I don’t mean for this to become a biography, but the context of Bourdain’s struggles with addiction and achieving a ‘normal’ life are important when thinking about Appetites. It was published in 2016, only two years before he killed himself. He talks a lot in the book about family; about cooking for and with his young daughter. Knowing what came so shortly after, it was hard for our members not to see this as a rather sad book. It’s a dark book too, in places, with its let’s say ‘distinctive’ photography. The recipes in the book might be for Bourdain’s take on home cooking, but the way the book is put together is anything but homey. I suspect Bourdain would take that as a compliment, too.
Dishes we shared at the Cookbook Club ranged from true Americana meat loaf with mushroom gravy, to Korean fried chicken, lasagne bolognese, devilled eggs and the punchiest tomato salad. Big, gutsy food. I think it is fair to say the dishes—and therefore the recipes—were enjoyed more than the members had expected. No desserts, though. Bourdain had strong feelings against dessert, allowing only stilton as an option.
Last word—and I suspect the best word—goes to one of our members who wrote this after the event: “He was a writer, traveller, thinker and social commentator, who happened to have been a chef. His legacy is not a recipe for clam chowder (although his is delicious), but that he told it like he saw it, travelled outside his comfort zone, visited places in the world that regular people inhabited, and called a lot of people out—including, most amazingly, himself. I miss Tony dearly, but glad to have the legacy of his words to remind me to dig a little deeper for the real and authentic experiences in life.”
Saturday 2nd November; Tuesday 12th November: Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and the Caucasus by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford