The Hungry Engineer

The Nasty Bits

08 Oct 2008

Love him or hate him, I can’t help but find Anthony Bourdain entertaining. He’s impassioned about food and travel but tempers it with a fair amount of snark. His view of his fellow chefs and cooks borders on hero-worship, but on the other hand, he reserves a special kind of ire for The Celebrity Chef. He can come across as over-inflated, but then curatively deflates his own celebrity and brings himself back down to regular-guy-who-got-lucky level. Add to this his skill as a writer, and you have (among many other things) The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones.

I just finished reading The Nasty Bits late last week. Published in 2006, it is an anthology of articles and stories that Bourdain has written for various publications in the years since Kitchen Confidential was published. The selections cover a wide range of subjects – food, restaurants, travel, organized crime – and they all are delightfully tinged with his cynicism and reverence. He offers up a richly experienced take on the world we live in, the television we watch, and the food we consume. The locales and scenarios (and his sometimes dubious attitude toward them) he describes are drenched in detail such that you really and truly can almost imagine what it must be like to dine in Singapore or cook dinner for your spouse on a high-end cruise ship.

[See how my book has the right edge all torn up? Yeah, those are teeth marks. I have a fuzzy little kitty named Verbo (smart little turd that she is) who thinks the perfect way for me to wake up is to hear her gnawing at the books sitting by the bed. I tell you it’s better than an alarm clock. There aren’t too many soft-cover books in our house that haven’t suffered at Verbo’s teeth.]

I can’t tell if it’s age or experience (or maybe both), but I think he is (accidentally or otherwise) letting his softer side show in this book. As mentioned, there’s still plenty of ire for certain culinary figureheads. However, long the butt of Mr. Bourdain’s tirades on the evils of star chefs and catch-phrase-heavy food TV, even Emeril manages to catch a break in this one. Bourdain finally acknowledges that Emeril worked his way up from his working-class roots through the sweat and toil of the kitchen to land on the Food Network and make (perhaps not terribly eloquent) cooking shows. I think he ~might~ have even apologized for calling him an ewok. Rocco DiSpirito should be so lucky.

At any rate, I feel like this book, more so than the others I’ve read, presents a relatively well-rounded (and often eye-opening) view of the culinary world, and I highly recommend reading it. The other two Bourdain books I’ve read, Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, are wickedly good reads (though if you’ve ever watched episodes of A Cook’s Tour or No Reservations and found his commentary off-putting, you’re likely to not enjoy the books either) and worthy of independent reviews. As a point of comparison, let me just say that it seems like Bourdain’s growth as a culinarian, world-traveler, and author is chronicled in these books, and of the three, this last one may be his most “grown up”. I don’t know if that’s just how it seems given that for the most part these collected works were written for publications with specific target audiences, or if it’s the real deal. For my part, I honestly miss the all out bite and “f— you” attitude of the first two a little bit (I guess I need to grow up too), but The Nasty Bits is good reading and has a place in any (smirkingly irreverent) food lovers library.

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