Thursday, January 12, 2012
Books About Food that Aren't Cookbooks: The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
The Nasty Bits is a collection of essays by Anthony Bourdain . I make no secret of my fan boy obsession with Tony B, but this is the book that started that infatuation. I was given the Nasty Bits in a family holiday tradition known as the "book swap". It's a fun, frustrating experience where family members suggest books for other family members then we blindly draw the books and are allowed to steal from other previously drawn books. There is no end to the level of Machiavellian cunning that goes into this event. Last year my brother-in law J, who probably knows me better than anyone else in my petite copine's family save herself, picked the Nasty Bits as a book I should read. I was not excited. I had never watched No Reservations and was doubtful that a cook, I have known my fair share, could actually be a decent writer. I was wrong. I ended up the book on a blind draw and no one tried to take it from me, thank God they didn't.
Nasty Bits is broken into sections containing essays correlating with the five basic tastes; salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami with and final section featuring a taste of Bourdain's fiction. The title appealed to me because it is symbolic of something I have done all my life. From the time I was 8 years old and ordered escargot with my mom at dinner and finished it all I have been obsessed with eating the weird food that many Americans scrunch their faces like a constipated pug at. I tend to have a rule about ordering the weirdest thing on the menu and Bourdain's writing about the oddities of culinary world appealed to that in me.
One of the Salty section essays echoed a common rant of mine American fast food. The Evil Doers asks why do we eat this mass produced often bland food when other places in the world thrive on fresh prepared tacos, hot fish, soup bowls etc? Food and Loathing in Las Vegas was a fun read for me because I have such great familiarity with the Las Vegas food scene, it also inspired my recent trip to Bouchon. The Umami section's essay The Old Stuff, The Good Stuff was both sad and inspiring as it discussed a dying part of New York and the old ways of French Cuisine that are so out of the mode right now. He describes with the loving sense of nostalgia the interior of a restaurant that has seen far better days with a menu of classic French cuisine that many would deride as boring.
In all I would recommend The Nasty Bits to anyone with a cynical sense of humor who loves food, rock n' roll (the book is dedicated Joey, Jonny and Dee Dee "The Ramones") and well written prose. If you're a fan of the show it reads almost as a companion piece to favorite episodes. If you're a current employee or proud alumni of the culinary world it will bring back fond memories or elicit a knowing nod.