Nasty, Brutish, Shortish

Anthony Bourdain's newest, The Nasty Bits, is perfect summer reading: Riveting to pick up, easy to put down

"Maybe I'm a professional opportunist. I'm working on a book called Next. It's all autobiography, but fiction, because you can only really say what you want in fiction. At the moment it's really dark, but I don't know how dark it's going to get. You never really know what you're writing. Like, I didn't know I was writing funny books, till they came out, and then they were funny. I don't know. The Quiet American [by Graham Greene] is a happy book for me."

Really? I asked, even though the quiet American dies?

"Yeah, but he deserves to die. He's CIA, he's a bad man. It's always the smart guys doing good works who cause the most mayhem; Pol Pot, all your really atrocious dictators seem to be educated at the Sorbonne or nice British universities—people with a plan who think they're right, they are the worst people. My virtues, if I have any, are curiosity, openness, and that I'm always willing to concede where I was wrong."

The chef as anthropologist: Anthony Bourdain at Macchu Picchu
Tracey Gudwin
The chef as anthropologist: Anthony Bourdain at Macchu Picchu

Like in the back of the book, where you disown a couple of the more contentious pieces?

"No, I meant everything I wrote, when I wrote it, but some of it just changes, with time. In the Robert Downey piece"—a once-current Los Angeles Times story in which he forecasts relapsing Downey's doom—"I meant it when I wrote it, and it's very representative of my own ex-junkie's point of view, but in the years since the guy's doing great, and the really good friend I was really thinking of when I wrote it is also doing well, so it's actually a relief and a joy to say, 'Boy, was I wrong here.'"

Ditto for Emeril?

"Yeah, in light of what passes for a celebrity chef now, it's worth saying that the guy deserves more respect than I gave him. I find the people that make me angry are changing. I'm angry now at Woody Harrelson"—for maintaining a raw-foods diet when visiting Thailand—"and I'm furious at Charlie Trotter, for providing political cover" for the PETA folks and lending support to a recent ban on foie gras in Chicago. "After all the time I've spent in Asia now, with people who fought wars for 600 years so they could have the privilege of spending 12 hours a day in a rice paddy bent at the hip, maybe my priorities are rearranged, and I'm a little nicer, but also a little fiercer about the importance of respecting cultures and traditions. What pisses me off right now, what gets me hot under the collar, is people getting worked up about force-feeding ducks. They're force-feeding people [at Guantanamo Bay] and it seems inappropriate to be worrying about a dead duck.

"Now, I'm not talking about battery foie gras farming, which no respectable chef would buy because the quality is shit, but on a real foie gras farm the ducks waddle right up to the funnel, they come right to the same feeder every day, and throw up their little heads for the food. Like they have since Roman times. Looking at someone with a tube down their neck, you think it's uncomfortable, but they evidently don't have the same gag reflex we do, so it was very savvy politically for PETA. So few people know what foie gras is, and so few people eat it, or care, and of course no politician was going to step forward on a pro foie gras platform. So it's Charlie Trotter I'm furious at. I can only assume he did not fully understand how important and influential he is, and the effect it would have when a chef of his stature breaks away from his colleagues, it provides political cover for people to go after other chefs.

"Then, there's Woody Harrelson and the raw food people. I don't understand people who would travel to Thailand and not eat everything in sight. It's anti-human to me, anti-curiosity, and it shakes me to the core. It's exactly what's wrong with the world, the people who say, I know what's best, who cares what these people eat, and who cares about their hundreds or thousands of years of heritage and tradition. This raw foods thing too, it's a rich man's diet. I would love to see one of these idiots with the bushmen in the Kalahari, they're hunter-gatherers, and 90 percent of their diet is meat.

"This yearning for an agrarian wonderland, everyone growing organic vegetables and dehydrating them in expensive machines, grinding flax seeds in special Cuisinarts—it's some kind of futuristic Khmer Rouge. How important it is to be clean and pure, clean and pure, clean and pure. That doesn't sound good to me, it sounds evil."

Speaking of the Kalahari, didn't you just get back?

"I was in Namibia, the Kalahari desert, staying with a tribe of bushmen. It was digestively challenging, let's say. The cuisine is pretty much to chuck off a warthog's head, throw the rest of the animal into a fire, cover it with sand, and pull it out and eat it. They don't take the organs out first, nothing. They don't have any water, so there's no rinsing of anything, no washing of anything. For three days every mouthful of food I ate had either fur, shit, or sand in it. When they found some tasty beetles and threw them on the fire I was so thrilled: finally, something without shit, fur, or sand. They call them Kalahari truffles. The bushmen gather ostrich eggs, and beat them up inside the shell. Then they pour it onto hot sand, and cover it with more sand—basically this is a frittata encased in super-hot sand. So to eat it you scrape off as much sand as you can, and have this crunchy, crunchy frittata.

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