Nasty, Brutish, Shortish

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

"So, you know, these are people Woody Harrelson won't be hanging out with. In the rest of the world you turn your nose up at an offering of meat, and they look at you like you're out of your mind. Much of your status in the wide-open spaces of the world outside of Hollywood has to do with your ability to procure meat, and distribute meat. To look down on that is, to me, anti-human."

On the topic of the wide open spaces of the world outside of Hollywood, Minneapolis comes in for nice mention a few times in The Nasty Bits, especially Vincent, the charming French-based place downtown. (Vincent, A Restaurant; 1100 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612.630.1189; www.vincentarestaurant.com)

"I have a real soft spot in my heart for Vincent [Francoual]," Bourdain told me. "It's great to see these pockets of good food in the wide open spaces between Applebee's and Olive Garden. I love that he's cooking such old-school stuff too; the 'Something Strange, But Good' section of the menu"—showcasing French traditional specialties, like pig's trotters—"that spoke directly to my heart, and I think it's the most overt example of what all chefs try to do, to slip the good stuff onto the menu, despite the customer."

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

Despite the customer?

"The Sample Room"—in Northeast; 2124 NE Marshall St., Minneapolis; 612.789.0333—"that's another good one. I'm sure his business model wasn't, 'There's a huge demand here for traditionally made pâté, so I'm opening!' It was more like, 'I love pâté, I want to make it old-school, I'm going to create the market and hopefully people will join me.' That's what Vincent does, too. He's not designing a menu like, We gotta have a steak, we gotta have a salmon, gotta have a pasta, gotta have a spinach salad, and when you get done with your gottas, there's no room for anything good. Instead, these are chefs who are trying to get customers to eat what they themselves believe to be good. When I look around the country now and see all these chefs curing their own meat, with their house-cured prosciuttos, I think that's an inarguably good thing. The craft had almost died completely, but now it's back. And I'm willing to eat a lot of ineptly made lardo [cured pork fat] while we wait for people to get it right, and for the people who are really good at it to be identified."

So is America then developing a food culture on par with that of Vietnam—a country I know Bourdain adores?

"Oh no, we got a few centuries to go before we hit that. But in the meantime we can look to France or Italy as role models, and we don't have to be ashamed of what we have now in American restaurants. It's possible to feed a sophisticated Frenchman well in almost any American city now. And we benefit enormously with our Chinese and Vietnamese neighborhoods, because that's something that we have that (Europeans] don't. And we don't have the rules that they have, which puts us ahead of the game as well. Lately the big story in France is that they just have to sit there and watch as the Spanish do whatever they want, because the Spanish are free.

"Now, take the science-class food in Chicago. That's something I'm really hopeful about in America. Not all of those guys are going to make it, but I bet five years from now Grant Achatz, once he totally finds his groove, is going to be the greatest chef in America. I don't want to eat in that restaurant every week, but five years from now he is going to be a chef with an international reputation serving the best that this country has to offer, which is huge."

Really? Grant Achatz, at Alinea, in Chicago? Why?

"He's got huge balls, and a tremendous background with Thomas Keller, and then the Ferran Adria thing, but he's also uniquely focused on his own world view, and he's got a staff that will do anything for him. If I find some of his food silly or too conceptual that's okay, that's a heroic thing. He knows how to cook and he knows what's good and he's moving things forward so I admire him tremendously."

I admire Bourdain tremendously. Wasn't that amusing? The book is just like that, but with a hard cover so you can prop it over your face at the beach and look brainy, sexy, and beachy all at the same time.

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