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I finally "get" Anthony Bourdain

l pinkmountain
2 months ago

I never became a fan of Anthony Bourdain. He came along after I had soured on cooking and travel shows, mostly because I don't much care for eating out, no matter what the venue, and not my style of travel or in my usual budget. Also, being a vegetarian who tries to eat both tasty and healthy, most of what he was featuring did not appeal to me. I'm not anti meat, just not a fan of eating it very often for many reasons. I'm not a purist though.

Caught a segment of his show last night, he was in Charleston, and I found the discussion interesting so I stuck with it. Then they showed the documentary about his life. I watched most of it but fell asleep in the middle, only to wake at the tail end and then catch a couple of his "Parts Unknown" show, particularly in Queens and Miami, two cities I have spent some time in so could relate to.

Prior to this all I had seen was clips of him eating some kind of rich meat dish and snarking, which I didn't find appealing. Thank goodness for lethargy mixed with insomnia causing me to stick with a couple of entire episodes! I can now see why he was so beloved, he is one of the few food writers and personalities I can think of who understands the cultural importance of food at a very deep level, and also gets the intersection of food and culture, in a meaningful way. His explorations of the culture are as interesting as the food, if not more. His discussions with so many interesting people, well I wish there was more of that. To me, that's the point of cooking, to share good food, lovingly prepared as a craft, with interesting people you can share ideas with along with the food. I still think they cut out too much of the conversations in editing, and they need to make longer versions of his show available at some point, for those of us with longer attention spans!!

I also liked the theme of how commercialization is slowly squeezing the warmth and genuine human contributions out of our communities, and how some folks are trying to buck the trend. That to me is quite interesting. Buck the trend without giving in to gentrification and appropriation. That's the challenge. Sure, it's easy to find twee "local" stuff in an upscale neighborhood, but how to keep the culture viable in the less affluent situations, where folks have to ply their trade at a level of being able to survive and support families, and yet not price their own class out of the market, that's another question all together. My own home town is struggling to re-invent itself and is torn between the shrinking middle class with the money to eat and shop out, and the struggling working class interests. The two worlds seem totally foreign to each other and I love how Bourdain at least attempts to bridge the gap!

My other favorite food shows are Sara Moulton's show, she attempts to channel the technical yet accessible appeal of Julia Child. I also like Lidia Bastianich. Not snobby at all about Italian American type food, very good at bridging that gap. And last but not least, Jacques Pepin, because he just shows what a life devoted to cooking for people and appreciating the power of food, looks like. I also have caught a bit of Madhur Jaffrey for Indian culture and food. She's a great bridge builder too as far as making Indian dishes look accessible. Seems like she's more of a writer than tv personality though. I used to like Manjula's Kitchen because she cooked up all these great vegetarian dishes in her regular ol' kitchen. But I just get kind of depressed watching Indian cooking, I am not that big of a fan of the flavors and I don't love to cook it. Like but not love. Not the cuisine, it's me, just not my thing, but I appreciate what a fabulous cuisine it is. I am more of an eater than a cook. I would be happy to eat at Indian restaurants often if I lived anywhere near one, which I do not.

I've watched a lot of other shows, trying to get into the "farm to table" shows but not finding much to like about most of them, a little too twee. I did find one I liked on BritBox,"The Edible Garden" with Alys Fowler. I liked it because her garden was small and urban, like mine. She did a lot of small scale kitchen stuff which is what I often find myself doing, to present a small harvest to best advantage.

What do you like about Bourdain and your other favorites? I'm always open to new suggestions too!

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