Honestly who doesn't love Anthony Bourdain? The celebrity chef and TV host is one of the most honest, intelligent, and raw food personalities in the world. Through shows like Parts Unknown, No Reservations, and The Layover he's introduced audiences not just to new and innovative chefs but to exotic, homecooked cuisine that most North Americans would never be exposed to let alone dare to try. His new cookbook takes a much more approachable look at dining though, focusing on simple, manageable comfort food. He was in Toronto for a speech last week so I whipped him up some mac and cheese and sat down with him to talk about hangover food and Donald Trump.
VICE: So, I actually made something from your book yesterday for you to try.
Anthony Bourdain: Alright, what did you make?
It's the mac and cheese.
Oh, awesome. I could go for some of that. Thank you so much.
I hope you enjoy.
Let's see. Good stuff.
You like it?
It is spicy. It is too spicy? I think I put in too much cayenne pepper.
No, it's good! You made this yesterday?
Yeah, it's actually... A good argument could be made it being better the next day. Good stuff. I'm gonna finish this.
Please do. I made it for you. So, I made it a little bit hungover, but I do think that the book is amazing for hangovers.
Thank you. That's kind of an area of expertise.
What's your go-to favourite kind of hangover food?
In a perfect situation, I wake up with a savage hangover. Already that's not perfect but assuming I have a hangover, couple aspirin, Coke-Coca Cola, nice and cold. Smoke a joint, as soon as the nausea abates and munchies ensue, some mapo tofu would be really good. Some spicy Szechuan food, something greasy and super spicy. Perfect. In a pinch some cold fried rice, pork fried rice from the night before, also good. Leftover Chinese tends to work for me. But I want some heat, I want some spice.
One thing I really liked about the book—because I'm not a great cook—is that it makes it really simple. What're your tips for the cooking averse?
Well, have reasonable expectations of yourself. If you're cooking for others, don't cook something you've never made before. You know, experiment a little on your own before you serve an omelette to someone else, you know? Make ten omelets at home one day. You know, it's a learnable skill, cooking. Don't be afraid to fail. Understand that professionals learn through repetition. They don't, you know, they're not smarter than you. Try to be organized, you know? I mean write lists, have all of your shit together. Have all of your ingredients laid out in a comprehensive, easy to reach fashion. If you're cooking for people, prep whatever you can ahead of time, ahead of time. Don't be so hard on yourself. And don't try to dazzle people and be too ambitious. That could work out badly.
Yeah, that's a good tip. Most people would think that macaroni and cheese is too boring or easy, but it's not.
Who doesn't like macaroni and cheese? Enemies of America.
Enemies of freedom.
What prompted the book?
I think a perverse desire to... I dunno. To do something different... It's an honest reflection on why I do cooking, who I've been cooking for for the last eight years or so, since my daughter was born. It was these dishes that make me happy. It's a reflection of who I am I mean, I'm away for 152 days of the year. When I'm home I'm this sort of, smothering, you know, home cook who tries to, however incompetently, express my love through food. You know, I'm like the overbearing Jewish mother, passive-aggressively chasing you around the house: "Why didn't you finish your food? Don't you love me?" That's who I am now.
Has fatherhood changed what you cook?
Yes, of course. That's the customer. She decides what we eat. If she doesn't like it, what's the point? She decides—she makes all the major decisions in my life when I'm home, honestly. On vacation or when I'm home, it's all about her. Cooking, making her school lunch, breakfast, dinner. We'll cook together sometimes. It's, you know, that's what's great about being a dad. You're not the centre of the world anymore, it's about somebody else. Always.
Given all the different food you've tried, your palette is so wide-ranging. Are you giving her octopus?
She loves octopus, but I would've never offered it to her. That's not gonna work. You offer a four-year-old girl an octopus tentacle, and say, "It's good, try it," she's never trying it again. I would eat octopus in front of her, as one does, and she would look over and say, "Cool!" and ask to try some. At which point I would reward her with praise, but I would never. I just found that this was just not the way to go. She, like any other little girl, wants her little mac and cheese or pasta with butter, grilled cheese sandwich every day. But then, you know, one day she looks over and her mom and dad are eating oysters, well oysters so she says, "Ohh, they're shiny, they're pretty, I want the shell too." She starts eating oysters. We look at each other like... That's pretty cool.
Why do you hate brunch?
Back in the bad of days of my life (there were many in my long and undistinguished career) no matter how badly things went I could always get a brunch gig. So, those times that I did cook brunch, for extended periods of time, always, you know, those smells. Those... the smell of just lots of eggs, eggs cooking on the stovetop, homefries, bacon, and sticky French toast batter. These are the smells that I associate very deeply with the lowest, most painful, humiliating, shameful, desperate moments of life. So I really, I just, I have instinctive existential hatred of everything about brunch. Until I became a dad... Cooking breakfast for my daughter and her friends after sleepover, well actually that's pretty... That makes me really happy. I do fuss over them and I wanna be the world's best dad so I don't just do pancakes, I do a pancake bar with your choice of blueberry, chocolate chip, banana, or teddy bear. I wanna be that dad. Whose dad is best? Ariane's daddy, bitches.
You obviously travel a lot, but when you're here in Canada, what do you seek out food-wise?
Comfort. You know? I'm looking for old familiar places. I'm gonna go see chef friends. Eat what I know they're really good at. I like the smoked beef. I like, you know, poutine, it's kinda perfect stoner food, late night. Those are happy-making.
Is there anything that you think is distinctly Canadian? We really struggle, I think, with an identity when it comes to food.
In Montreal, there's a truly dangerous level of hospitality that has left many chefs from the States just, you know, limping across the border. You know, pantless and filled with shame. But well-fed. Look, I don't mean this in a—there is a needless insecurity in Toronto in particular that I don't really fully understand. It's a city with a lot going for it. A lot going for it. Uniquely going for it. There seems to be this need for validation that I don't really understand.
Yeah, it is very Canadian to sort of want recognition.
Yeah, you've got the ingredients: you got the chefs; you have the diversity; the ethnic, national diversity. Particularly in a places like Toronto, Vancouver. It's looking pretty good.
Speaking of Canadian insecurity, we've been watching this election with a mix of curiosity and horror. What's it like to be there?
It's a look... We're having a national conversation in the open, in public, unapologetically, that I never in my life thought I would see. And yeah, it's dismay and horrifying. It's such a... moronic inferno.
That's a good term. I mean, you've been to so many places that are post-political storm. You've been to Iran recently, which is huge. Are there any parallels for you in what is happening there?
Well, I mean, I think if you look at, you know, Mussolini a la Italy, Berlusconi a la Italy. Very much, very similar. Boris Johnson. The rise of Boris Johnson. You know, white nationalism is something we're seeing all across Europe. And this sort of last gasp of frightened, angry white people is something. And religious conservatives who feel like they're being pushed out of the way, the glory days. We're seeing that in a lot of countries. You see it in Russia to a great extent, that same sort of yearning for a man on a horse to make all our problems go away. Turkey. Yeah, some worrisome times.
I know that you've said you wouldn't cook for Trump, but if there's a recipe in the book for both them, could you recommend...?
I just... I can't even kind of... I find him so personally objectionable that it's not like... I've sat down with Ted Nugent; we're on very friendly terms. We talk all the time and just... with everything that comes out of his month. Everything he says is wildly offensive and deeply offensive. But I get along with Ted. I just can't... I mean we know this guy too well. I mean, you know, I'm a New Yorker, and he's a New Yorker and just... I just can't. I just can't.
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