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Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook

(article, Christina Eng)

As the executive chef at Manhattan's Brasserie Les Halles since 1998, Anthony Bourdain heads a staff that puts out consistently good fare. The restaurant, owned by José de Meirelles and Philippe Lajaunie, is “as authentic as any place can be outside of France,” Bourdain says. 

In Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, he shares both behind-the-scenes details of restaurant life and scaled-down recipes (finessed by Laurie Woolever to manageable proportions) amenable to home cooking. 

Bourdain is not exactly the kind of guy we'd bring home to our parents. He smokes like a chimney and cusses like the best (or worst) of them. He is cynical and sarcastic. Years ago, he summed up then-fellow Food Network celebrity Jamie Oliver with a wicked take: “Naked Chef  — two words, both lies.” 

He is the kind of guy, though, whom we’d want to cook for our parents. With decades of professional experience, he'd no doubt feed them well. 

The voice and attitude, abrasive and intimidating, that pervade Bourdain’s previous titles (including [%bookLink code=0060934913 "Kitchen Confidential"], the bestselling memoir that made him a literary rock star, and more recently [%bookLink code=1596913606 "The Nasty Bits"]) lace this cookbook, too. 

He compares it to a field manual for kitchen recruits. “If, from time to time, I refer to you as a ‘useless screwhead,’” he says by way of introduction, “I will expect you to understand — and to not take it personally. If you hang in there, do good work, show a little love and respect for the food, I’ll probably buy you a beer later at the bar.

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“So listen up. You will not do too many things at once. You will not lose your head. You will not run your area of operations (i.e. your kitchen) into a chaotic train wreck . . . Don’t let the French \[names\] fool you. Ever . . . What is your major malfunction, dipshit? This stuff is EASY!” The spiel borders occasionally on camp. Think drill sergeant on a tear. 

In chapters on soups, appetizers, beef, lamb, poultry, and other topics, Bourdain provides instructions for bistro favorites. Recipes for Soupe au Pistou, for example, a vegetable soup similar to minestrone (pistou is similar to pesto), and Onion Soup Les Halles, topped with generous mounds of melted Gruyère cheese, sit alongside those for smooth, creamy Vichyssoise and Lobster Bisque.

Recipes for Pâté de Campagne (made with pork liver and pork fat) and Boeuf Bourguignon (beef simmered in red wine) appear, as do instructions for Pot-au-Feu (meats simmered in a full, flavorful broth) and Coq au Vin (chicken marinated and cooked in red wine). Bourdain wraps things up with more classics, including Clafoutis, a flan of fresh fruit baked in a batter of sugar, eggs, and flour.

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More seemingly daunting dishes include Onglet Gascon (hanger steaks with beef bone marrow); Gigot de Sept Heures (seven-hour leg of lamb); and Chartreuse of Quail (quail, foie gras, and cabbage). All rely on traditional ingredients and techniques. All sell themselves on taste and comfort. 

It’s true that, unlike his food, Bourdain is not wistfully polite or cheerfully nurturing; he would probably rather slap our hands than hold them. For kindness and gentleness, we could perhaps do better with the more fatherly Jacques Pépin.

It’s also true that Bourdain’s cookbook is not necessarily comprehensive; at roughly 300 pages, it’s only half the size of Julia Child’s beloved Mastering the Art of French Cooking. 

For those of us, however, who remain impressed by Bourdain’s undeniable charisma and brutal honesty, this cookbook gives us a chance to prepare classic dishes more familiar to him than the backs of his well-scarred hands.

p(bio). [christina_eng@hotmail.com "Christina Eng"] is a writer in Oakland, California.


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