Sometimes you have to admit you don’t know enough to give an opinion. For Appetites – A Cookbook, I asked food and wine critic, Andreas Rompel, for his review. In the past I’ve judged Anthony Bourdain’s memoirs from a literary point of view, no problem, and I’ve admired and enjoyed his writing, “…a poetic, stream-of-consciousness food-rap.” But this time, it’s about food and recipes – about which I know just about enough to not ruin scrambled eggs completely. It’s Bourdain’s first cookbook in ten years, and it’s a demonstration of his expertise. The man knows food – no doubt about that.
“Cookbooks are difficult to judge since the main criteria, the smell and taste of the meals, are not transferred to the reader. A German saying goes: “the eye is also eating” – that’s very true as I myself am fond of nicely prepared and appetizing plates. So this must be the angle of any cookbook – not too complicated recipes combined with mouth-watering pictures. Did Anthony Bourdain achieve that? Partially – though his meatballs look burned in one photo (p. 73).
The book should also have a parental guidance index set very high, as the language he uses is straight from the gutter, probably intentionally so. Be that as it may, the guy knows food, he knows how to prepare it and he knows what it takes. What his wife’s martial arts has to do with the cookbook remains a mystery to me, just like the pictures of her looking rather exhausted after a fight.
In his book he covers the entire range from breakfast to desserts, and even right at the beginning when he explains how to make scrambled eggs he shows his class. Read carefully, even there you can learn something. Scrambled eggs need to be turned over lightly and should not be served overcooked and dried out. He further adds a bit of history to the dishes he describes. I did not know that Caesar Salad originated from Mexico.
Some dishes are quite involved and have a lengthy list of ingredients and are not easy to prepare, others are simple and should be easy work. Some of his Italian dishes are rather Americanized versions, overdone, too many ingredients, and evolved away from the simple cuisine of mama from bella Italia.
Unfortunately not all recipes have pictures, which is regrettable, as the reader’s willingness to prepare one of the dishes is directly related to the tastiness of the picture presented. Nevertheless, most dishes do come with pictures. But even in the illustrations Bourdain likes to shock: Eric Ripert with spaghetti dripping out of his mouth down to the plate does not spark the urge in me to replicate the dish.
One would also have to challenge Bourdain on his roasted taste buds. He finds smoking cool and does (or at least did for a long time) smoke a lot. It is not rocket science to realize that smoking changes the taste of almost everything, fine wine being at the forefront here, and food being close on its heels.” (Review by Andreas Rompel)
The theme of family
In the introduction to the book, Bourdain talks about the lifestyle of his (now) former wife, his parenting role, his daughter, and his frequent extended absences from his family – and he confesses that the human heart is still a mystery to him. According to co-author Laurie Woolever, the intention was to write a “dysfunctional family cookbook”, with an edgy or anarchic tone – typical Bourdain style.
He introduces the book with a quote from Leo Tolstoy, taken from Anna Karenina: “‘All happy families are alike.’ Tolstoy clearly never spent time with my happy family.” Those who know the quote also know that it goes on to say: “…every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Make of that unspoken sentiment what you will. “That’s our family. And this is our family cookbook. There are the dishes I like to eat and that I like to feed my family and friends. They are the recipes that “work”, meaning they’ve been developed over time and have been informed by repetition and long – and often painful – experience.” (Anthony Bourdain, Appetites, p. xiv)
About the reviewer
Dr. Andreas Rompel is a wine expert, gourmet and globe-trotting food and wine writer. His reviews, called The Rompel Report, are published on the South African wine blog of industry stalwart, Neil Pendock. When not cooking, travelling, dining out and reviewing, much like Anthony Bourdain does, he is a Geologist, and President and CEO of the Cobalt Power Group, a publicly traded Canadian cobalt exploration and development company. The Rompel Report has been going now for about seven years – and recent blog posts are about Montreal, Canada, the South Tyrol, Italy, Lima, Peru and Vancouver, Canada.
About co-author Laurie Woolever
In case you were wondering who did what on this cookbook, in a revealing write-up for epiccurious.com, food writer Laurie Woolever describes how she got involved:
“In 2014, Tony Bourdain recruited me to help him write ‘a dysfunctional family cookbook,’ an endeavor that resulted in the just-published Appetites. It features a photo of a pig’s bladder made to look like a disturbingly veiny child’s balloon; angry manifestos about chicken Caesar, club sandwiches, and breakfast potatoes; and a pile of turkey wishbones on fire. The dessert chapter opens with the instruction, ‘Fuck dessert.’ The cover illustration, by Ralph Steadman, is so gorgeously grotesque that certain retailers insisted it be obscured by a modesty jacket before they would place their orders. It is an aggressive thing of beauty.
Tony is clearly a skilled writer with a distinctive voice, but his aforementioned world travels leave little time for all of the research, development, testing, art-directing, and writing required to create a cookbook. I got the job because we’d worked well together on his first cookbook, back in the early aughts, and I’ve been employed as his right hand (wo)man since 2009, a time when this very website declared ginger the new mint, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes hadn’t yet morphed into a dubious cultural touchstone.”
Read the full interview “Deep Cuts, B-Sides, and Rarities from Anthony Bourdain’s New Cookbook” to get the recipes for Matzo Ball Soup and Lobster Catalan that didn’t make it into the book (for all sorts of weird and fascinating reasons). The links to the recipes are in the article.