Tony Bourdain: Recovering socialist

I’m a big fan of Tony Bourdain, but he describes himself as a socialist. At the same time, he clearly hates what the nanny state has done to food. Here’s an excerpt from his book A Cook’s Tour that I used in a debate on the Crunchy Con blog this March:

These are dire times to be a chef who specializes in pork and offal. The EU has its eye on unpasteurized cheese, artisanal cheese, artisanal everything, shellfish, meat, anything that carries the slightest, most infinitesimal possibility of risk – or the slightest potential for pleasure. There is talk of banning unaged cheese, stock bones, soft-boiled or raw eggs. In the States, legislation has been suggested, mandating a written warning when a customer requests eggs over easy or a Caesar salad. (‘Warning! Fork – if placed in eye – may cause injury!’) A woman in the States won a lawsuit, claiming her coffee was too hot, scalding her as she stomped on the accelerator exiting the McDonald’s parking lot. (‘Warning! Deep-fried Mars bar – if stuffed down pants – may cause genital scarring!’) The result of this unrestrained fear mongering, this mad rush to legislate new extremes of shrink-wrapped germ-free safety? Much like it was after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle scared the hell out of early-twentieth-century meat eaters – the absorption of small independents into giant factory farms and slaughter domes. Try and eat an American chicken and you will see what looms: bloodless, flavorless, colorless, and riddled with salmonella – a by-product of letting the little guys go under and the big conglomerates run things their way. [Sounds crunchy, no? But note what Bourdain blames it on – ISM]…It’s war. On one side, a growing army of hugely talented young British, Scottish, Irish, and Australian chefs, rediscovering their own enviable indigenous resources and marrying them with either new or brash concepts or old and neglected classics. On the other? A soul-destroying tsunami of bad, fake reproductions of what was already bad, fake New York ‘Mexican’ food. Gluey, horrible nachos, microwaved, never-fried ‘refried’ beans, fabric softener margaritas. Limp, soggy, watery, and thoroughly dickless ‘enchiladas’ and catsupy salsas. Clueless ‘Pan-Asian’ watering holes where every callow youth with a can of coconut milk and some curry powder thinks he’s Ho Chi Minh. (Forget it. Ho could cook.) Sushi is almost nowhere to be found – in spite of the fact that the seafood in the UK is magnificent. You get more heart, soul, and flavor at an East End pie shop than at any of the rotten, fake, dumbed-down ‘Italian,’ ;Japanese fusion,’ or theme purgatories. Even the cod – the basic ingredient of fish and chips – is disappearing. (I raised that subject with a Portuguese cod importer. ‘The damned seals eat them,’ was his answer. ‘Kill more seals,’ he suggested.”)

Fortunately, Fergus and other like-minded souls are on the front lines, and they’re unlikely to abandon their positions. Sitting at St. John, I ordered what I think is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth: Gergus’s roasted bone marrow with parsley and caper salad, croutons, and sea sold.

Oh God, is it good. How something so simple can be so … so … absolutely luxurious. A few Flintstone-sized lenghts of veal shank, a lightly dressed salad … Lord … to tunnel into those bones, smear that soft gray-pink-and-white marrow onto a slab of toasted bread, sprinkle with some sel de gris … take a bite … Angels sing, celestial trumpets … six generations of one’s ancestors smile down from heaven. It’s butter from God.

Bourdain now hosts a show on the Travel Channel. Earlier this year there was an episode set in Peru, I think. He stayed with a very poor community, watching them labor hard to produce exceptionally meager fare. In the evening, he sat down with them and commented how beautiful their surroundings were as if they were compensation for the hard life. “You can keep it,” came the reply.

Bourdain indicated he was having second thoughts about the “benefits” of such lifestyles. Add the two pieces of evidence together and I suggest he may now be a recovering socialist.