Anthony Bourdain's "Appetites" Saved Me and My Cooking From Quarantine
Remember the late great chef by cooking some of his easiest recipes
Since being confined to our house in Toronto during the global pandemic, my girlfriend constantly says the place “smells like a home now.” And she’s right — a walk through our front door on any given day and you’re likely to get smacked in the face by a visceral waft of a reduced wine and garlic sauté, a cheesy and saucy baked lasagna or a fresh-from-the-oven lemon meringue cake.
We can’t take full credit here, as most of our cooking inspiration has come from Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites: A Cookbook, a cheeky, profane and unapologetic guide to recreating some of the culinary icon’s favorite meals. And what’s so awesome about Appetites, to put it in Bourdain’s words, is that “there is nothing remotely innovative about the recipes in this book. If you’re looking for a culinary genius to take you to the Promise Land of next-level creativity, look elsewhere. That ain’t me.” This is where Bourdain is speaking my language. I’m not trying to become the next paragon of cooking. I just want to have some fun, improve my kitchen game and impress a few friends when we get back to social gatherings.
With enthusiastic zeal and prodigious volumes of Negroni (Bourdain’s favorite cocktail), I tasked myself with recreating several of the book’s recipes. And to be honest, with just a little extra effort placed on procuring good ingredients, along with Bourdain’s boiled-down cookbook wisdom, I can now manage to whip up some pretty decent meals.
Below are some thoughts and photos after creating some of my favorite recipes. But if you want all the nitty-gritty details for any of these recipes, which I highly recommend, you’ll have to snag a copy of Appetites: A Cookbook. Keep in mind that everything here is done in good fun, of course, a homage to one of my culinary and literary heroes. And so, I have included a few bits of Bourdain’s clear-eyed, witty prose. His barrage of joyously cynical one-liners we are left to imagine. And there it is again — the post-Bourdain world.
Macaroni and Cheese
Bourdain seems to have a preferred palate — spicy-as-fuck or uber-Euro. His Macaroni and Cheese recipe holds true to both. But from there, he doesn’t stray into odd or trendy ingredients. “Truffles do not make it better,” explains Bourdain. “If you add truffle oil, which is made from a petroleum-based chemical additive ad the crushed dreams of nineties culinary mediocrity, you should be punched in the kidneys.”
I start with this banger-of-a-meal for two reasons. Bourdain’s Macaroni and Cheese represents my foray into quarantine cooking and baking. In fact, my inspiration to write this article was conjured on a Saturday night while feasting on this baked pasta behemoth. Secondly, of the dishes I prepared, his Macaroni and Cheese has become my tour de force in wielding unbridled, belt-stretching joy upon anyone who tries it. In sum, this is a dish that will land your happy ass on the couch in a state of euphoric bliss.
Caviar Deviled Eggs
“I’m an egg slut: I like deviled eggs in almost every conceivable variation,” Bourdain states. “They improve everything, particularly a party, because who doesn’t like deviled eggs?” Although Appetites offers several variations of deviled eggs including Mediterranean, anchovy, and hot and spicy, I chose the caviar version.
Look, I’m in Toronto, Canada, during the novel coronavirus and they have different laws here than in the United States. One such law is the legality surrounding obtaining real Beluga caviar — the roe from a Caspian Sea Beluga Sturgeon that has been illegal in America since 2005. But guess what? The most sought-after fish eggs, these pearls from Valhalla, are readily available on the north side of the Canada-United States border. So I had to give them a try. Be wary, true Beluga is pricey — the stuff can run you $10,000 USD a kilo (we scored a small 10-gram tin for about $150). But I couldn’t resist these melt-in-your-mouth, savory delights. And no, this isn’t a fish-egg brag.
Anyone can boil an egg. Well, mostly anyone. Probably the most significant detail for deviled eggs is not to use farm-fresh, still-warm-from-the-chicken eggs. Sorry to all the Bourdain-spited despicable hipsters who keep chickens on their Brooklyn patios, but slightly older eggs, like the ones you would typically find in a grocery store, will be far easier to peel.
My mom used to make buttermilk biscuits that were so delicious they could make a celiac convert. They’d come out of the oven piping hot in lumps of golden-brown addictive goodness. As kids, we would devour the batch with dollops of salted butter before the biscuits had time to cool. Needless to say, when I spotted Buttermilk Biscuits in Appetites, I had to take a crack at them.
As Bourdain explains it, the key to perfectly lumpy biscuits is to use frozen butter rather than lard, duck fat or Crisco. The trick here is to freeze a stick of unsalted butter and then cut it into half-inch cubes, blending the cubes into the flour mixture, and then gently kneading the dough just enough to bring it together. “The best, fluffiest results come from [using] ice-cold butter,” Bourdain explains.
Most of us have fond memories of our formative tuna-salad lunch experiences, and Bourdain’s recipe is no different in its delivery of the “fundamental elements.” In fact, he draws on his own childhood memories to deliver a tuna salad sandwich with certain expectations — basically, not to deviate from those lunch-counter meals. “I want it on sliced white bread. I want it with crisp iceberg lettuce. And I do not want any creative additions distracting,” notes Bourdain.
The two most important things here are to add ingredients for crunch (he includes diced celery and onions) and to add the mayonnaise a little at a time — giving you the option to dial back the mayo if your preference is to go lighter. “An impulse I don’t necessarily endorse, but grudgingly acknowledge,” explains Bourdain.
Mortadella and Cheese Sandwich
Bourdain first discovered this beast of a sandwich at Bar do Mane, in Sao Paulo, the Mercado Municipal of all of Brazil. “It is, I gather, a rite of passage for visitors to the city — a beloved heap of oozing awesomeness, a reflection (or mutation?) of Brazil’s proud and powerful Italian dimension,” writes Bourdain.
Of all the meals I prepared, the Mortadella and Cheese Sandwich came with most visceral revelation. While I love thin-sliced Mortadella, it never occurred to me to fry it in hot oil like pastrami and then drizzle it with oozing provolone, leaving me no choice but to demote all other sandwiches. Per Bourdain’s recommendation, I served up this monster manwich immediately with a cold beer.
Linguine with White Clam Sauce
“This would be a very good candidate for ‘last meal,’ as it’s delicious as hell — and because you wont have to worry about garlic breath in the next life.”
I’ve always had a precariously amorous infatuation with Linguine alle Vogole. It is my litmus test meal when trying out a new Italian restaurant, despite the low risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning, which has been — knock on wood — always worth it. In making the dish at home, it’s important to shop for fresh Littleneck Clams. I also find that the most flavorful results come by using the reserved clam liquor and cooking liquid for the garlic, red pepper flake and white wine sauté.
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions
Bourdain gives praise to the brilliant Gabrielle Hamilton here and her use of mayonnaise on the outside of her grilled cheese sandwiches. “The bread wont get brown as quickly as with butter, so the sandwich needs less babysitting to deliver an impressively even golden crust,” he writes.
I’ve actually never had a grilled cheese made with caramelized onions before, and I’ve certainly never tried caramelizing my own onions. Let’s just say, the results were demonically good. To balance good and evil here, and to impress my girlfriend with whom I’ve been isolating, I created heart-shaped sandwiches by slicing the oval-shaped sourdough bread at an angle.
Spaghetti alla Bottarga
“After I fell in love with this dish on the Sardinian coast, I asked my father-in-law to show me how it’s done,” explains Bourdain.
While in isolation, I planned a special date night for my girlfriend. Red roses were delivered to our home and instead of our typical quarantine fatigues — jeans and hoodies — we dressed up. I began the evening with a cocktail hour that included caviar deviled eggs and Negronis. Over the next hour, I took my girlfriend on a virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles (Thanks Google Arts & Culture). I also scented the room with French hand-poured Cire Trudon candles — capturing the scent of the elaborate wooden floors in Château de Versailles’ famous Hall of Mirrors.
Following the palace tour and caviar, we had Bourdain’s Spaghetti alla Bottarga and Caesar Salad. I’ve never tried pasta bottarga before — it’s deliciously unpretentious. And the recipe is as simple as Bourdain explains it: “Encapsulate the essential Italian philosophy of cooking here: Get a very few excellent ingredients, then proceed to not fuck them up.”
“Fuck dessert,” Bourdain says. He offers a single page on the after-dinner course whereby he denounces sweet tooth culture and suggests that cheese is only intelligent course of action here. “Cheese is magic. The cheese course, irreplaceable. All the knowledge accumulated by mankind and all the mysterious forces of the natural world reside in cheese. What I want after a good meal is the king of cheese: Stilton.”
I couldn’t agree more.
While Bourdain’s favorite cocktail isn’t mentioned anywhere in Appetites, we can be certain that countless vats of Negroni were consumed throughout the cookbook’s creation [they were certainly prominent in the writing of this piece]. What better way to have fun cooking than with a Campari, Gin and Vermouth-soaked brain? While there are variations, the classic recipe favored by our populist hero is quite simple: one part Gin, one part Campari, one part Vermouth, and a slice of orange. Salute!