No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain Meets……..Montreal
I shouldn’t bake and tell but I must. I just delivered scones to Anthony Bourdain.
Not even extreme scones - just perfectly baked ones.
Actually, it was only to have been gargantuan oatmeal cookies but something went wrong as it always does, even to the best of us, when baking under pressure (ever try baking, flat-ironing your hair, and driving down downtown in rush hour while realizing you are almost out of gas and forgot meter change?) and the oatmeal cookies spread into a sea of brown sugar and oats, much resembling a dried amber brown swamp basin at the end of summer.
Clearly, scones, my strongest suit, were in order. They are fast, elegant, and non-fail – the little black dress of baking. They also cool quick and you can invent a new one every 15 minutes. No question, scones are heroic. So I made these gorgeous scones with flakes of semi-sweet chocolate, set in a buttery, cream-kissed batter, studded with currants and topped with a tri-flavoured fondant of vanilla, orange and chocolate essence The recipe is below. I create scones as per personality of the intended eater and with someone as adventurous as Anthony Bourdain, I figured, the sky was the limit. That said, I employed restraint; no bile, no entrails – just baker’s classic elements. But I did give a thought to his palate and figured – chocolate was a must, and interesting was a second, and rustic but classy (not unlike his edgy but toney persona) was the right note to hit.
Like appearing at a simple function, overdressed, you don’t want to offer a fellow chef over-the-top decadence at first bite. Actually, it is the ultimate what –do-I-bake/guess-who’s coming-to-dinner question. What do you make? My advice (to self and you all) is to bake what you like and what you are in the mood for. Be true to true things. You can get to the recipe later but for now, just read on since I am honoured bound to report the Bourdain sighting.
It is on the occasion of his book launch, No Reservations, Around the World on an Empty Stomach, Bloomsbury 2007 which I might add I have an advance copy and for everyone else, it will be out in Canada in a week or so and in the U.S. in 10 days or so). The new book is a companion volume (although it stands alone) almost an insider’s extra hit of Anthony and Co. and contains text and photos of yet more of the TV hit, No Reservations on location, up close and very personal.
I have read a bit of Bourdain’s other works and like everyone else, have heard much about cuisine’s bad boy – enough to make this baker girl presume, the press conference, proceeding his sell-out appearance in Montreal this fine evening, would be about things risqué and raw, about gizzard stuffed lizard’s innards and tossing back beating snake hearts, and all manner of deep fried, marginal things, crazed chefs, and sundry naughty tales. Bourdain, celebrity of the haute kitchen and best and most hallowed restaurant halls of the land, TV, books and more – is synonymous with all things vaguely, outrageously related to what is loosely, broadly called…cuisine.
I didn’t know what to expect other than it was unlikely Mr. Darcy, albeit with an apron, was about to step into the room. I half wondered if outrageous people would be suitably petulant and difficult and braced myself for goodness knows what. Certainly the other journalists were already restless and making asides.
Instead, Bourdain arrived quietly and without fanfare and quickly sat amongst the gathered journalists, offering a warm hello and an immediate thanks for the media turn out. It was like one of your distant, most charming cousins, turning up at a treat, coincidentally, on your birthday and even remembering – i.e. simply, nice manners.
At this point, I confess to feeling a bit counterfeit. As you all know by now, I am a baker/chef and a writer- but journalist? I suppose I am that too but the moleskin notebook sort of question-frantic inquirer, I am not. I felt not a little like the door mouse in Alice in Wonderland or Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, pretending to be an interviewer from Horse and Hound. As the local journalists brought up more inquisitive, provocative questions to the floor and the guest of the hour (Is foie gras dead? What’s the deal with unpasteurized cheese? Who is the fairest chef in France? Is Nigella Lawson as fabulous off camera? What’s wrong with cooking today?” What does he have against culinary school graduates?), I sank deeper into my chair which of course, was about a foot away from Bourdain’s. We were seated in old school style movie seats, and were in semi-darkness, the stage way below, already set up in a Broadway one-man-act, scenario. I decided it was best to say nothing than commit a gaff. I know – far be it from me to not be chatty but I do have a prime time version of myself. I can do circumspect. But then someone said something about food and cinema and I remembered I had a voice.
”Excuse me, but speaking of theatre, perhaps you could shed some light on when chefs became showman, and instead of teaching, we started performing like rock acts. When did chefs who are supposed to lead and teach about food morph into performers and why do we seem, do home cooks, seem to want this?”
There was a touch of silence – and the energy shifted.
Bourdain speculated that first there was Julia and JeremiahTower and Wolfgang Puck but probably Emeril was the one who made food part of celebrity fanaticism. But really, he said, what seems to drive droves of people – viewers – who seem to need to slurp up food shows rather than perhaps, live their own lives of passion is a pervasive lack of passion or somewhat bereft sex lives (actually, he didn’t put it quite as sedately as I just did but you get the point). Talk of celebrity, theatrics and chefs made me segue to asking him about his favourite food movie. Ratatouille (which made him weep. Note to self: Rent Ratatouille) and Big Night are closely tied. (Note to you all: Rent Big Night).
And then suddenly everyone was adding in their two cents about favourite food movies and for a few minutes - the gathering was, as it should have been, about food. Which is the whole point of it all. And it was fun and became lively.
Bourdain chatted more – as comfortably as if he was in his – no make that, our living room, about his new book in particular (all travel text, tons of amazing photos, lots of character, gusto and more than a few profound reflections – add it to your Bourdain collection), about his respect for the working chefs from Mexico, Salvador and all points and parts not American (or North American) that produce young men of 22 who are already ‘adults’ versus culinary school graduates, of which he (and I), are one such and are just 'kids' in the kitchen.
Peppered with questions, and in anticipation of a full house after us, and two hours of entertaining a mass of people, what emerged was as man who loves food, loves people and vitality, dislikes fundamentalism in any form (whether it be terrorism or vegetarians which he loosely lumped together) especially as it pertains to a non curiosity about food or life. Here was someone, despite a reputation for edginess, who was passionate, invigorated, and in a strange way – simply…soulful. He admitted to enjoying his life and profession (“Let’s face it. My life doesn’t suck”) and its perks but confessed to being as happy –left alone, to cook, eat, and wander the world – cameras kindly pointed on someone else. Asked about what he admired in food –he was clear – Americans doing French food, finer..unless it was a French chef IN America doing it differently than the same chef would do in France. Asked who he respects in cookbooks, the come back was quick and clear: Julia. Julie Child. You can’t go wrong. Her books are the best. And always, just go back to the basics’.
And then it was done.
One last question.
“Did Chef Boudain intend to enjoy some Montreal snack food, such a poutine, while here?” someone asked (We Montrealers just seem to want to show people our finest restaurants and then hit them with our frites, bagels, smoked meat and poutine. It’s like offering someone cashmere and fake vinyl in the same sweater).
”Yes, he said, with gusto, Sometimes you just want to eat that or deli.
To which, on cue, the good baker of BetterBaking.com fetched the warm scones, and handed them over.
"Here is a small cadeau de Montreal. Before you hit the poutine, you might like scones"
Was he stunned?
More so, his publicist who blanched…and mostly so, the other journalists.
But then, I am not your average food journalist; I come prepared (or perhaps it is the Jewish mother in me reacting to seeing a slim chef). I always feel when visiting chefs drop into town, honoured to bring something from my test kitchen. Because chefs, bad boys chefs or not, do eat and need real food. At some point, between planes and trains and hotel rooms, duck spleens and as Bourdain noted, ‘the inevitable hotel room mini bar’ a fresh scone is going to taste awfully good. I know food. I know about human appetite. As a chef. And as a mother. It’s a no brainer. It’s what we do.
The interview ended and we wandered out. I somehow fell in beside Bourdain as the two of made our way down the three flights of stairs in this turn of the century old opera house in Montreal, where outside, some 1500 or so people were waiting in the rain, in anticipation of the sold out event – wherein a chef would appear and just talk, not cook, and somehow keep the fire alive. As the two of us walked we talked about why cooks are all crazed and wild and bakers and pastry chefs more sedate. “Can you be a bad boy baker?” quizzed Bourdain me. “Absolutment, I said. Some of us maverick bakers – even….rogue bakers. We just don’t brag as much. We keep our nose in the flour’.
We chatted more, about cabbages and kings and then it was a warm handshake, thank you for the scones (just wait until he tastes them. They all think it is ‘just scones’.
Ha. Just. Wait.)
But here’s the thing. Don’t believe everyone’s hype. Sometimes, much like orphaned emails, the tone of which make you debate the intention of the sender, you need a person and tone, to fuse to words and recipes and personality. And such was the case here. I met a chef who loved what he does. I also saw, despite world class fatigue and sophistication – humility. More than that, he loves food, and people –and is, as far as I can tell, appreciative of every facet of food and has a love-intolerance relationship with professional cuisine and an ongoing adoration – nay fascination of the incredible, exotic, world cuisine that happens outside those elite doors. That he, his loves, talents and pervasive hungers became performance art is coincidental. That we are drawn to it says more about us, than the performer. Bourdain is right about that. We need our own passions. Add salt to taste.
Anthony Bourdain is the author of
The Nasty Bits
A Cook’s Tour among other titles, including three crime novels, of which Bone in the Throat is one.
Raincoast Books represents his books in Canada.
And here is the recipe that became the scone gift. If you hurry and make them now, you and Tony will be likely enjoying the same treat, at the same time, in real life.
Marcy Goldman’s Scones for Anthony Bourdain
Aka Swiss Chocolate, Currant, Orange Glazed Butter Cream Scones
These are the most amazing scones in that they are bursting with flavour and fragrance and all at once rustic but elegant enough to suit a king. Finish them off three ways – with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, the tri-flavour fondant, or just the butter and sugar before baking treatment. What makes these special is the ground-up chocolate counter pointed against the sultans and currants and then the crown of fondant and orange zest. These were so good that I ate the leftovers at while reading Kitchen Confidential. These are not on the website but might be one day unless they are immediately hoodwinked into A Passion for Baking 2. Enjoy them now.
3 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (almost) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 cup Swiss, semi-sweet chocolate bar, in large pieces
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup, approximately, whipping cream soured *
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon pure orange extract or ¼ teaspoon orange oil
½ teaspoon pure chocolate extract
Coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
to sour the cream, pout 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a measuring cup. Pour to the one cup mark, with the cream. Let stand and allow to curdle.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Arrange oven rack to upper third position. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper.
In a food processor, place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda together and whiz to combine. Add in the chocolate and pulse to almost grind up the chocolate within the floury mix. The mix will turn a bit beige. That’s ok. Add in the chunks of butter and pulse to break the butter into the dry mix until it is lumpy.
Turn the mixture out into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs, and most of the cream. Mix to make a shaggy mass and then add in the raisins and currants. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead gently to make a cohesive dough. Pat into 1 inch diameter and cut into wedges, about 10 or so. Brush the scones with melted butter and dust with sugar or coarse sugar.
Place on baking sheet and baking until just browned on top and around the edges (more around the edges), about 16-18 minutes.
For the fondant, mix the confectioners’ sugar with the extracts and milk or cream, as required, (very little) to make a soft spreadable fondant. Smear or spread on a few scones (some scones leave butter topped, some dust with confectioners’ sugar and some apply fondant). Before the fondant sets, place a few pieces of semi-sweet chocolate on top and some shreds of orange zest. Let set.