Set in not-too-distant-future Tokyo, it’s the origin story of the sword-wielding superstar sushi chef Jiro. There’s yakuza, sushi, Italian food, and lots and lots of blood. We got a chance to chat with Bourdain about the new graphic novel (on shelves today), as well as his upcoming cookbook and food sins he thinks should be punishable by death.
Why did you opt to follow up Get Jiro! with a prequel?
I was interested in finding out how this unlikely character came to be. I didn’t want to go farther into the future—I’d said everything I wanted to say there. Initially, the whole project was wishful fulfillment. I once watched my friend Naomichi Yasuda as he watched two customers mix wasabi into the dish of soy sauce without ever having tasted his fantastic sushi one day. And I saw his unhappiness. In a measured voice, he told them that was unnecessary, that the fish was properly seasoned. And I was well aware of the fact that he had been training in full contact karate for most of his life and that he could have easily cracked both of their skulls. And sitting there enjoying his sushi and understanding the amount of work and intent that he brings to his sushi, I thought, Wouldn’t it be awesome if he just cracked their skulls together and killed them? So I tried to imagine a world in which that would be acceptable behavior. It developed into this dystopian, satirical extension of foodie over-seriousness. With the new book, I wanted to go backwards and do a completely different thing. I’m a huge fan of Japanese gangster films and sword flicks and genre pictures of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. I saw an opportunity to essentially play in that backyard, so I did.
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It felt a lot more realistic. A lot more like a possible story as opposed to the original Get Jiro!
Slightly higher body count than Japan is used to, I think.
Langdon Foss was the illustrator on Get Jiro!, but Blood and Sushi was illustrated by Ale Garza. Why the change in artist?
I love, love, love, love Langdon Foss’s work in the first book. But this is a very different style of story. It’s set in a completely different location. The influences are different. I just wanted the art to reflect that difference. I like collaborating and I like being pushed by the collaborators. I wanted a shockingly different look. That was particularly challenging given how good Langdon Foss’s work was—it was so incredibly intricate and detailed. We asked for an entire world and he created one for us. This is slightly in the future but it’s more of an existing world. It’s a younger book. It’s about a guy in his early 20s, so I guess I just wanted a different, more pop culture style.
Both the Get Jiro! series and your Bone in the Throat series intertwine cooking with violence. Why do the two subjects go hand-in-hand for you? What links them?
They’re basic bodily functions. It’s what animals do: They eat, they screw, they kill. I grew up with a taste for lurid violence in films and comic books, and spent most of my life cooking food and eating food. These things came together because they’re a reflection of my personal taste rather than any statement—though, when I see people do terrible things to food, I certainly think there might, in a perfect world, be room for a little ultra violence.
What in particular makes you angry?
A brioche bun on a hamburger always makes me a little stabby.
Why is that?
Brioche buns are greasy; they’re not a good platform for a burger. The meat should be greasy, not the bun. The French don’t understand hamburgers. Why would you use a French product for something that they have no love for? They’re great at so many other things but definitely not hamburgers. Brioche buns crumble. They’re just the wrong vessel to be carrying a magnificent thing like a burger patty into your mouth reliably. That always drives me crazy. Chicken Caesar always upsets me. I don’t know why; it’s just a personal thing. Fake Mexican food. I always feel like I should walk into the kitchen and have a talk with the crew. Excessive use of truffle oil. But I think the worst is the abuse of a really beautifully made nigiri—to see someone let it sit rice-side down in a dish of soy and wasabi slurry. I feel for the sushi chef. And I feel that action is appropriate.
Are you working on any other books right now?
I’m almost done with a first draft of my cookbook. It’s a dysfunctional family cookbook. I can promise you it will be unlike anything that’s come before—certainly unlike any family cookbook.
What do you mean by a “dysfunctional family cookbook”?
I don’t have a normal family. I travel 200 days a year. My wife is a fighter who eats basically only animal protein. My daughter grew up eating oysters and octopus and squid like a little Italian kid. We all come and go at odd hours. We have an extended family of friends who are in and out of the house. There’s an entire Filipino contingency to our household. All my friends are chefs. So I think the food we cook and eat is a reflection of that. It’s essentially taking all my years of cooking professionally and applying those mercilessly to running a home kitchen more effectively. Let’s put it this way, it’s not an ordinary family and, more importantly, I wanted to prove something with the book. I want to take this book so much further. I want it to be even more gorgeous than anybody else’s. But, more importantly, I want it to break all of the rules in terms of photographs—what constitutes a cookbook photograph, what constitutes appropriate material for a cookbook.
When can we expect it?
Looking at spring.