The writer and veteran traveler on cooking as art vs. craft, his culinary regrets and the trials of hotel living.
Anthony Bourdain is a man of many opinions, and we recently got to hear some of them on a sunny afternoon in the West Village. Here, his thoughts on cooking as art vs. craft, Ferran Adrià and his travel habits.
On cooking as art vs. craft
"I think cooks should be comfortable with the fact that they’re part of a glorious tradition of craftsmanship," he says. "You know, if you think you’re an 'artist' and you’re going around telling people you’re an 'artist,' you better be Jimi Hendrix. Especially if you're fresh out of culinary school, you better check yourself. Generally speaking, one of the signifiers of an artist is they cause people to disagree violently, the art should cause arguments. There aren’t a lot of arguments happening outside the great restaurants we love and it's that passionate incitement that is an earmark of art."
On Feran Adrià
Of course, there are exceptions. "Ferran Adrià is an artist," Bourdain says. "There are others, maybe Michel Bras. 100 years from now though, people will be looking back at Ferran Adrià and they won’t be debating if he was an artist or not."
On his relationship with pastry
When it comes to pastry, a food category that Bourdain has largely avoided for most of his professional life, he admits that he wishes he'd become a more proficient baker. "If I could do it over again, there are three things I'd do differently," he says. "I'd learn how to bake great bread, make a proper croissant, and play bass like Bootsy Collins."
On choosing hotels
Over the past 20 years, Bourdain has just about seen it all when it comes to hotel rooms, but that doesn't mean he requires over-the-top luxury on the road. "I travel so much that I see these sort of multi-purpose bathrooms where there’s a toilet and then a hole in the ground to shower over—you can pretty much just combine functions," he says. "I’m just grateful for hot running water a lot of the time.
On returning to civilization
Bourdain does enjoy a taste of the modern after his Parts Unknown crew wraps on their more remote shoots. "If we’re shooting in the jungle for three days and I’m washing myself with a wet washcloth, I want some good plumbing after that," he says. "Some good water pressure and a Japanese toilet that plays Bon Jovi and opens at my approach."
On his crew's eccentricities
"One particular producer is obsessed with the distance between the toilet and the bathtub and he can’t use either if they’re too close," he says. "We also have someone who is a serial shitter—he has to take a dump at each individual location. There’s another who has to try the spaghetti bolognese at every hotel in the world, regardless of how improbable or ill-advised that might be."