Lynne Rossetto Kasper: We've got a family cookbook that you've done with your new book Appetites. But I have to laugh, okay, because the family cookbook has duck fat, wild boars, and there’s about four tubs of different stocks in the fridge. So, tell me about how you cook at home.
Anthony Bourdain: I have a very unusual -- or I thought I had an unusual, sort of non-nuclear, dysfunctional extended family. My house is: an absentee wife who pretty much abandoned me to become a professional jiu-jitsu and grappling expert; a daughter, a nine-year-old girl who grew up eating very adventurously, largely, I think because her mother's Italian and she was exposed to those kinds of food; a Filipino nanny and her son who is essentially, in all important ways but blood, my little girl's brother and best friend; and an extended family of Filipinos, visiting Brazilians, and various grapplers and martial arts professionals; as well as a bunch of other knuckleheads coming in and out. So I found myself, for the last nine years, cooking in a way or cooking things that I never really did as a professional and trying to live the role of the patriarch.
This book reflects a guy who spent 30 years in the restaurant business, who is now preparing school lunches for his little girl and cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for this big, dysfunctional, messy group of people. The food is fairly straightforward; I don’t want to give the impression that it's unapproachable. There's also meatloaf and macaroni and cheese, and the sort of thing a nine-year-old would like. I [also] bring the kind of organizational skills to it that I picked up over all those years. I've cooked a lot of Thanksgivings professionally. I think what I've learned will be very helpful to people who struggle with a big holiday meal and find themselves not even remembering eating because there's so much work involved.
LRK: Well, give me a ‘for instance’ with Thanksgiving because this is the perennial question: “How do I survive?”
AB: For a professional, Thanksgiving is a three-day operation. You make the cranberry relish two days in advance. It only gets better. You don't struggle. We don't make gravy in the pan. That never works. You know, where you deglaze the pan with water or flour and, supposedly, you have some magical gravy. Who does that? You make a turkey stock, and then, maybe, you incorporate the drippings. You do that on the day before, perhaps. Again, it's something that improves by sitting and marrying up. Most importantly, you don't carve the turkey at the table. I always prepare what I call the "stunt turkey," a small turkey that I roast and actually stuff, which I actually advise against stuffing your turkey. I cook the stuffing on the side, like I do in the restaurant. It's healthier and it's more controllable. But, basically, I make a stunt turkey for display. I show everybody the turkey with the little paper booties on it and the stuffing inside, and they all go "ooh" and "aah!”
Then I whisk that back into the kitchen for myself, for leftovers and turkey sandwiches tomorrow, which is what Thanksgiving's really all about, as far as I'm concerned. And then I have my service turkey, which is a big turkey. Which I take the breast off the bone. I remove all of the thighs and the drumsticks and I slice that breast into nice, attractive shingles, lay it out on my separately cooked stuffing, and I send out an immaculate-looking platter of portion-controlled, cookbook-ready turkey that people can actually eat. I'm not up there wrestling with this turkey, struggling to hack off a few pieces of scrawny white meat for people. Your turkey's getting cold while the other guy is waiting for me to figure out how to carve turkey off the bone at the tableside without stabbing myself. In this way, you also ensure that everybody gets some white meat, some dark meat, whatever they like because it's worth remembering that the murder rates spike enormously over the holidays. And I think a lot of that is turkey-related.
LRK: [laughing] Probably. I wonder, too, about the fact that people get together over the holidays that maybe haven't chosen to be there.
AB: Yeah. This is a situation that's fraught with peril and there's probably all sorts of simmering resentments going on. You should be able to spend as much time at the table as possible. You should be organized. It should be a pretty painless operation if you organize yourself correctly. I think those kinds of realistic expectations -- when you throw a dinner party, you should be able to: a) enjoy the meal yourself, and b) spend time with your guests. You shouldn't be stirring risotto in the kitchen for twenty-two minutes while your guests are getting sort of bitter and drunk waiting for their food.
LRK:But there is something you say that sort of stopped me for a moment. You say you really hate to admit that, for you, there's more stress in cooking for a party of five at home than cranking out meals for 500 in a restaurant.
AB:Yes. Much easier for me. I can crank out 500 turkey dinners standing on my head, but Thanksgiving for five family members with all of that backstory coming. Or five anybody. I get really nervous. So, I have my prep and my mise en place. I am squared away.
If you'd like to hear an extended version of Lynne's conversation with Anthony Bourdain, click here.
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