Anthony Bourdain’s Best Cooking Tips and Travel Wisdom
Anthony Bourdain visited every continent — yes, even Antarctica — in pursuit of good food and better stories. The 61-year-old host of Parts Unknown was found dead in a French hotel on June 6, apparently of suicide.
He didn’t consider himself a journalist, but he found ways of getting people to open up, usually over a meal or cold beer, whether it was President Obama and a group of students in a cafeteria. But he began as a chef, working for decades in New York restaurants such as Brasserie Les Halles. Over the years, he put the skills he mastered to use, offering advice to novice chefs, from how to make scrambled eggs to the necessity of a good knife. We gathered a few of his suggestions — about cooking, travel, and life in general — below.
Knives at the ready
“Whenever I saw cooks muscling a red pepper with a dull blade, I’d put them on knife-heavy prep, doing basic cuts again and again and again until they got it right,” he told Food and Wine. “I made sure my cooks had a good chef’s knife, a flexible fillet knife for fish, an offset serrated knife, and a paring knife.” Most home cooks, he wrote in his memoir Kitchen Confidential, can get away with “One good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable for your hand.”
Six (maybe seven) steps to a perfect steak
In a cartoon for Food and Wine, Bourdain laid out the six steps (plus one) you should take if you want a flawless ribeye.
- Get yourself a nice 32-ounce ribeye steak.
- Let it sit out at room temperature for half an hour.
- Season with salt and cracked black pepper just before putting on the grill. Not before!
- Throw on the grill. Do not puncture with fork or knife. Use tongs.
- Let it cook! O.K., maybe turn it 45 degrees, but don’t mess with it.
- When cooked on one side, turn over. Do same. Don’t prod. Just leave it alone.
- And whatever you do … make sure you let it rest five minutes before cutting.
Savor the stock
“Stock is the backbone of good cooking,” according to Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so you should make your own: “Just roast some bones, roast some vegetables, put them in a big pot with water, and reduce and reduce and reduce.” Stick it in the freezer, and it’s there when you need it.
If you’re making scrambled eggs, don’t make a quiche; skip the milk and just use eggs, salt, pepper, and butter. If you crack your egg on a flat surface instead of on the edge of the bowl, there’s less chance you’ll get shell in the mix. Also, on a somewhat-related note, “An egg in anything makes it better.”
Keep it simple
“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food,” Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential. He found joy in burgers from In-N-Out — which he described as “a ballistic missile … a perfectly designed, protein-delivery system — and ketchupy spaghetti from the Philippines’ fast-food staple Jollibee. While traveling by boat down the Congo, he made coq au vin one night but fried up Spam the next morning. (On that same trip, he also showed viewers that when your knife’s not sharp enough, sometimes you have to turn to a machete.)
There’s good food to be had, even at the edge of the world
When he wasn’t awestruck by what the scientists were doing in the field, Bourdain was marveling at what the cooks had going on in the kitchen at the Antarctica McMurdo research station. On a continent where fresh food is scarce, they had to be creative with their meal rotation. “We don’t really do fancy food, we just do basic food well,” one worker told Bourdain, who was digging into his meal with gusto.
Have what she’s having
If you find yourself in a place where you don’t speak the language, don’t head for a chain restaurant in search of an English-speaker. Sit down at a hole-in-the-wall and point to something one of your dining companions is eating, Bourdain suggested to Time. It’s a little uncomfortable, but you’ll get more out of it than sticking with the tourist traps. “It’s those little human moments that are the ones that stick with you forever, the random acts of kindness,” he said.
Explore your city
It wasn’t just Tanzania, Antarctica, and Gaza that brought the unexpected to viewers who’d never set foot in those places. Sometimes, Bourdain could make your own backyard seem just as enticing. Maybe he went to a bar you’ve been to, but then he took you into the basement where its proprietor paints the art that covers the walls. Perhaps you learned the story behind an agrarian plot of land in the middle of Houston. It could make you want to see your city through his eyes.
There’s a thread — or bread — that connects us
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes, and the same can be said for food. Bourdain traveled so far and wide, that he was able to see certain dishes or cooking methods pop up in many different countries, in one form or another. “They do one version or another of this all over the world, but shuwa is special,” he said of Oman’s celebratory dish, for example. Of course, it’s the differences that make these familiar-yet-unknown dishes worth seeking out.
“You should come here”
The way he spoke and wrote about the places he visited — Vietnam, Uruguay, Iran — you could tell he loved them. And he wanted you to love them, too. Beirut, especially, got under his skin. Through the places he chose to visit — not just the countries themselves, but the homes and businesses he went into — Bourdain showed viewers how to shed their expectations when traveling. “We all bring stuff along when we travel — your preconceptions, your personal belief system, the full weight of your life experience,” he said. “It’s going to come to bear on the way you experience a place. But whatever you may think, and whatever baggage you may bring to this place, you should see this.”
Though he’s gone, he left a lifetime’s worth of adventures to be your guide.