Dec 142009
Authors: Michael Kalush, Madeline Novey

“As soon as the head crowned,” TV travel food journalist Anthony Bourdain said of his now two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Wednesday night, “the leather jacket went in the toilet.”

The former chef, self-described drug addict, badass chain-smoking drinker with a foul mouth and blunt insults has become more of a family man, he told the hundreds who turned out to see him speak at Denver’s Buell Theater. And though the former lifestyle was a trip, he said, he doesn’t want to end up like gonzo style author Hunter S. Thompson: dead.

For us, the experience of seeing our culinary hero in person, after years of watching his show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, was surreal — watching him pace the stage, drinking a bottle of local beer while bashing on Food Network stars Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri, weighing in on the idiosyncrasies of the food culture.

This experience, imagine, is comparable to if Binary Boys Glen and Ryan sat, poised on the edge of their seats, watching Microsoft’s Bill Gates talk to a geeked out crowd of techies about the newest software release. Intense, we know.

What resonated with us the most, however, were not his quips about the “homely offspring of Charles Manson,” Food Network’s Sandra Lee, or how in the hell Chris Angel “mind douche” is qualified to critique dishes on “Iron Chef America.”

Instead, it was his interpretation of the “engine of gastronomy,” what cooking and eating is all about at its core.

Bourdain said the thing he has learned abroad for his show is that often the best chefs in the world don’t use the best ingredients. Their talent stems from their ability to transform the “squigglies” of animals — the cheeks, shoulders, hoofs and intestines — into beautiful beef béarnaise and Menudo soup.

To be the most successful abroad, Bordain said, it’s imperative to follow the “Grandma Rule:” Be polite, and even if she cooks the most dry turkey for Thanksgiving, eat it, tell her it’s wonderful and ask for seconds.

When they arrive in Vietnam, the Congo or Saudi Arabia, instead of barraging the locals with a hoard of cameras, going in, getting the shots and leaving, Bordain and his “No Reservations” crew hang out, drink the local liquor — sometimes too much — play with the children and sit with grandma in the kitchen while she prepares the meal.

They get to know the people for who they are and where the food comes from — just like we try to do in our columns.

We try to re-direct gastronomic attention from chain restaurants onto the local restaurants just like Bourdain said he does — the only solution he’s come up with is to “demonize” the Applebee’s restaurants of America.

“I’m going to tell my daughter (when she gets older) that Ronald McDonald has cooties,” he said.

Essentially, Bourdain said people need to examine the culture of whatever region they travel to, do what the people do and eat where the people do.

If there’s 50 locals lined up at a tiny street stand in Mexico, his advice is to eat at the stand over a restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge.

“Obviously these guys aren’t making a living by poisoning their neighbors,” Bourdain said, laughing.

It is with this, dear readers, we leave you with a bit of insight.

Over break, you have several days to get out and explore the corners of the country, and for some the world. Be adventurous with this time. Walk down alleys to get to little corner cafes, talk to locals and eat as they do.

And especially, for goodness sake, don’t eat at a chain when you most likely have a hidden local gem next door.

Staff photographer Michael Kalush and News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at

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