TORONTO – Celebrity chef and acerbic epicure Anthony Bourdain has some kind words for Canadian gastronomy, saying it’s at a “very high level” and the rest of the world should be more aware of that.
“I mean, the food here is good,” the witty TV personality and author — known for his blunt culinary criticisms — said in an interview this week in Toronto, where he had a speaking engagement at Roy Thomson Hall and promoted his new bestseller “Medium Raw.”
“I don’t really understand why, with all these really great chefs and great ingredients, why Canada doesn’t have a higher international profile because it seems a natural,” he continued between bites of a prosciutto sandwich in the office of HarperCollins Canada.
“I don’t know whether it’s a failure of promotion or what. I get a lot of shrugs, because it’s something I’m asking chefs. They haven’t really figured it out yet either, why that is.”
Foie gras from Quebec’s La Ferme Palmex is one of two “industry standards” in North America, he noted, while also praising Canada’s cheese makers and Montreal-based chef Martin Picard, host of “The Wild Chef” on Food Network Canada.
“You should be sending these people out on the road … and backing them up with money and products,” said the “Top Chef” judge and host of the food-travel series “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” which begins filming a new season next month.
Creating a “personality” is, for better or worse, a necessity these days for chefs due to the growing popularity of TV cooking shows and food bloggers, said Bourdain, 54, who’s worked in kitchens around the world and written several other books.
Bourdain also touches on that topic in “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook,” which came out in June.
Written with that biting Bourdain intellect that’s made him a beloved “bad boy” of the culinary world, “Medium Raw” is a follow-up to his 2000 bestseller “Kitchen Confidential,” which took aim at some famous chefs and outlined lurking perils of eating out.
The new book updates fans on what’s changed in the world of culinary science and food journalism, and in Bourdain’s private life, since “Kitchen Confidential” came out.
An admitted former drug addict, Bourdain writes that he’s now living a privileged life on New York’s posh Upper East Side with his wife, Ottavia, and 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Ariane.
Between his extensive travels, his 40 speaking engagements per year, his chef-at-large duties at New York’s bistro Les Halles, and his TV tapings and writing gigs, his biggest priority is family instead of reckless adventures.
He’s even quit his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit that he held on to for 38 years.
“When you become a parent, I think that’s an immediate transformation,” he said, looking chic in a suit jacket and not wearing his signature earrings. “The centre of the universe suddenly moves from you to somebody else, so that’s about as fundamental a change and as life-changing a moment as anything could be.”
“Medium Raw” also offers juicy insider stories, “food porn” passages, Bourdain’s thoughts on cookery trends and, of course, criticisms of a few food journalists and culinary celebrities. One chapter is devoted entirely to the hypocrisies Bourdain sees in California-based “food activist” Alice Waters.
Some food journalists he blasts in the book have reacted “very angrily,” he said, while some chefs have also given him a pat on the back, “because there are people who feel they’ve been victimized.”
Still, the tone of “Medium Raw” is much less angry than “Kitchen Confidential,” and he admits in the pages that he was “supremely naive” when he penned the 2000 bestseller and criticized such popular chefs as Emeril Lagasse.
“I didn’t understand how anyone could be Emeril Lagasse and stand in front of an audience or in front of a camera and tailor their behaviour a little bit outside of the kitchen to appear differently than I know Emeril to speak in the kitchen, for instance,” he said.
“It was a foreign, weird place that he was coming from and I instinctively hated it, of course. Now, I’m part of the problem. I see that in myself and also, when Emeril says, ‘I’ve got 500 people working for me’ or ‘1,000 people working for me,’ hey, I get that.”
In “Medium Raw,” Bourdain also writes that he could never have written “Kitchen Confidential” had he known how popular it would become.
Now that he’s acutely aware of his own fame, he takes steps to ensure it doesn’t affect his writing, he says.
“I’m very careful and have been careful since ‘Kitchen Confidential’ to make sure that I don’t think about who might read what I’m writing or who watches my shows. I just don’t want to ever let that enter into the equation.”