Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that attitudes are as plentiful as drugs in the kitchen. Anthony Bourdain may have kicked the heroin habit, but he is still one bad-ass motherfucker. His bestselling tell-all memoir, Kitchen Confidential, scared the hell out of foodies who will never again order fish on a Monday or nosh out of the bread basket for fear of it being recycled from previous diners. If someone had taken Bourdain aside in 1998, on his first day at Brasserie Les Halles in New York, and told him that he would soon rise to chef stardom rivaling Emeril and Bobby Flay, with his own show on the Food Network, he probably would have pissed in their onion soup. But now, Bourdain jokes about "jumping the shark" and ending up on Hollywood Squares with Rocco DiSpirito, and he toasts Emeril with a glass of cobra blood.
Bourdain almost didn't take that job at Les Halles. After an interview with owner/chef partner Jose de Meirelles, and a tour of the small, dirty kitchen and the nicotine- and wine-stained dining room, Bourdain was prepared to pass on a free meal and head back to searching the classifieds. But his wife, Nancy, insisted that only a fool would turn down a free French meal, so they spent an evening at Les Halles, and it was love at first dine. Praising de Meirelles and his business partner, Phillipe Lajaunie, for bypassing the new age of fat-free and grilled foods when Les Halles opened in 1990, Bourdain fell in love with his new home in the French bistro kitchen. The steak tartare, heavy cream sauces, and beyond politically incorrect fois gras proved to be the low-carb, high-protein recipe for success that gave life to Les Halles restaurants opening in Washington, D.C. and right here in Coral Gables. The success of the nastier-the-entrée-the-better Food Network series, A Cook's Tour, which makes Fear Factor look like The Frugal Gourmet, has spawned a cult of novice cooks eager to get their hands on recipes for veal tongue and tripe. Vegetarians and PETA activists need not browse a copy of Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking. With chapters on "Veal and Lamb" and "Blood and Guts," it is clear that artery clogging French cooking is alive and well. Beyond the recipes, the Les Halles Cookbook provides Bourdain's tough love approach to teaching the proper way to prep through the Tao of mise en place, or "put in place." He yells at you to make sure you have everything, EVERYTHING, before you start cooking. Preparation is the key to successful entertaining: "All else springs from this basic relationship with your food and your environment."