The world of food writing changed on April, 19, 1999, the date The New Yorker included an article called, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” Its author was the chef of New York’s Brasserie Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain.
“I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths,“ Bourdain wrote. “Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.”
No one had ever written about the professional kitchen this way. His words stunned and resonated with me, capturing two decades of my life in a similar ‘demimonde.’
I wasn’t the only one riveted by Bourdain’s description of life in a restaurant kitchen. The article was an excerpt from his first published book, “Kitchen Confidential,” an insider’s view of the world behind a restaurant’s dining room. The book’s success catapulted Bourdain into the limelight. Eventually, as we all know, he became a television personality with a capital P, broadening our horizons with “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations,” and his last and best series, “Parts Unknown.”
In 2005, Bourdain showed up in Durham to promote his new book, “Les Halles Cookbook.” My co-host and I interviewed him on our WDNC radio show, “Food Forum.” I had been nervous about meeting the sharp-tongued, tough guy, but that day he was a perfect gentleman – charming, respectful and even sweet, as he showed himself to be years later on “Parts Unknown.”
When he died, I discovered that my daughter and her husband, unbeknownst to me, had also followed his shows religiously, planning their vacations to include restaurants he visited. At Madeline’s suggestion, I dug out my autographed “Les Halles Cookbook” and landed on Daube Provençal. With the cookbook’s green bean and asparagus salad, blackberry clafoutis for dessert and a bottle of Pol Roger champagne, we celebrated Bourdain’s amazing life with a dinner made from his own recipes.
Thank you, Tony. Rest in peace.
This is my own adaptation of the recipe in “Les Halles Cookbook.” Serve garnished with parsley with crusty French bread. Serves 6-8
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
3 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
½ lb. bacon, cut into small cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. flour
1 ½ cup white wine
1 cup beef stock
6 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 bouquet garni (try a tea ball filled with fresh rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf)
Zest of a whole small orange, peeled with a carrot peeler
6 fingerling potatoes, halved
Heat oil in a Dutch oven on high heat. Add butter; foam it and let it subside. Season lamb with salt and pepper and sear on all sides in the hot pan until it is dark brown. Remove and set aside.
Add bacon to still-hot pan. Cook until crispy and fat has been rendered. Set bacon aside. Discard most fat from the pan; add onion, celery and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until veggies have caramelized, about 5 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste; cook for about 1 minute. Stir in flour, and cook for an additional minute (by this time, the paste and flour are sticking to the bottom, but not burning). Stir in wine and scrape up all of the brown stuff. Reduce by half. Add stock and bring back to a boil; reduce immediately to a simmer.
Add lamb, bacon, carrots, bouquet garni and orange zest. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat for about 90 minutes. Add a little stock or water if it seems too dry.
Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Skim any fat, making sure there’s no film on the surface. Remove tea ball and orange zest.