Monday, January 17, 2011

Anthony Bourdain: The Airport, The Oyster and The Chicken Heart

Since I haven't figured out what I am cooking for dinner, I have decided to go on a diatribe over my love for Anthony Bourdain.

I don't know if it's because he is a fellow New Yorker (though he grew up in Jersey) or because he specializes in French cuisine (I am a francophile) but I have a special affinity in my heart for him.  I think it's his NY attitude that I can definitely relate to coupled with the fact you can just tell by his cocksure manner about all things food that he is more than just an amazing chef.  Plus, I am part jealous, part overly voyeuristic watching as he gets to travel the world trying new cuisines on a whim all while being recorded for a hit TV show while I get to enjoy this errant display of food porn from the comforts of my couch.

 I have even seen Mr. Bourdain in person and we had a special moment that I'll never forget.  If his eyes could talk they would have said "don't make a fucking big deal that you have seen me".  There was pleading in his eyes, behind the tough NY exterior most true NY'ers proudly sport. I totally respected what he was trying to tell me because I knew what the consequences would have been.  We were in one of the largest airports in the world and it would have been a fiasco.

I was in line for security check at Newark Liberty International Airport about to fly to Florida to see my in-laws. Since I was flying alone with my then 6 month old daughter, Lily, I was struggling to get all my crap onto the X-Ray scanner.  In the midst of struggling with a cumbersome umbrella stroller I turned around and saw him, standing with his wife waiting to get through this amazingly long line.  It was also about 8 am in the morning, too early to tolerate the TSA and the post 9/11 rigamarole airports put passengers through.  This was way before TSA freely serviced passengers with happy endings, so you know there was nothing "good" to look forward too.  So I looked, thought I recognized him and then look back again to stare at him.  This is when the exchange between us occurred and respecting his wishes, I continued about my business.  I could only imagine the nightmare it would have been if I lost my shit like some star-crazed fan and the commotion it would have caused in the line, the way too long line, too early on a June morning, at one of the US's busiest airports.

As soon as I got through security, I called my mom to let her know I had seen him.  Just because I didn't lose my shit asking for an autograph I still had to relish in the fact that I had seen someone that I respected in person.  I was living with my parents at the time since my husband was in training for the US Army and "No Reservations" was a show that my mom frequently watched.  So in my world this would rate as kind of a big deal.

It wasn't until my husband deployed about a year later that I started watching "No Reservations" regularly on Monday nights.  No longer was I relegated to Monday night Raw.  I also bought his book Kitchen Nightmares and absolutely loved it.  Not only does he prove he knows his way around the kitchen, but he is an amazing writer.  I had grown up working in pizzerias and Italian bakeries in NYC so I can understand the restaurant business and the craziness that comes along with it.  I just didn't know that the higher entree price correlated directly to a crazier kitchen staff.  I also bought his Les Halles cookbook and one day I plan to make something out of it.  But for now it sits on my cookbook shelf stating my allegiance to this renegade chef.  I can directly attribute Anthony Bourdain as the one who inspired me to be gastronomically adventurous, though not  on the grand scale like Mr. Bourdain suggests. I am still proud of the baby steps I have taken.

In his book, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain writes about his summer in France where he tried raw oyster for the first time and how it changed his life, leading him to a career as a successful chef (and hopefully not to his rampant drug use in the 80's).  So when the opportunity struck for me to try raw oysters for the first time I jumped at the chance.

My mom was down to visit during the spring of 2007.  We decided to head out to Tybee Island, an island about 15 minutes from Savannah known for it's beaches (and that crappy Miley Cyrus movie filmed there).  On the way out to Tybee, off of Rt 80 is Uncle Bubba's Oyster House.  Bubba is Paula Deen's brother and his restaurant supersedes his sister's by a long shot (don't worry, a blog will be coming on what I really think of Lady and Son's).  My mom and I decided to stop to get lunch, where we were seated outside on the deck.  We perused the lunch menu and my mom saw the raw oyster platter.  She has always loved raw oysters but for some reason I never was interested in trying them til that faithful day.  Thinking of the life-changing experience Mr.  Bourdain had with his first raw oyster, I decided to have my life-changing experience.
                        Can someone pass me the tabasco and horseradish?

Though I didn't run off to become a celebrity chef, the taste of the raw oyster definitely changed my life.  They were delicious in a way that captivates the senses.  I thought that they would be slimy and taste overly fishy, but they weren't.  A good raw oyster tastes like the ocean, the liquor tasting of salty sweetness with a texture that can be best described as al dente.  Needless to say, my mom and I devoured the dozen we ordered before our po' boy entrees came out, she even let me savor the last one.

A few months later, I had another chance to expand the tastes of my inner gastronome, inspired, of course, by Anthony Bourdain.  My husband was home after a 15 month tour to Iraq and we went home, to Staten Island on his leave to visit family.  One of the last nights we were there my parents made reservations at Seabra's Armory, a Portuguese restaurant located in Perth Amboy, NJ that specializes in Rodizio, or Brazilian BBQ.  If you are a carnivore you will want to experience rodizio once in your life.  Skewers of different grilled meats coming around, one after the next allowing the patron to experience everything from grilled sausage, to filet mignon, to pork loin, to chicken heart, all grilled to perfection in the rodizio manner.


This is where I experienced chicken heart for the first time.  Before I start, I want to state that I am not a big fan at the thought of organ meats.  The smell of calf's liver cooking in the oven ruined all organ meats for me as far as I am concerned.  My mom would make it for my dad while I was growing up and she wouldn't even touch it.  Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, loves every entrail and innard from cows, pigs, etc.  My only experience with these meats have been when they have been ground up to make my hot dog.  But that day, when the Portuguese waiter came to the table offering tiny chicken hearts off his skewer, I accepted.  I figured what's the worst thing that could happen.  So I tried it.  It wasn't horrible, I expected the texture to be tougher being that it was, well, the most important organ a chicken could have.  If they could run around without their heads they surely didn't need their brain as much as their heart.  It did taste like iron and that was the part I couldn't get past.  I did manage to finish the chicken heart, and while I am proud to say I tried it, I don't think I will be running back for seconds.

So, in short, this blog is dedicated to Anthony Bourdain for inspiring a fan like me to go out of my culinary comfort zone and enjoy what I never thought I could enjoy.  Or, the ability to retell a really cool story about how I have eaten grilled chicken heart.

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