Chef-cum-author Anthony Bourdain doesn't quite bristle when he's called the "bad boy of the kitchen." Still, "I'm not really a working chef, I'm not that bad, and I certainly ain't no boy," says the 48-year-old writer of 2000's best-selling Kitchen Confidential, a gut-busting and gut-churning tale of what really goes on behind those swinging doors.
His latest book, Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, attempts the impossible: To make classic bistro cooking simple, less threatening . . . and more American. "I want to take the intimidation factor out of French cooking," he explains. "I don't want this to be a cocktail-table book. I hope it becomes a full, utilitarian, battered-object-covered-with-food-in-people's-kitchen [book]." (Bourdain has a trio of local events scheduled this week, including a demonstration class at Sur La Table, a restaurant outing at Lola, and a book signing at Joseph-Beth.)
Les Halles Cookbook features recipes for such acquired-taste delicacies as Veal Tongue With Madeira and Coeur de Porc à L'Armagnac, which includes a pig's heart. (There are also instructions on how to make less blood-splattered dishes, like French fries and chocolate mousse.) "Americans have made the meal less important than so many other cultures around the world," sighs Bourdain. "The meal is the focus of the whole day [in other countries]. It's fun to eat well, but we treat [food] as something we shove into our face between snacks and other tasks."
Bourdain, who's written frankly about his past drug-and-alcohol abuse, has spent most of the decade in restaurants, on the road, and on TV. His Food Network series, A Cook's Tour, documented his travels around the world in search of extreme cuisine. But don't call him a celebrity chef. It's a restrictive label, he says, and not much good comes from it. "If there's one positive aspect to this whole glamorization of chefs," he adds, "it's that people are actually thinking about eating better and cooking for themselves once in a while."