Wednesday, September 01, 2010

In conversation: Anthony Bourdain and Fergus Henderson

Last night at the Lowry hotel was an unusually rock'n'roll proposition, with Anthony Bourdain and Fergus Henderson (who are friends) on stage to discuss fast food, bone marrow and the democratisation of fine dining. The hook was Bourdain's new book Medium Raw and the event was organised by Manchester Food and Drink Festival. After a long lunch at the Mark Addy with the chefs, festival director Phil Jones was irretrievably drunk, leaving it to compere Mark Garner to keep control.

Bourdain is a brilliant quote machine, and by the time he's finished his UK junket you might have heard his talkytalk more than once, but live, it was good stuff. He describes his transition from grunt cook to the 'celebrity chef author scam business' as both weird and ludicrously fantastic. 'I don't think writing is good for anybody,' he said, dapper in cowboy boots. 'They're nasty, angry people. But I don'tmiss the [kitchen] work.' As the father of a three-year-old, he's had to confront the childish longing for the consistency and security of fast food. 'How do we break their evil grip on our children? A person might suggest that Ronald McDonald has been implicated in the disappearance of a number of small children.'

He also brought news of how New York restaurants are adapting to the challenges of recession. 'Overnight, people lost fortunes, and the cost of ingredients has skyrocketed. That changed the game. Restaurants have become much nicer and cut out all of the bullshit. They have to be pleasant when you call for a table. And it has forced chefs to move in a direction they wanted to move in anyway, cooking more shin and head and less filet mignon. Fine dining should be fun. If you're dressing up for your waiter, something is really wrong.'

Henderson was brought on for the traditional hero-worship from Bourdain, who describes himself as 'still a fanboy' in awe of the chefs he's now mates with. 'You have to understand,' he said, turning earnestly to Fergus, 'the effect of the book [Nose to Tail Eating] on the food world was electric. Rich people are now paying for food that poor people used to have to eat. And you'll never get away from the fucking bone marrow dish. It'll be on your headstone.'

When it came to questions, it was clear how much of an inspiration both Bourdain and Henderson are to the industry -one 'F'n'B guy' in the crowd maintained that there are chefs who read Kitchen Confidential daily, and general warmth for Henderson was maintained even after he explained that dog isn't nice to eat because it congeals really quickly. The reason dog was brought into it? Manners. Bourdain says, 'I'm a good guest. If you offer me something [even a platter of puppy heads] I'm going to be appreciative.'