Cooking for Anthony Bourdain

I’ve been tour catering for almost 14 years now, and it’s been a trip-literally and figuratively. We’ve been all over the country catering to the nutritional requirements, the dietary and religious restrictions, the emotional needs, and frankly, the sometimes wacky whims of the music industry elite. We do raw, vegan and vegetarian. We’ve done menus sensitive to Halal Haram, Kashrut, and even Rastafarianism. We’ve done macrobiotic in Boston in May and turned around, headed to the Everglades, and cooked whole goats in Budweiser with the Seminole Tribe. Our industry forces our hand; it necessitates that we be jacks of all trades AND masters of them all, because as I’m sure you can imagine our clients want what they want when they want it. Period.

We cook backstage for those people you buy tickets to see perform with their bands. If you’ve seen them on MTV, bought an album, listened to the radio, we’ve probably served them food. We’re cooks who like music. But we’re also cooks who like other cooks, and that’s why we were very excited to learn that chef and television food traveler Anthony Bourdain was scheduled to speak at a venue at which we are the house caterers.

Now, Anthony Bourdain is as much a rock star to me as is Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen. But unlike a music tour, Bourdain’s advance people provided no guidance for catering; rather, they only suggested that he “may or may not eat.” Well, okay. That left things kind of wide open, and not in a good way since this man has traveled and eaten around the world, chums around with the greatest chefs in the universe, and is himself a guest chef on “Top Chef.” This was a very new and very daunting twist on tour catering.

The solution came rather easily, though, as I contemplated what I would want to eat if I were visiting a locale. I knew he had just finished filming an episode of “No Reservations” in Maine, and I decided I would give him a taste of my interpretation of what Maine has to offer: local, seasonal, and healthful. I spent hours making Boudin Blanc, fine-textured white sausages from local pork, chicken, eggs, and onions from my own property, and served them with Raye’s mustard, blueberry preserves, and bread-and-butter pickles I had canned in the fall. I made a butternut squash and apple bisque with leeks and bacon, again local, finished with syrup from Aroostook County.

Photo by Erin Dow | Click to enlarge
Photo by Erin Dow | Click to enlarge

While he was eating with us in the kitchen, we talked about traveling, about what we do, about the finer and not-so-fine points of eating in Maine, and about our mutual dislike of certain unnamed Food Network personalities. I asked him one thing I had been dying to know, namely how he manages to not weigh 500 pounds when he’s constantly faced with the best the world has to offer. His answer? “Well, I’m not necessarily trying to maintain my girlish figure, but it’s pretty simple. No snacks. No sweets. Ever.” I laughed and replied, “Ah, so you’ve cracked the elusive nutrition code: moderation.” He agreed, remarking that his cycle of eating never stops, because even when he’s done filming his show and returns home, his chef friends swarm him. As Bourdain said, “They call me up, with their French accents, saying, ‘Come Toneee. Daniel haz prepared zum beautifool foods for us to enjoys togetter.’” So if his evening involves a little over-indulgence, lunch is light, and a slip-up—or a few—isn’t going to ruin everything. In fact, having reasonable portions of one’s favorite foods often satisfies one’s needs so effectively that those incidences of over-indulgence become fewer and more far-between. As Oscar Wilde famously mused, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

So what we can learn from the man who eats everything and still maintains his figure? Eat well, watch your intake, enjoy a little bit of everything all of the time, and balance will come naturally.

Erin is a mom of three young children. When she’s not feeling busy enough with that, she spends time as chef/owner of her catering company, Eatswell Farm, and she is the consulting Executive Chef for a Portland, Me-based company that caters to the music industry.