”I hope you have your Lipitor ready!” warns chef Anthony Bourdain as the first appetizer, a thick slice of foie gras pâté on toast, is passed around. It is a relatively light beginning to an evening of serious gorging — a multi-course extravaganza of unctuous pork, duck, goose, and beef, washed down with several bottles of red wine, espresso, port, and a brandy aperitif.
As the executive chef at Les Halles, a traditional French bistro in Manhattan, and the author of the gossipy gastronomic tell-all Kitchen Confidential and the food travelogue A Cook’s Tour, Bourdain is an outspoken expert on indigenous cuisines, whether it’s French pot-au-feu, Mexican mole, or Vietnamese cobra hearts. Given that his new book is the Francophile Les Halles Cookbook, Bourdain has spared us the Chinese delicacy of turtle fat — ”tasty, but the texture is strange and chewy,” he remarks — and arranged a gut-busting menu of rustic Gallic dishes that expertly illuminate his favorite maxim: ”Fat is flavor.”
”This is simple food,” he says, spreading pork rillettes on a hunk of baguette. ”A moron could make it. It’s pork shoulder cooked in fat. Fifteen minutes of prep.” If you haven’t guessed, simplicity and intensity are two of Bourdain’s favorite characteristics, which makes him a natural cheerleader for punk rock. ”I was really into the ’70s punk scene in New York,” he reminisces. ”I saw the Ramones at CBGB, the Dead Boys, the Voidoids. I used to cook for all those guys, I’d trade them a meal for concert tickets.” Which leads us to his No. 1 kitchen rule. ”If you play Elton John, Billy Joel, or the Grateful Dead, you will be fired!”
By the time we’ve reached our final course of buttery crème brûlée — after ingesting disturbing amounts of duck legs (confit de canard), duck pâté (pâté de canard), pork-belly-studded stew (cassoulet), blood sausages (boudin noir), rib steak (côte de boeuf) with bearnaise sauce, fries (pommes frites) and cheese (fromage) — even Bourdain admits that he’s stuffed. He steps out for an after-dinner smoke: ”I can almost feel the blood really struggling to get through my arteries.” Mission accomplished.