Chef Bourdain in the Hinterlands
Tony Bourdain was here this past weekend, about 1/4 of the way through his tour. I believe he is in Minneapolis through today then headed for St. Louis.
The world's greatest bookstore, Prairie Lights
, hosted the biggest reading ever to be held in their store for Bourdain Many larger readings have been held at University venues for the likes of Vonnegut & Irving, but this was the biggest one they ever hosted in the store. About 150 people showed up. The reading was broadcast live via WSUI
, and you can listen to an archived version of it online at their website.
As I mentioned in an earlier note, I was to have the pleasure of escorting him during his brief stay in our humble little burg, so my first job was to pick him up at the airport. He was easy to spot, 6'4" with a light leather jacket (in our 10 degree weather) and cowboy boots. We introduced ourselves, and then he was promptly interested in finding a light.
Any of you who have read his work know he is a prolific smoker, and he says simply that he's given up enough vices for one lifetime. If you have read his most recent book, A Cook's Tour, you know of his procurement of a Zippo in Viet Nam that had, in all likelyhood, been taken off a dead Marine. When going through security at the airport on the way to Iowa City, though, he nearly got it confiscated. Through an ingenious compromise, they took the internal workings of the lighter, and left Bourdain with the valuable case. One of our first stops in Iowa City was the Tobacco Bowl, to replace the contraband flint, steel and fuel.
Following "Live-to-Cook"'s advice in the previous note, I took him to my places for drinks and dinner. First, a local brew at Adagio, then Tapas and Paella at my first place, Devotay. We were joined for dinner by members of the Faculty of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, who quizzed him endlessly on what sort of chicken is best (he said kosher) and what was so wrong with brunch, anyway?
After dinner it was off to the reading, just 2 blocks away, where we had to go in the back way like the Beatles because there was no way to get through the crowd at the front. Bourdain read his letter to his wife Nancy, which serves as a preface to the book, and he read one of his Reason's Not to do Television: Number One in a Series (the tete du veau and Jerry Lewis).
The first question from the crowd was asking where he'd eaten dinner :p (and it wasn't even a schill, love the free testomonial on the radio!). He took a lot of questions about how true or untrue various accounts were in his stories, one about the rivalry between front and back of house, and I asked him how an Executive Chef at a very popular New York restaurant finds time to write.
After the reading it was off to the local cook's bar, the Dublin Underground, where Bourdain seemed to hold court as 30 or 40 of the area's best cooks and chefs came to meet, shake hands, or tell him their favorite part of the book. His drink, by the way, was Guiness. I love this bar because I can go there in professional cook's attire and not get stared or laughed at. After we closed the Dublin (last call here is 1:45am) we walked him back to his hotel.
The next morning I took him to breakfast at an Iowa City institution, the Hamburg Inn, where we ate a greasy fried midwestern breakfast and he loved every bite. Before heading to the airport, we stopped at Prairie Lights one more time, where he bought a couple detective paperbacks and a Prairie Lights sweatshirt.
It was a very pleasant visit, and he assured us of his imminent return on his next tour. For those of you still ahead on this tour, by the way, he said he really appreciated being hosted by professional cooks, rather than the writer's and the occasional food snob he'd encountered at some of his other stops. So pass that word along to your own various "World's Greatest Bookstores"