avatarMark Laflamme


Beyond the Confidentiality of the Kitchen

Unraveling the unique charm of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook

Mushroom soup from Les Halles Cookbook — image courtesy of the author

Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook is a culinary beacon, drawing fans into the vibrant world of French bistro cuisine. Unlike its predecessor, Kitchen Confidential, this tome is a bonafide cookbook. Yet, it retains Bourdain’s signature storytelling flair and unapologetic reverence for good food.

A few things are clear from the moment you open the book. If you are expecting Kitchen Confidential Part II, you will be disappointed. Kitchen Confidential is not a cookbook but a memoir. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry. It shares Bourdain’s experiences and insights gained during his years as a chef. While Kitchen Confidential contains some recipes its primary focus is storytelling.

Conversely, Les Halles is, first and foremost, a cookbook. Still, there is no doubt that Bourdain wrote this book, infusing each recipe with his irreverent humour and culinary wisdom. Whether he instructs you to “filter the stock as many times as you can stand” or raves about a “steaming heap of pork,” Bourdain’s narrative captivates and entertains. Only Bourdain would create a cookbook with chapters titled “The Knife, Pig, and Blood & Guts.”

When done, lift out the bones and strain the liquid through a fine strainer or chinois-or better yet, through cheesecloth draped in a strainer. Do it as many times as you can stand. — Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles Cookbook.

However, unlike some of Jacques Pépin’s cookbooks, Les Halles Cookbook offers little beyond an ingredient list and the most basic instructions. It’s not a beginner’s cookbook by any stretch. Instead, it assumes a certain level of culinary skill and a willingness to dive in headfirst. Many recipes will have an extra section for “bold adventurers.” For example, Bourdain says bold cooks can “thicken the sauce with pig blood rather than flour.”

One standout recipe is Bourdain’s Coq au Vin, which Bourdain says is “another easy dish that looks like it’s hard.” And he’s not wrong. Still, instructions are sparse, allowing for lots of individuality. For example, the recipe calls for “red wine.” That’s a broad category.

Bourdain finds his way of saying, “Cook only with something you would drink.” He doesn’t say that; instead, he tells you to use some wine in the recipe and then drink the rest.

Still, the book is about more than the recipes. Like all great things, it’s about the experience. As you navigate the Les Halles Cookbook pages, Bourdain regales you with tales of kitchen escapades, culinary triumphs, and larger-than-life characters. Each anecdote offers a glimpse into cooking’s chaotic yet exhilarating world.

At its core, Les Halles Cookbook celebrates the communal spirit of cooking and sharing a meal. It reminds us that food is more than sustenance; it catalyzes connections, conversations, and shared joys.

Blood freezes nicely, by the way, so you might consider keeping a stash in small, individual packets. You never know when you’ll need it. — Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles Cookbook.

Whether you’re a seasoned home cook or an intrepid novice, Bourdain’s recipes inspire a sense of adventure and a passion for culinary exploration.

So yes, I’m reviewing a cookbook — Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. With its bistro-style French recipes, irreverent commentary, and larger-than-life personality, it’s a must-have for anyone who revels in the art of cooking and the pleasures of the table.

It will not hold your hand like some of Pépin’s cookbooks. Les Halles Cookbook uses raw authenticity and passion to grab your attention.

So, strap on your apron, sharpen your knives, and prepare for a culinary adventure.

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