Culinary celebrities are a dime a dozen these days. Remember the guy who made it to the second round of Top Chef in season two? Me neither but you can bet he is milking his appearance for all its worth. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just dilutes the culinary celebrity stock a bit so to speak. I can count on one hand the TV chef personalities that I can take through an entire episode. Bourdain, Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, and Giada De Laurentiis are on my current list. OK, Giada may not be the grittiest of them but she sure looks good cooking and has a solid grasp of what she is doing.
Anthony Bourdain and Jim Harrison are both straight shooters and great storytellers. There is no fluff with these guys. They tell it like it is and are astute observers of the human condition and never put themselves on a pedestal or claim to be without fault. In fact, it’s their faults that make them even more appealing. You can watch a conversation they had together on No Reservations by going go www.travelchannel.com and searching for “A chat with Jim Harrison”.
While Jim Harrison may not be as familiar to the general public, the poet, novelist and gourmand is held in high regard in the culinary world and among serious celebrity foodies. His book, Legends of the Fall was made into a successful movie with Brad Pitt as have several others including Dalva with Farrah Fawcett and Wolf with Jack Nicolson. All of his books contain healthy dose of detailed descriptions of his meals, from a simple, just caught pan fried trout to a ten course meal with Francis Ford Coppola. He has written about food and the outdoors for Esquire and Men’s Journal. His book ''The Raw and the Cooked'' is a compilation of those stories and is where I would suggest that newbies to Harrison start. Harrison writes with an infectious zeal that makes you turn the pages hungry for more. His obsessions run deep, and he knows how to put them on paper with powerful effect.
We all know Anthony Bourdain and his well-chronicled rise from line cook in New Jersey to Chef at Les Halles in Manhattan to his best-selling first book Kitchen Confidential that he parlayed into a very cool career eating around the world on his shows No Reservations and The Layover. His star has risen dramatically over the past few years and he is often seen judging Top Chef, playing himself on the Simpsons, writing for the HBO show Treme, while continuing to write. He announced recently he would be leaving the Travel Channel for a similar gig on CNN.
A common thread shared between Bourdain and Harrison is their lust for life and ability to get better at what they do with age. They are both known for great quotes or passages from books so I’ve included a couple from each below.
“Few things are more beautiful to me than a bunch of thuggish, heavily tattooed line cooks moving around each other like ballerinas on a busy Saturday night. Seeing two guys who'd just as soon cut each other's throats in their off hours moving in unison with grace and ease can be as uplifting as any chemical stimulant or organized religion.”
“We know, for instance, that there is a direct, inverse relationship between frequency of family meals and social problems. Bluntly stated, members of families who eat together regularly are statistically less likely to stick up liquor stores, blow up meth labs, give birth to crack babies, or commit suicide.” -Anthony Bourdain
“I love to cook, hunt, fish, read good books, and not incidentally try to write them. Even the occasional glories of our sexual lives can be drawn into this picture. Not that much is finer than a morning spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Musee d’Orsay in Paris followed by a good lunch. All of our senses and passions merge because we are one person and its best not to neglect any of these passions if we wish to fully live our lives. When you eat well, you are eating memory.”
“The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is don’t do it unless you’re willing to give your whole life to it. Red wine and garlic also helps.” -Jim Harrison