Tag Archives: traveling

Anthony Bourdain Day: What the Chef, Author, and Travel Guide Means to Me

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 02: Anthony Bourdain visits the Build Series to discuss “Raw Craft” at AOL HQ on November 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Today is #BourdainDay. In honor of their friend on his birthday, chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés are asking people around the globe to celebrate what Anthony Bourdain meant to them, and to us. Tony brought people together because he shared food – good food, cultural food, the art of preparing food, the act of sitting down with someone to enjoy food.

Like so many other fans around the world, I was heartbroken when I learned of Tony’s death on June 8th last year. I had been a fan from his early days of No Reservations. My husband and I both scour his collection of travel shows in preparation for any trip we take and always try to visit the restaurants, many of them small, family owned businesses, that he recommended. The first one we ever went to was Salumi in Seattle, WA. We got there early because we knew there’d be a line, and there was, one that stretched around the block. There were only two tables inside if I remember right, and you sit European style, sharing space and a meal with others. We ordered our sandwiches full of the shop’s own cured meats, and bought extra meat to take home. It was an exceptional, ordinary, simple meal.

When we visited Madrid, Spain, we hit up a place whose name I can’t remember. I don’t think it was on the outside of the building. It was a hole in the wall kind of place, again maybe five tables inside. We had the best plate of jamón y queso con juevos y papas fritas. It was small, it was simple, it was muy delicioso. We went there twice.

Tony brought joy to the act of eating. He believed there was nothing quite like sitting down to a meal with someone and talking. And he got, if you’ll forgive my pun, to the guts of the matter. I appreciated his willingness to discuss cultural and political topics on his shows. He knew that as a travel guide and host, he was both illuminating parts of the world for people, but also a part of their demise. He struggled with that. He was part of a crew that showed audiences mine fields in Laos, buddhist monk ceremonies in Thailand, and how to shoot a cobra’s heart in Cambodia. The very things that made people want to jet set away to someplace entirely new and different from what they know. And yet, tourism, as much as it can help a place, can break a place as well. I think that’s why showing the late nights, the locals, sometimes the underbelly, was so key to his style of travel. If you want to experience it, you can’t pick only the good parts. To appreciate it, you should learn from it. That kind of respect for the countries he visited is why I loved his shows, and why I was a fan of his.

I’ve also read several of his books and one of his cookbooks, Appetites, which I recommend if you’re a fan, as it’s full of the recipes Tony loved and made for his family. Like his show, his books capture the thrill of travel, the smells of the food, and the essence of the people he meets. He was incredibly observant to be able to portray these things so eloquently. A year ago in July, I hosted my book club and chose Tony’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential, as our book. I knew I loved Tony’s writing, but this book in particular hit a heartstring for me.

Kitchen Confidential is the story of how Tony became a cook, learning the ropes from a hard knock group of immigrant chefs in a tiny sea shack on the east coast. (The Portuguese sausage soup recipe mentioned in the book is in Appetites. I made it for my book club.) The book also follows him as he moves to New York and climbs the kitchen ladder into different roles. There’s a scene I love where he’s begging to be promoted before, he admits in the book, he’s ready. He’s talking to this hulk of a guy who grabs a pan with his bare hand and holds it for a second or two, his skin growing blisters, just to make a point. Until Tony can do that, he’s not ready to be a cook. And Tony’s like, that guy is crazy, but also, that is my goal now.

What I love about Tony, and that book in particular, is that he validates what it’s really like to work in a kitchen. Just as he did on his show, he illustrated the down and dirty parts of working in a hot, cramped kitchen, standing on your feet all day and sweating. My parents owned a restaurant for many years where my dad was the main chef, and reading Tony’s book was like stepping back in time when I would visit my dad at the restaurant. My mom and I would enter through the staff door, which went right into the kitchen, so a wave of heat would greet you. And like Tony talked about there are undocumented individuals or guys with foul mouths working in the kitchen. My dad gave second chances to a lot of people. Many of the guys who gave me piggy back rides or cracked jokes too loud in my dad’s kitchen were men that had served time or were down on their luck. They could be hotheads, but they were a family.

And so I hope that with all the TV shows, and the books, and the recipes left behind, we can stay connected. I hope his daughter finds a space within them and feels at home in the memories they offer, because that’s what he offered me through his book. I hope you enjoy them too. I hope you go out and grab some good food today, as his chef friends have suggested. It doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, street food was more his style anyway. I’ll be doing that when I finish up work today.

To learn more about Bourdain Day, check out this post in Esquire with chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés sharing memoirs of their dear friend, Anthony Bourdain.

Happy birthday, Tony.

“I write. I travel. I eat. And I’m hungry for more.” ~ Anthony Bourdain

 

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Where in the World is Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project?

Hey Gang! I’m back in Wisconsin (or Canada, as Tiffany calls it). 😉

I had a fabulous road trip out east and so much fun sharing cryptic photos with you guys trying to guess where I was. Here are some of the highlights!

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Our first stop was the Columbus Ohio Zoo, one of the best zoos in the nation. It’s the zoo where Jack Hanna works. I didn’t know this beforehand, but the Columbus zoo takes in many baby animals that other zoos can’t support, and those are the ones Hanna takes with him on tour, like to the David Letterman Show. While we were there we saw 2 baby snow leopards and a 12 day old gorilla.

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Day 2 brought us into Cleveland to the Rock N’Roll Hall of Fame!

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Jimi Hendrix Stage Outfit

Jimi Hendrix Stage Outfit

John Lennon's Visa Card, Grammy Award, Passport and Glasses

John Lennon’s Visa Card, Grammy Award, Passport and Glasses

Elvis Presley's Studded Jumpsuit

Elvis Presley’s Studded Jumpsuit

Next stop was in Wheeling, West Virginia for a fish sandwich at Coleman’s Fish Market! Mmmm

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Joe and his aunt, who was our wonderful tour guide in Wheeling

Joe and his aunt, who was our wonderful tour guide in Wheeling

P.S. This happened. And it was awesome.

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Arriving at our main destination, we parked in Washington D.C. where my longtime friend, Amy, showed us around the area!

The Lincoln Memorial - Still has scaffolding up as they remove the paint from a recent vandalism attack.

The Lincoln Memorial – Still has scaffolding up as they remove the paint from a recent vandalism attack.

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

At the Capital

At the Capital

We took a day trip over to Baltimore, Maryland and Guess. Who. I. Met!!!!

Misty Laws and Me - Bonding over Gremlins!

Misty Laws and Me – Bonding over Gremlins!

And then Joe’s cousins taught us how to shell and eat THESE!!!

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Day trip to Mount Vernon, touring the Washington’s Home!

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DSCN0655DSCN0662We also humbly walked the paths inside Arlington National Cemetery to honor our brave soldiers from past and present.

The eternal flame at President Kennedy's gravesite.

The eternal flame at President Kennedy’s gravesite.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Making our way back towards the midwest, we hit “The Strip” in Pittsburgh as well as Kennywood Amusement Park!

Joe's Idea of Heaven - An olive bar in the Pittsburgh Macaroni Co.

Joe’s Idea of Heaven – An olive bar in the Pittsburgh Macaroni Co.

Riding the ski lift into Kennywood

That’s our trip! All happily hosted and fed along the way by Joe’s family across the country! Wonderful hospitality! We hated to say goodbye.

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Last but not least, the announcement of the From My Bookshelf to Yours contest winner is: Amber West! I’ll be touch soon for you to claim your book title of choice! Congrats, Amber!

Fill me in! What were you up to while I was away?

The Midwest Young Adult Guide to Surviving New Orleans

Visiting the other end of the Mississippi

I’m back on the northern side of the Mississippi!   Amazingly, I’m alive somehow.  As luck would have it the adventures of this redhead were nothing along the disappointing avenue, rather they were at times too colorful for me imagine.  Before you all start conjuring up images of me in some drive-up daquiri daze on Bourbon St., let me clarify.  I was not drunk.

And any pictures that do make their way into this blog post were taken post day one, which was so terrifying I didn’t take a single shot.

I’ll back up.  I was in New Orleans last week.  I went to visit my best friend from High School who I haven’t seen in 5 years.  Exciting, right?  Sorry to disappoint again, readers, this post will not be a blast from the past or a list of Top 10 Things To Do With Your Bestie.  I’m going to tell you how to survive on your own for a week in New Orleans living like a kinda local. 

Rule  #1:  Though you’ve planned this vacation months in advance, you’re friend will be working all week long.  So get used to asking for directions.

Rule #2:  Those preemptive extra bottles of contact solution, hand sanitizer, and 2.5 ounces of shampoo will NOT save you from the Louisiana heat wave!  Or from the constant smell of sweat and piss both inside and out.

Rule #3:  When your friend says he’s arranged for transportation, you might want to check the measurements and pack any necessary safety features that aren’t otherwise included.  For example, my friend gave me a bike to ride, but it was too tall, and made for boys, so naturally, I fell…A LOT.  I wished I had a helmet, knee pads, wrist guards, shin guards, and yes, a giant padded diaper around my ass, because I was in immense pain after day 1 and illustrated bruises I didn’t know were possible.

Rule #4:  Learn how the locals eat, and react calmly.  If timing isn’t your host’s forte’, you may want to snack in the kitchen or dig in immediately when the food is done and just be that person, because what my midwest manners did instead was wait until everything was ready and set out on the porch, which then consequently became COVERED in flies, and I don’t know if you’re aware but flies VOMIT every time they land.  It’s true.  I took science.

Rule #5:  It’s not a joke when they say there are sharks in the water.  When your friend tells you we’re all gonna go swimming in Lake Ponchartrain and how it’s a salt water lake that bull sharks go to breed in, don’t laugh, he’s telling the truth, though you won’t learn this until you later jokingly ask a cab driver and he confirms it.

Rule #6:  Don’t mess with the police.  So, if Lake Ponchartrain happens to be closed, and you have to hop a fence, trip through some thicket and steak out a hidden corner of beach to go swimming, it probably means the police will be MAD if they find you there.  Especially if they find you hiding in the thicket.

Rule #7:  Bike rides aren’t for wimps in New Orleans.  Again with the bike, you say?  How bad could it be?  It was BAD, ya’ll!  Several of our gang were falling off their bikes and hitting pavement hard. There were busy streets, scary potholes, and loose gravel.  One member got separated from the group and was run down by a car yelling obscene comments.  She walked home with her bike and a badly cut arm.

Rule #8:  If in the morning you feel like crying and going IMMEDIATELY back to the airport after such a first day in a new city and you’ve slept all night on a pillow that stinks like B.O., just know you’re not alone.  I’m right there with ya.  And I’m here, alive, with no current police record, to tell you that New Orleans was ok. Laissez le bon tou roulez!

The view towards Canal St. between the Mississippi River and Decatur St. in the French Quarter.

Stay tuned for more of my epic adventure!  What have you all been up to?  I missed you guys!

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