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At Daughter's Insistence, Bourdain Includes Ratatouille Recipe In 'Appetites'

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Anthony Bourdain is known for his eat-anything, no-nonsense ways, crisscrossing the globe in search of culinary adventures, like this meal from a show this chef-turned-TV-host taped in Germany.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN")

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: It's when the himmel und erde, or heaven and earth, hits the table that I start getting deep into my happy zone. That's blood sausage, fried onions and mashed potatoes with applesauce, which, if you don't like, by the way, pretty much removes you from my will-save-from-drowning list.

MONTAGNE: For years, Anthony Bourdain was ID'd as the bad boy of the cooking world. He spoke of past drug use, liked a good drink, and some of his TV shows even came with a warning - parental discretion advised. So the dedication page of his new cookbook might surprise. It lists just two names - his 9-year-old daughter, Ariane, and her best friend, Jacques.

BOURDAIN: They're my principal dining public these days. They're my audience. That's who I cook for most of the time, if I'm cooking for other people.

MONTAGNE: Anthony Bourdain wrote his new cookbook, "Appetites" with that audience very much in mind. Its recipes reflect what he cooks at home and memories of what he ate as a child. Still, he does want to up the home cook's game.

BOURDAIN: It's unreasonable to expect someone, the first time they make hollandaise sauce, that they're going to get it right. It's a mentoring process where people try and fail and try and fail. And I think a lot of cookbooks idealize food and give you unreasonable expectations. And then you feel bad when you have a recipe for eggs Benedict that says, see hollandaise sauce, page 129. You go to hollandaise sauce, and it doesn't tell you that you're probably going to screw it up.

MONTAGNE: Well has cooking for and with your daughter changed the way you cook or think of food?

BOURDAIN: Sure. First of all, I'm cooking to her tastes, you know, when I do her school lunches. There's a bit of a - I don't that I would say competitive aspect. I don't know if you've seen "Eat Drink Man Woman," the Taiwanese - Chinese film where the grandfather is cooking for his niece or nephew - I forget. And, you know, every day he does these incredibly elaborate meals, cooking more and more of them so the other kids at school can share.

It's kind of like that. My daughter challenges me to never repeat. I push myself to dazzle. And, you know, she's certainly the only kid in her class who shows up with anything from, you know, mac and cheese one day to, you know, Spam musubi the next. You know, if she wants, you know, what she calls cheesy pasta - carbonara - that's what she's getting. I mean, she's the boss.

MONTAGNE: Something rather sweet in the book is you say you used to hate brunch - eggs Benedict or pancakes, for that matter. And you've come around now that you have a child. But why did you hate it in the first place?

BOURDAIN: Well, I think, like a lot of longtime cooks, we think of it as beneath us. In my case, during the really lowest points of my career and periods of addiction, when I was unemployed at any, you know, reputable restaurant, I could always get a job as a brunch cook because nobody else wanted those gigs. And there were a limited number of people who were, A, willing to do it and, B, capable of cooking, you know, 300 omelets in a few hours' time.

So the smell of eggs and French toast cooking is the smell of defeat and shame to me. And it took a 9-year-old girl and, you know, throwing pancake parties for her, you know, sleepovers that kind of brought me around on the issue. You know, I make a little pancake bar with a variety of garnishes. And, yeah, I have to say I really enjoy that.

MONTAGNE: It just seems like there's this wonderful dynamic between you and your child. Is there a recipe in here that - that your daughter, Ariane, insisted upon or that you knew would please her or - or even influenced her?

BOURDAIN: She saw the film "Ratatouille" and insisted that we make ratatouille. And so that was, I think, the first dish that we made together and also the first dish where I let her use a chef knife - a truly terrifying moment for me, seeing those tiny, little fingers next to a giant, razor-sharp professional chef knife. She's very determined in her knife work and gets cross with me if I don't let her do - you know, I can't say, well, honey why don't you just do this? She will not be fobbed off on something safe. She wants to get in there and try to cut a perfect dice.

MONTAGNE: How old was she when she picked up that first knife?

BOURDAIN: Six, something like that.

MONTAGNE: So just three years later - so far...

BOURDAIN: So far, so good.

MONTAGNE: All fingers...

BOURDAIN: No injury - that's better than I did my first three years in the business, I can tell. I was lopping hunks off my fingers all the time.

MONTAGNE: Well a guiding principle in this book - you forthrightly said so - it's for home cooking and family dinners.

BOURDAIN: Yeah, absolutely.

MONTAGNE: But putting this cookbook together, were you really thinking about recipes from the '50s and '60s - very old-fashioned recipes - cream of tomato soup, meatloaf?

BOURDAIN: I try to represent honestly what I cook at home and what I like, and I'm a child of that period. I tend to express my love through food. And then there's a lot of things in the cookbook that I feel it is my patriotic duty to bully people into doing. You know, I just - I happen to think that every American, by the time they're, you know, 15 or 16, should be able to perform certain basic functions in the kitchen to be a useful and responsible...

MONTAGNE: Citizen?

BOURDAIN: ...Citizen, roommate or sexual partner.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter). Well, you also seem to think it's your duty to hate on a few things, like club sandwich.

BOURDAIN: I love the club sandwich. I just want to know what's going on with that extra slice of bread, which performs no service but is structurally unsound and, in fact, more often than not, makes the sandwich less eatable. I mean, I like the idea of all that stuff on a sandwich, but if it's all squirting all over the plate and falling apart as I eat it, it just seems to be all about form, not function.

You know, there are certain things - the unrested steak angers me. You know, everybody across America loves to grill steak in the back yard. And yet, most of them murder that steak by simply omitting a very simple thing - just leave the thing alone after it comes off the grill. Let it sit on the board for seven minutes. What's going on inside that steak during those precious seven minutes is the difference between a really crummy eating experience and a potentially sublime one.

MONTAGNE: OK, so dessert, which you - you write, bleeping dessert. You know, you don't care for it. What about dessert?

BOURDAIN: You know, if I were to give you advice on neurosurgery, you would be ill-advised to listen to me. In much the same way, I don't know how to make dessert. Pastries hate me. They sense fear and refuse to behave. Just because everybody else does it, why should I include a desserts section when it's part of the meal that I'm not particularly good at? I do like a good dessert now and again, but more often than not, what I crave after a good meal is a big hunk of cheese with a glass of port. That, to me, is the perfect end to a meal.

MONTAGNE: The cookbook is called "Appetites." Anthony Bourdain, thanks very much for joining us.

BOURDAIN: Pleasure to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.