They call it “Southern Bayou Catfish.” I grin at the crispy feel of that cornmeal crust between my fingers as I dip the distinguished bottom-dweller all the way down into its sriracha lemon zest remoulade. And the bite: the crunchy, the tender, the salty, the sweet–all there. Amid the breathably thick sensuality of this moment, I realize on some level, I really do, that what I’m eating is a fish stick. But this is God’s fish stick, Plato’s Form of Fishstick, and sitting at the Tupelo bar eating it with a glass of King’s Ridge Pinot Gris is a temporary terrestrial nirvana. Anthony Bourdain demonstrates in The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones that he understands the singularity of such experiences, and knows how to appreciate them:
“There are few articles of faith in my admittedly jaundiced worldview, precious few things that I believe to be right and true and basically unimprovable by man or God. This, however, is one of them: a properly poured beer or ale–in my case, a hand-cranked Guinness–in a clean pint glass of correct temperature is God’s Own Beverage, a complete and nutritious food source, a thing of beauty to be admired, a force that sweeps away, for a time, all the world’s troubles.”
Yes, that–but not just the thing, the moment too. When I’m at the Tupelo bar, it usually means a tabling of the week’s problems until Monday, and good conversation with a few friends and colleagues equally enthused about a celebratory break from the quotidian. The tall, warmly lit collection of bottles behind the bar offers anything the recently off-duty might want, from top-shelf cocktails and high quality wines to Montana micros like Kettlehouse’s Double Haul IPA. Bourdain knows and appreciates the importance of setting too:
“One does not drink Guinness in a vacuum-sealed pod. Context is important. The best place to fully appreciate the state of enlightenment that comes with a fine English, Scottish, or Irish beverage is, of course, that all-important institution, the pub.”
Again, that. These kinds of truths permeate The Nasty Bits because Bourdain’s way of traveling and his way of eating–the appreciation of time, place, and the diversity of experience–is one of those things that seems right and true to me. Like reality, The Nasty Bits is a collection of errata that somehow melds together to form a single entity. From essay to essay, you might end up with travelogue, food philosophy, memoir, or some random thing so clearly tailored to an editor’s ultra-particular specifications that you can feel the derision on Bourdain’s voice as you read. As with any collection, some pieces are better than others. But overall, it’s Bourdain’s voice right there on the page, and you won’t be bored–you’ll remember your favorites just like he does.
In one essay, Bourdain eats at Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s restaurant in New York:
“She feeds me some braised lamb before I leave, and once again (and I’ve been trying for years) I attempt to convince her to write the women’s version of Kitchen Confidential. ‘You’d make me look like a freakin’ manicurist!’ I insist. ‘This is a book that needs to be written. Isn’t there enough testosterone in this genre?!’ I point out that she’s already a writer, having been published many times in Food & Wine magazine, and that publisher pals of mine have been asking. She waves away the idea and stands up, ready to get back to the downstairs prep kitchen where her crew are setting up for dinner service. ‘I’m not going to write the Great American Novel,’ she sighs. ‘But we’ll feed a few people.’”
This is one of those singular moments–a place and time the people present remember. I can picture the two of them there, Anthony Bourdain chewing that lamb and trying to convince Hamilton to write her book. I’m happy that he succeeded (Kitchen Domination reviewed her book here), and that this kind of thing isn’t lost forever to the heap. Instead, it’s right here in The Nasty Bits, ready to go whenever you want to pick it up.