Les Halles

If someone were to ask me what my current favourite cookbooks were, I’d have no trouble answering.

Regular readers will be familiar with my fascination with the first of these, and the spectacular results I’ve hewn from the raw ingredients listed in its hallowed pages. It’s a great book, and the recipes are extremely forgiving. You can’t go wrong. Like eating meat? Then buy it.

The second choice is perhaps less obvious. Cooking using this book is more of an exact science, but with a little preparation, decent ingredients and the right frame of mind, exceptional examples of culinary architecture are within the reach of any half-decent cook.

The best thing about Bourdain’s book, however, is his use of language. While most great chefs are rightly passionate about their craft, this passion rarely comes across in their prose. Watch Gordon Ramsay on TV, and you realise very quickly how much he cares about food, how important he feels it is, how much both good and bad cooking stir his emotions. He’s brilliant. But read his books, and the passion simply isn’t there. The recipes are exceptional, the photos majestic, but there’s no real fire, no animation, no rapture, no spirit. Bourdain has all these in spades.

Here are a few choice quotes:

  • “As this recipe serves twelve, I suggest throwing a big, rowdy party, getting your guests all liquored up, and, when they finally start complaining, “Where’s the guacamole and the remaki?” hauling out a big, beautiful tub of steaming hot guts.”
  • “Don’t worry. Lobsters are essentially big fucking bugs too stupid to know they’re dead.”
  • “I’m no fan of Donald Rumsfeld, but if he makes a good sandwich, I’ll certainly eat it.”
  • “Now scrape! Pick up your wooden spoon and scrape, you magnificent bastard!”

See? Genius. I like to imagine Bourdain at his station in the kitchen, cigarette dangling casually from lower lip, half-empty bottle of Burgundy to one side, starched uniform covered in blood as he rustles up another batch of mouth-watering cassoulet. Listening to the Ramones, probably. My kind of cook.

But even Bourdain gets it wrong sometimes – witness my recent e-mail to his restaurant.


I recently purchased Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook, and although there is much to admire in Chef’s spicy prose and no-nonsense approach to life in the kitchen, I must take issue with one of the recipes.

Page 277: 450°F/230°C for 40 minutes? Are you insane? What is it you’re trying to make? Clafoutis or charcoal?

All the best,


Ramsay, btw, cooks clafoutis for 20 minutes at 190°C. This is much more sensible.

Les Halles have yet to get back to me. Perhaps I’ll ask again when I eat there next month.


  1. If the reply isn’t as sweary and forthright as those quotes I shall be most disappointed. But if it is, I might just buy the book. There’s a lot riding on this.

  2. > eat there next month

    When, no doubt, Mr Bourdain will personally gob in your food :)

    I love the way he writes. One of the few people able to shock Gordon Ramsey into submission I reckon.

  3. Hugh Furry-Knittingwool is indeed a god amoungst men and should be worshipped accordingly.

  4. Have to agree about Huge’s book, his roast Lamb recipe is as delicious as it is clear and simple.
    Bourdin is an insiration in print and a tedious American tourist on film.
    Have you read “the man who ate everything”, by Jeffery Steinbergen?If you haven’t , I’ll lend it to you.

  5. er sorry that’s Jeffrey Steingarten

  6. Indeed I have, and ‘It Must’ve Been Something I Ate’. His lawyer’s training shines through in the analytical approach he takes to everything, but his enthusiasm ensures that the science bits never become dull. He’s a real inspiration, and the main reason I stopped eating instant microwaved food.

  7. I like HFW too. I even like GR a little bit. And I like to look at the pictures of what Fraser whips up whilst pouring over HFW’s “meat”.

    Do you know who I hate? Jamie Fucking Oliver. “I can make a fry up”. Yeah, and?! So can I. “I want to reform school dinners”. I ate shit at school and didn’t turn into a fat bitch, that’s perhaps because I spent my evenings drinking White Lightening* in the park and experimenting with soft drugs like a normal teenager and didn’t sit around watching TV like the fat kiddies do today. Not the food that’s at fault, it’s the parents.

    Not that I would ever eat a fry up. I prefer delicately sliced baby carrot on a bed of alfalfa. Bullshit do I. I don’t wake up in time for breakfast of any kind. Like fuck I do.

    PS: * a quick translation: “White Lightening” v v v strong white cider. Beloved of teenagers in the UK, always seems to come with “100% extra free” in the 3L bottle (and has done since atleast 1984 when I was first introduced to it). Traditionally consumed on the swings in the local park.

  8. I’m in New York this weekend. I know where Les Halles is. I’ll pop in pretending to be you and give them such a bollocking. Then you can tell us how your food tasted when you go next month. I bet they add the ‘special sauce’.

  9. I loved “Kitchen Confidential” so will seek out Bourdain’s Les Halles.

    Can I put in a plug for “A Debt to Pleasure” by John Lanchester? Great recipes, great food reviews (“the lettuce looked like it had been torn apart by wild dogs”) and a truly funny portrait of madness.

  10. Nice. Thanks for the tip.

  11. Steingarten’s book has inspired a couple of trips to Alba during the truffle season, an expensive but incredible experience. This year I found the ideal venue , an agritourismo joint with a cracking restaurant, http://www.casascaparone.it. None of the , “ooo shall I have scallops with chilli jam or the deep fried Camenbert” , 25 euros for local food and wine. It just arrives at the table.Fantastic.and the place is packed with locals.
    It’s the trip to Alsace to find the perfect choucroute garni a l’Alsacienne that I’m looking forward to

  12. I tried Debt To Pleasure. Didn’t like it. Not one bit. Too up itself. All the poncery got in the way of the food. But hey, yunno, maybe that’s just me.

  13. You can also trust Bourdain because he’s been spotted in the wee hours (long after the kitchens close) boozing it up at NYC’s craziest dive bar, Siberia.

  14. Fraser – don’t expect to much from Les Halles NY. It is OK, no more. I guess when AB was actually in the kitchen it may have been better. If you want classic French bistro cooking (outside of France) Racine in London will more than satisfy your needs and you don’t have to fly trans Atlantic to get there.

  15. Mike speaks the truth. Racine is magnificent – my last visit involved casual grazing on calves’ brains and steak tartare.

    *rubs belly*

  16. I made the demi-glace from Bourdain’s cookbook. Bloody hard work, and he uses a lot of short cuts. It was delicious though.

  17. Mmmm. Demi-glace. How did you source the veal bones?

  18. Hey Ho Let’s Go. I can’t let a Ramones reference pass me by that easily Fras.

    Sim x

  19. I look forward to seeing the outcome.

    P.S. I put half a pig’s foot in mine for extra gelatinousness.

  20. I look forward to the first Blogjam cookbook – no doubt named Kitten Confidential, and full of Dog steak served with a Penguin jus……?