If I Could Kidnap Anthony Bourdain Where Would I Take Him (in Utah)?

Note: I wrote this in 2010 after having met Bourdain at a book signing. Unfortunately, Anthony Bourdain left us in 2018 by suicide and I’m struggling with this post because it seems irrelevant now. But at the same time I keep phone numbers of friends who have died on my phone so I have difficulty deleting this post.

With Anthony Bourdain coming to Salt Lake City this week to promote his new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (Ecco/HarperCollins. ISBN 0061718947), I wondered if it was possible to kidnap him and show him Utah. If so, where would I take him to avoid the classic pitfalls of fry sauce, green Jell-O, and funeral potatoes? Considering his show, No Reservations, travels to obscure locations on the globe where he partakes in the local traditions and eats the local fare, stateside this could be challenging. Clearly, some sort of adventure or tradition that leaves a pleasant imprint of Utah without seeming too generic is necessary.

It would be important to showcase the uniqueness of southern Utah. An abundance of national parks and breathtaking scenery certainly would be noteworthy to such an accomplished globetrotter. So I would take him rafting on the Colorado River. One of the premiere destinations in Utah would be Moab where you can take any level of river trip you desire from the simple yet exciting daily section, the more challenging Westwater Canyon trip, or the downright thrilling, nearly Grand Canyon trip down Cataract Canyon. Following whatever degree of thrill or placid floating Bourdain desires, I’d treat him to dinner at Buck’s Grill House.

Buck’s is an enigma to Moab. A rough resort town (formerly a uranium mining town) catering to mountain biking, whitewater rafting, jeeping and such is hardly a place you’d expect a culinary adventure. But Buck’s is exactly that, disguised as a restaurant in keeping with the look of the rest of Moab. On the outside, Buck’s is a log building set back from the highway leading into town. A kind of unassuming place you could stop by for a BBQ sandwich and a beer. But it’s much more than that. It is the prize of someone born in Moab and familiar with the culture. Tim Buckingham got his training at the Culinary Arts Program at Santa Barbara City College. While it’s no Culinary Arts Institute, he did train under the chefs at the San Ysidro Ranch and Four Seasons Biltmore and moving on to executive chef at the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara before moving back to Moab.

The food is definitely interesting to the palate. I had the Carne Bajio (slow cooked beef in adobo sauce wrapped in crepes with goat cheese, smashed black beans and rice verde). Can I say, “Holy shit!” – This is Moab! Get me a burger and get me on the trail! No really, the different tastes that go with this item are amazing. The smashed black beans are also something else, familiar and yet interesting. And, while not a big fan of rice, I loved the rice. Everyone in our group ordered something different and all had the same reactions. In fact, it was so much so that we all had to try each other’s entrees.

But a river trip is only a part of the spectacular scenery since visibility is limited in the bottom of a canyon. Next would be a scenic drive along Highway 12 between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. A scenic byway missed by a lot of tourists, and locals, which features spectacular views of the Grand Staircase. A drive along this winding two-lane road would encompass a stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse. A kiva is a room used by the Pueblo for religious ceremonies. While this building is modern, completed in 1998 by non-Native American engineer Bradshaw Bowman, a stop here is kind of a religious experience. The view from the dining room is like no other, a splash of color and vastness that sets the mind at ease. The homemade menu is refreshing and different from the usual roadside fare. They also have two ‘Kiva Kottages’ (one single King and a double Queen) that have no phone and no television but do include wireless Internet. Hey, no mindless television and no way to contact your broker but at least you can post to your blog!

Finally, I would provide Bourdain with a chance to get some greenery into the scenery with a trip to the northern Utah Wasatch Mountains. Utah is popular with Hollywood for the diversity of scenery from dry desert vistas to high alpine. Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics so there must be mountains somewhere, right? And the best way, in my opinion, would be to see it from a hot air balloon in either the Park City or Heber valleys. Why ballooning? C’mon, I’m a balloon pilot. But after a bit of lazy floating we would go have a meal at the hospital (yes, the hospital!) and not because of some unfortunate ballooning incident. The locals all know that the best food in Park City is at the Silver King Cafe in the Park City Medical Center. Really. I had the opportunity to meet the executive chef and wellness coach Jason Kieffer recently and enjoy his spectacular and ever-changing health-oriented menu. His experience includes being the executive chef for Bill Gates’ management team. I imagine people were crying at his departure (Jason’s). This place I found through a word-of-mouth recommendation from locals I know who admit they eat there about 5 days a week. Walk into the medical center and you’d think you just walked into another guest lodge in Park City. This is the hospital I want to die in because I know that at least the food will be good.

Why kidnap Anthony Bourdain? After reading his first book, Kitchen Confidential, it became clear after having worked briefly in the restaurant industry that I did not have the intestinal fortitude (nor the blood stream capable of the drug and alcohol intake) necessary for a culinary career although I may share the same f**king vocabulary. Still, I enjoy his program on The Travel Channel, No Reservations, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. I like the way he looks at destinations not as travel locations but as cultural experiences. He travels the way I like to travel. During this little felonious escapade in Utah with Bourdain I would hope that we could connect a bit on an intellectual level, have some good food and some great conversation, and then part ways having experienced an adventure together. Perhaps he’ll even thank me (probably not).

EDIT: Since writing this review, Buck’s Grill House closed. It saddened me that such a great restaurant couldn’t make it, but that’s the dilemma with food in a resort town.


The Coke Dilemma

Since giving up alcohol in 1994, I have firmly transferred my addiction to Coca Cola. Good for a sugar buzz and staying up all night, but it doesn’t make operating machinery a life-threatening endeavor. In the U.S., this works out nicely since most food places now consider Coca Cola, and other soft drinks, as a loss leader. This is because they are so cheap that food establishments still make money if they give you free refills. Consequently, sit down in most any restaurant or fast food establishment and the Cokes will seem to multiply on your table like a herd of rabbits.

In Europe, it seems, soft drinks need to be precisely measured and rationed out like a valuable commodity. For 2.50 euros, or the equivalent of $4.00 at this moment in time, you get 1/3 of a liter of Coke with no possibility of a refill. Because of the laid back attitude here (which is what we were looking for in Germany) your Coke arrives about 20 minutes before your food does. So you basically have nothing to wash your meal down with at the end of dinner.

Oh, and they don’t give you water either. You can buy 1/3 of a liter of water for about 1.60 euros (or about $2.50). What is interesting is that the beer sells for somewhere in the middle which makes me want to rethink my whole addiction thing. After all, beer was invented in Germany and tastes much better than in the U.S. Trust me!

P.S.: On our last day in Germany, we discovered that the restaurants must give you tap water for free if you request it. It’s the law. We just never thought of asking. Damn.

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The Speed of Europe

On a less weird but certainly different vein than Dresden’s history is the way we have embraced the German speed at living. There are two speeds here: the autobahn and everything else.

Upon arrival in Berlin we rented a car in the middle of Berlin in order to avoid the taxes we’d have to pay at the airport. Once rented, we were escorted to our car, which was parked in the right lane of traffic on Kurfuersten Strasse. No time to even look at the car, just jump in and drive off (we later looked at the car at a rest area so we’d be able to recognize it in a parking lot).

Then on the autobahn everyone is driving 10-20 kilometers per hour (6-12 MPH) faster than the posted speed (same as home so I felt comfortable) with Mom constantly reminding me that I couldn’t afford a speeding ticket. I ended up asking her if it was alright to pass the motorhome like everyone else. Eventually I just drove fast to stay awake since the jet lag was starting to take hold.

The other speed is totally relaxed. In the U.S., the restaurant business is predicated on how many tables they can turn around in one night. Here, in Germany, that’s not the case. We would go to an ice cream parlor, for example, and just sit and talk long after the ice cream is gone. The ice cream dishes are so good here that the time spent eating is miniscule anyway. Here, service is slow, the food arrives when it is good and ready. And no one seems to care! here, the locals know how to relax. It’s enough to make an American restauranteur just want to shit.

I could get used to this. So can Kim. And when we get back to the U.S., we plan to frustrate the hell out of the food service industry in the name of enjoying ourselves and all out relaxation. The fast-food mentality of America just needs to stop… NOW! It’s indicative of all that is wrong with America. It only leads to stress-related ailments. So I plan to save Americans one meal at a time by taking my sweet-ass time eating out.

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Dresden: Old, yet New, yet Old again

Thirty one years since my last visit to Germany. First stop: Dresden.

A couple of days travel and I am just getting used to the idea that we are in Germany. The disorientation is phenomenal. There was an odd start from the beginning when we heard the announcement in the Salt Lake City airport for someone to meet their probation officer at the world map to the first morning in Dresden when we heard Italian music playing at 4:30 in the morning in the courtyard of our Aztec-themed guest house. Getting used to being 1/3 of the way around the world is fun when accompanied by the love of my life Kim, and my mom.

Dresden, formerly in East Germany, is now a capitalistic tourist enterprise that has not yet recovered from the fire bombing by the Americans in February 1945. But at the same time it is trolling for tourist’s money by trying to replicate the Dresden that was pre-war while constantly reminding you why it is necessary. An odd combination of old and new and yet old again.

Kim reminds me that Kurt Vonnegut, whose book “Slaughter House Five” is based on his survival of the fire bombing as a prisoner of war, seemed to have been permanently affected by the incident since it shows up in all his writing. Then you realize that all of Dresden also seems permanently affected by the bombing since it is under a constant scheme of reconstruction over the past fifty years. That fact alone gives you a sense of sheer horror of the event.

The confusion on my part stems from the feeling that they should be over it by now. Most survivors have died a natural death. Get over it already! But Kim reminds me that Dresden, as part of the former East Germany, was stuck in time. During the time it was East Germany, little happened. And what did happen is hardly acknowledged by any historical markers.

There’s Dresden up to 1933, then the Nazis came, then in 1945 the United States bombed the crap out of it, then the wall between East and West Germany is built to the west of it, then the wall comes down in 1989. What happened from 1945 to 1989? Nothing. Apparently, they didn’t even move the rubble since they have reconstructed castles, churches, palaces and opera houses to their per-war glory with the original blocks. Where none survived, they made exact duplicates.

There’s a feeling of absolute majesty and a bazaar feeling that it’s all fake at the same time. It’s just weird to be in Dresden and that’s what makes it fascinating. Traveling with a history teacher and someone who lived in East Germany (my mom), it’s even more interesting. I get to see the joy in Kim’s face as she truly realizes the magnitude of Dresden’s (and East Germany’s) recent history annotated with my mom’s own experiences.

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