December 14, 2016
How does technology change what we create? An interview with Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain is a chef, traveler, and bon viveur who shot to fame with his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and is now best known for food-travel shows like CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
In his latest endeavor, he traveled America meeting craftspeople doing things the old way (and that doesn't just mean hipster craft beer). In The Balvenie's Raw Craft, he meets a maker of stringed instruments and a man who crafts the perfect kitchen knife from melted meteorite, and visits the Scottish distillery of The Balvenie - a whiskey made using traditional methods.RedOrbit spoke to Bourdain to find out what drives the people who do things in ways they love and, more often than not, in ways that make little sense profit-wise.
RO: Having met some of America's most talented and unique craftspeople, what would you say are some of the advantages and differences of what they do over bigger companies doing things in a more mass-produced sort of way?
AB: It’s all in the details. There is no doubt for me, that if you can have it, you want the stuff where people have taken their time, really paid attention to and personally care about how it was made. The craftspeople I’ve met have made their craft their way of life and are often using tools and knowledge passed down through generations to create something with the utmost attention to detail, even when it does not make commercial sense. It’s not an option to create any other way, and that produces some extraordinary things. And it’s obvious when you see the finished products; most of our craftspeople have developed a strong following because their customers know and understand how much care went into the product.
RO: Did you notice any similarities between the people and the motivations for what they do?
AB: Well, out of all the people who we have discovered over the last two seasons, we always seemed to land on people who chose a solitary, often difficult path, doing a very crazy or niche thing that all of good sense and conventional business acumen would indicate is unwise to pursue. Most of the craftspeople we feature in Raw Craft have devoted themselves to doing one singular thing and finding the absolute best way to produce it. For them doing things the old way, the hard way is a way of life, it is the motivation. And it’s motivating to watch!
RO: Does what they do feel more like a lost art, or is it in some ways forward-looking - perhaps in being more environmentally friendly or even being in line with a new movement towards something authentic (the craft beer revival, for example)? How does what they do fit in with what some people might see as hipster trends (maybe see craft beer again!).
AB: Lost art, definitely. Look, we’ve reached a stage where consumers are seeking authenticity in everything from their Scotch to their breakfast cereal – brands realize this and are doing everything they can to seem handcrafted. The difference between this and true craftsmanship is that these guys aren’t thinking about what’s trendy, or marketable. They’re simply doing as they always have done, and luckily, people are starting to catch on. At The Balvenie, for example, they’ve got guys who have had the same job for 50 years and in many cases the same job as their father before them had. It’s hard to fake that.
RO: A recent episode of The Balvenie’s Raw Craft saw you visit Rachel Rosenkrantz, who hand makes stringed instruments. When it comes to music - do you like more traditional, folky sort of music or something more modern? What do you dig, music wise?
AB: Don't much go for folk. I'm a rock and roll or blues or funk guy.
RO: Finally, you have a new cookbook, Appetites - what can we expect from it?
AB: Appetites, which I co-authored with my longtime lieutenant Laurie Woolever, was inspired by my 9-year old daughter. It’s a collection of the kinds of things I like to cook for her, things we cook together, and dishes that work well for entertaining family and friends. It’s a family cookbook, albeit one with a strange and beautiful cover illustration by the legendary Ralph Steadman, and funny, gorgeous and in some cases challenging photos by Bobby Fisher. We included a lot of strategies for not screwing things up, plans for maximum efficiency, and what I believe should be the final word on putting together a perfect burger.
We thought RedOrbit readers might be particularly interested in the episode about knives made from meteorites, so here's a link straight to that:
Image credit: The Balvenie