R.I.P Anthony Bourdain: Trying to Understand the Real Parts Unknown

The sudden death of Anthony Bourdain by suicide hit me hard.  I’m the last guy to get on facebook and overblow what the death of a celebrity meant to me. I didn’t lose my virginity while reading Kitchen Confidential or become a half ass blogger because of him..I just respected the hell out of him.

On the heels of Kate Spade’s suicide this week, it is clear mental illness has no limitations and does not affect any specific phenotypes.  Anthony was the manliest of men and Kate the girliest of girls and I would almost argue that 90% of humanity falls somewhere in between. In other words, we are all targets of this malicious disease.

In comparison, Gord Downie’s cancer was another tragedy which hit me hard. Gord filled my ears while Anthony filled by belly.  Unlike depression, however,  Gord was given some time and allowed to close out his life with an epic concert series and the ability to say goodbye to his friends, family and fans.  They raised thousands for cancer research and the whole Canadian musical community came together in a full blown and multi-city memorial.  What happened to Gord was not his fault…for whatever reason cancer picked him and made him the weak member of the pack just like a lion would target and attack the injured antelope in a slow and methodical way.

Anthony, on the other hand, didn’t get to celebrate his life; he just took it.  There were no celebrations or unification of the culinary community; he was alone except for the darkness that told him the best solution was to take his life.  He was the head lion in the pride; successful, confident, respected and almost invincible but unlike the slow and methodical hunt that is called cancer, he was taken out by depression in one swift and ruthless attack.

It seems then that cancer and depression are not much different but last time I checked, there is no chemo for the soul. However,  reactions continue to be very different.  We empathize for Gord’s loved ones and ask “Why did the cancer do this to him?” and yet with Anthony, Kate and others the first reaction is “How could he/she do that to them?”. Depression is not a fake disease made up by pharmaceutical companies to make money.  It’s not treated with St. John’s Wort or ignorance.  It doesn’t go away when things in life get better nor does it prey on the weak alone.  It’s not classified in stages and doesn’t come with a ominous prognosis like “he only has 3-6 months to live”.

Like many, I perused the net while reflecting of Anthony’s life and found an article from US weekly called Anthony Bourdain: 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me facts that struck me:

7. I haven’t worn an earring or thumb ring since my daughter was born. Dads shouldn’t have earrings. Or thumb rings.

12. I love nothing more than cooking with my daughter.

13. I recently bought her her very first chef’s knife.

23. It’s really me handling my Twitter account.

24. I am afraid of clowns, nurse’s shoes and pressure cookers.

25. I have very rigid criteria for what makes a good burger. And a brioche bun is not part of it.

I always thought Anthony was invincible and if anything, his fate would be at the hands of a venomous scorpion or a stray bullet striking his Achilles tendon during a trip in a war torn country on the other side of the planet.  Instead, he was killed by something much more global than the slums of Vietnam and something much more lethal than the sting of an arachnid.   I think I will celebrate his life eating a greasy smash burger on a Wonder bun that I made with my daughter while watching “It” or Nurse Jackie and thanking the Lord i don’t live with a disease scarier than a floating red balloon that might pop at any second.  RIP Anthony.

 

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Why I Think I Hate the Instant Pot…

By now the dust has probably settled on the instant Pot craze (and I mean that literally as I’m sure about 75% of them are likely sitting on the top shelf beside the slap chops and magic bullets).  Although they were hotter than a Hatch’em over the holidays, it goes without saying that it won’t top the list of intelligent gifts on February 14.  Valentine’s day, the first commercial aftershock of the Earthquake called Christmas, is hardly about anything practical and it would be an utter disappointment to be so unthoughtful.

When it comes to my feelings about the Instant Pot, I guess the biggest question is whether it’s a good thing for humanity’s relationship with what we eat or just another example of culinary sacrilege equivalent to Nutrigrain bars and TV dinners. On one hand, the Instant Pot has at least refueled an interest in cooking.  People are keen to actually purchase raw ingredients even it means throwing them all in a magic pot for a ridiculously short amount of time to see what happens. On the other hand, the demand for needing things completed instantly has almost gotten pathological.

Rosie the Robot Maid

First of all, why haven’t they made a live action Jetson’s movie?  I’m sure Emma Stone could team up with Damian Lewis, Seth Green or Benedict Cumberbatch in all-ginger starring cast depending on whether she wanted to pad her acting resume with a drama, comedy or oscar winner film respectively. Perhaps the plot could involve a spine-tingling adventure in which the couple tries to determine how two redheded parents could possibly have blond and silver-haired offspring.  Perhaps the role of Rosie the Robot maid could be  split cast between the Instant Pot and the iRobot Roomba 980.

I think many people dream of one day having their own Rosie in the future and the Instant Pot is a surrogate.  Perhaps as we get closer to a Rosie in every home we will see a closed loop system in which Alexa (who based on what I’ve heard from some is not the most intuitive of virtual friends) tells the Roomba 980 what to throw into the Instant Pot so one can arrive home with a delicious meal waiting.  As I mentioned, such an automatic process makes me question what we are doing with our relationship with food.  It seems to me that using the Instant Pot might be more important than what comes out of it, especially when you have the ability to use annoying hashtags like #instantpotential or #instantpotoninstagram to brag to your instagram friends. Making spinach dips, stir frys or roasted chickens in the Instant Pot, however, seems a bit counterintuitive to me as preparing them are normally quick and/or easy anyways.

jetsons
Rosie Looks a Little Angry..maybe she’s afraid the Instant Pot will steal her job.

 You’ll have to wait a minute cause it’s an instamatic.

The words above are one of the many brilliant lyrics penned by the late Gord Downie. From the song “So Hard Done By”, I think it speaks of the ongoing conflict humanity has with time and the need to wait for anything.  Just like money, time is a commodity and we decide how to spend it.  I get irritated at people who tell me they don’t have time for the gym or television or buying their own groceries.   Like money, how you use your time is a choice and there is usually enough for most things so let’s no don’t disguise choice, good or bad, as a by-product of not having enough time in a day.

What does this have to do with the Instant Pot? Simple…people crave any perception that they are saving their precious time even if they aren’t. You can’t tell me that roasting a chicken in an Instant Pot actually saves any time.  You still need to prep the bird and clean up the pot after.  The only variable is how long it takes.  These are two different concepts.  It’s kind of like Amazon prime.  It takes the same amount of time to order regardless of which means we use; the difference with prime is we get it earlier.  Let’s not mistake saving time with a lack of patience or the desire to get something immediately.  They are two difference concepts.

so hard done by
Lyrics for “So Hard Done By” taken from http://tragicallyhiptour.blogspot.ca/2011/04/so-hard-done-by-lyrics.html

The Dan Brown Phenomenon

Dan Brown burst onto the scene in 2003 with the Da Vinci code, his sophomore effect in the successful Robert Langdon series.  I’m not a huge fan of Dan Brown’s writing per se but I think his brilliance was taking the concept of religious symbolism and instead of writing a textbook what would sit on a shelf (likely beside an instapot), he transformed his theories into a fictional novel. Despite a weak plot and poorly developed characters, the Da Vinci code has sold around 80 million copies and has people looking at their dollar bills a little more closely.  I call the ability to disguise something as another for the purposes of  increased exposure and/or profit the Dan Brown phenomenon.

Let’s be real…the Instant Pot is nothing more than a glorified pressure cooker.  This technology has been around since the 17th century and the science really hasn’t evolved much since.  It is the sole reason, after all, why Top Chef contestants can cook short ribs to near perfection in under an hour; a process which usually takes at least three. Despite the fact the ability to cook food faster by simply adding pressure has been around for almost 350 years,  all of a sudden people are fascinated at the fact they can cook a chicken breast easier and faster than microwaving a hungry man dinner.

da vinci code
The Genesis of the Dan Brown Phenomenon 

The Instant Pot: The Universal Remote Outside the Family Room 

Maybe proponents of the Instant Pot will argue that it’s not the ability to pressure cook that makes it the best thing since sliced bread (although I believe the Lux model might actually slice bread as one of the features). They will instead argue that its multi-functionality is the key to its brilliance. The ability to steam rice, warm soup, saute veggies, set the pot to porridge setting and even make yogurt all in the same device seems revolutionary.  This has likely lead to kijiji sites across the country lighting up with hundreds of only-used-once crock pots on sale due to “downsizing” for $20 o.b.o. My only issue is, much like losing the universal remote, you are screwed if anything happens to the all-in-one device and you may end up in a situation where you may actually have to remember how to turn on an element to boil some water….providing you have any pots or pans left in your dwindling reservoir of kitchen items.

universal remote
The Instant Pot of the Family Room

My Take

I’m still on the fence about the Instant Pot.  On one side, i think it has sparked a re-interest into getting people back into the kitchen with the intention of trying to cook using raw ingredients.  This has been coupled by a sizable social media community posting cool and innovative ways to use the device suggesting that cooking may actually be fun again. The device has infused a sense of pride in both those with curious culinary minds who want to truly play with their food and those who are kitchen amateurs and can take pride in the fact they cooked spaghetti with “homemade” sauce in one pot.

On the other hand, the Instant Pot is another example of the constant propaganda intended to give us immediate satisfaction with minimal effort. It’s a glorified vending machine and  another step toward Rosie the robot and the near complete automation of food preparation.

In the end, it’s not really about saving time but instead about feeding our need to satisfy our ever increasing impatience. The Instant Pot will eventually join the graveyard of kitchen gadgets with the likes of Gotham pans and George Foreman grills. Until then, people will continue to exercise creativity in efforts to abandon primitive cooking practices including using a stove top and a skillet, ultimately saving a few minutes while only washing one pot.  Personally, I’ll continue to roast chickens, make stirfrys in a wok and buy my yogurt for $1.99 in a tub at the grocery store.  If I do ever get an Instant Pot, it will likely be on kijiji, partially because I can feed my impatience knowing I can get it right away.  Even Amazon prime would take a day or two …even if I eventually figured out how to use Alexa to help me order it.

 

 

 

Sandwiched Between the Young and Old at BarVolo

BarVolo got me thinking about what I was doing in 1985, the year it was established.  I was a 12 year old elementary school student whose diet consisted of cooked ham on white, apples and a thermos full of fruit drink.  The highlight of my school day was sniffing copies of handouts from the ditto machine like a drug addict.

Here’s a few other food things that happened in 1985

  • James Beard died at the age of 81.
  • New coke was released only to be scrapped later the same year, spawning the old but new Coca-Cola classic.
  • James Dewer, inventor of the twinkie in 1930, died.
  • Raspberry Beret by Prince hit #1 on the charts.

Source:   http://www.foodreference.com/ (a good reference site for food geeks).

BarVolo is a small brewpub located near Yonge and Wellesley.  There are a handful of tables and a bar area that stands 15 comfortably. It has a vibe of a old schoolhouse, the centrepiece a large blackboard boasting over 30 types of beer (and a couple of wines and ciders) ranging from house brew to hearty stouts and porters. Otherwise, you can order well over a hundred bottles including some rare and expensive choices from the cellar.  They don’t take reservations, so you leave your name, slink up the bar and hope for the best.  A look around at the crowd suggested that I was among the 5 or 10 people in the entire bar that was probably alive in 1985.

One of my highlights is the fact that they serve 6 different cask ales including  their own black ESB.  It was a good punch in the mouth although the aftertaste was a little acrid. Next,  in homage to my daughter,  I ordered the house ale swag out (imperial stout with swag). As an uncool parent, I have been instructed that I cannot use the words YOLO or swag in any context at any time. She never said I couldn’t drink it though.  It turned out to be a killer version of a great winter beer.  The 8.5 percent alcohol was subdued by the intense malt and hop flavour.  Great balance.

When you ask for food, you are handed a laminated menu and a pen to check off any of the many menu offerings. It consists mainly of snacks and nibbles including cheeses, pates, terrines and charcuteries. Condiments are also available for a price. You can also grab one of a half dozen sandwiches if you want. I opted for a taste of each of the major categories, which they arranged on a platter. Included were smoked duck sausage ($5), clothbound cheddar ($5.50), venison terrine ($5), a brooklyn’s finest pickle ($3) and peanut bacon fudge ($5).  I also ordered some hot trap mustard on the side ($1.50).  It was a delightful mix of taste and textures.  The duck sausage was melt in your mouth delicious.  The pickle was spicy with a distinct crunch.  The cheddar was firm and salty; a true reflection of an artisan cheese which deviates a bit from the original.  The terrine was decent but didn’t burst with the cherry and nut flavours I was promised.  The sourdough bread (from nearby Woodlot) and mustard were wonderful compliments, nicely adhering  the diversity of tastes on the plate.

I ordered the fudge because it was the only thing that slightly resembled a dessert on the entire menu.  Whether it was the contrast of the sweet against the salty and sour flavours of the rest of the plate or the fact it was just delicious fudge, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The specks of bacon scattered among the sweet yet savory peanut flavour just worked.

Platter with pickles, mustard, venison terrine, fidge, duck sausage and cloth bound cheddar
Platter with pickles, mustard, venison terrine, fudge, duck sausage and cloth bound cheddar

The fish board was equally delicious.  Smoked salmon, trout and pickled herring were served with a FANTASTIC horseradish sauce and a unique but delicious slaw that I’m still trying to figure out.  The pickled egg and beans added some nice acid to the board.

Fish Platter $18
Fish Platter $18

My Take

BarVolo is a great venue for those who want a little food with their beer (which includes 6 casks and a number of house brews).  That said, the grub is far from substandard although some may be reluctant to pay $3 for a pickle and a buck and a half for a ramekin of mustard (sounds like a lyric from the Tragically Hip’s Little Bones in a time where Gord Downie still had hair and most patrons were still in diapers).  There’s a spectrum of menu items packaged in bite size and sharable morsels which can appease a solo diner or a table of 6.  The biggest issue is whether a table of 6 is even possible.  The place is small and doesn’t take reservations, leaving those waiting to frolic in a holding tank the size of new coke’s popularity. It’s more crammed than cozy. Plus, I get a tad annoyed when establishments boast about how big their lines are on facebook and twitter, especially when they don’t have the greatest means of dealing with them.

Although 1985 produced some nasty and forgettable things, barVolo wasn’t one of them.  Despite the fact that it’s inundated with clientele who weren’t exposed to Reaganomics or the Flames’ only Stanley cup win, there was some solace when a trio of 60 something hipsters walked in, looked at me and likely wondered if I was alive the last time the Leafs won the cup.  Regardless of whether one can relate to Pierre or Justin Trudeau or anybody in between, those who appreciate good beer with salty snacks (I didn’t try the sandwiches) will enjoy barVolo.  After all, the small confines physically don’t allow for a generation gap anyway.   YOLO, right?

Bar Volo on Urbanspoon