Anthony and me, guest tenders & the Purple Crayon

by Chris Aaland

I’ve been filling myself on Anthony Bourdain lately. Between his latest book, Medium Raw, and back-to-back-to-back episodes of his food-geek classic, “No Reservations,” on the Travel Channel, I simply can’t get enough.

I’ve always been a gourmand, having sought out exotic fare, local favorites and mom and pop eateries wherever my travels may lead me. And, for the better part of my life, I’ve avoided the corporate monsters whenever possible, be they fast food restaurants along the highway or the dumbed-down chains that circle any mall in the country. TGI Fridays? PF Chang’s? The Olive Garden? Blech. So Tony’s weekly exploits are a welcome relief from the swill that masquerades as culinary television on The Food Network. He freaking hates the mass-produced slop that most Americans eat.

The real reason I like the guy, though, is the combination of his sophistication, irreverence and brutal honesty. He’s equal part snob, punk and unapologetic drunkard, the Charles Bukowski of food writers. He champions the downtrodden – particularly immigrant kitchen workers from Mexico and Central America – and is known as much for his excesses (Tony has battled addictions to nearly every drug imaginable, both legal and illegal) as he is for his insight into travel and dining.

In the past, I’ve found myself at odds with Durango’s social elite (usually transplants who come here to retire from places more refined, often unwilling to embrace the beautiful, odd and wacky dark corners of our little burg) for writing about unsavory subjects like drinking and carousing and cursing. Tony embraces these topics. And for it, he’s been recognized by the likes of Bon Appetit, the James Beard Foundation and the British Guild of Food Writers.

Because, really, it’s all about the food – and those who prepare it and lust over it.

Peasant food, street vendors and nasty bits are the things he craves. Tony is as comfortable sitting next to the working class eating street tacos as he is surrounded by world class chefs with napkins over their heads indulging in ortolans – small, fattened buntings native to Europe that are consumed whole (and illegal in many countries).

Thankfully, we live in a town saturated with restaurants and foodies that would make Anthony Bourdain proud. He’s the kind of guy who would spend the afternoon at our local brewpubs, chase fried whole jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and crab meat with sake shots and Pinstripes, wander into a wine bar, then recover the next morning with a Ham Cure smothered in green chile. There’d probably be a bowl of menudo in the mix somewhere along with a few Jackalope gin-and-tonics and some elk cutlets seared perfectly on the outside and oh-so-bloody in the middle.

Go and read Bourdain. Watch him on television. Sit back and realize how fortunate you are to live where you do. Then plan your own next food adventure, be it near or far.

Steamworks hosts a guest bartender night from 4 - 7 p.m. on Tues., April 19, to benefit Annie’s Orphans, a sanctuary for abandoned, neglected and abused dogs. Dr. Charles Hawman, a veterinarian near and dear to my heart who coaxed my old hunting dog Sherman through parvovirus as a pup and cancer in his golden years, will join Sven Brunso, pro skier and DMR marketing guru, in pouring Steamworks beer and house sodas for the worthy cause.

This week’s Summit slate includes Thirsty Thursday with Peace Officer at 10 p.m. tonight; a reunion of the local band Seven at 9 p.m. on Friday; Hello Dollface and Robby Overfield at 9 p.m. Saturday; and a Japan fund-raiser party featuring Benjamin K, Peter Robot, B-Side and Eioi Djing on Wednesday. Proceeds from the door ($5 donation suggested), silent auction and raffles will help and

Ska Brewing hosts the Purple Crayon, a fund-raiser and silent auction for the Durango Early Learning Center on Saturday. Your $20 ticket gets you dinner from Zia Taqueria and a pint of Ska’s finest.

This week’s Starlight schedule includes Salsa Night with DJ Caliente at 8 p.m. tonight (Thurs., April 14); FAC with a dub rock band from 6 - 9 p.m. Friday; dancing with DJ Double D from 9 ‘til close Friday; more dancing with Peter Robot from 9 ‘til close Saturday; and Musica del Mundo from 9 ‘til close Sunday.

Elsewhere: Freeplay brings local rock to this week’s Ska-B-Q and the Kirk James Blues Band plays the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio at 9 p.m. Saturday.

This week’s Top Shelf list includes my favorite Anthony Bourdain quotes:

- “We know, for instance, that there is a direct, inverse relationship between frequency of family meals and social problems. Bluntly stated, members of families who eat together regularly are statistically less likely to stick up liquor stores, blow up meth labs, give birth to crack babies, commit suicide or make donkey porn. If Little Timmy had just had more meatloaf, he might not have grown up to fill chest freezers with Cub Scout parts.” From Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.

- “They’re professionals at this in Russia, so no matter how many Jell-O shots or Jager shooters you might have downed at college mixers, no matter how good a drinker you might think you are, don’t forget that the Russians – any Russian – can drink you under the table.” From A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.

- “So who the hell, exactly, are these guys, the boys and girls in the trenches? You might get the impression from the specifics of my less than stellar career that all line cooks are wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts and psychopaths. You wouldn’t be too far off base.” From Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.

- “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.” From Kitchen Confidential.

- “PETA doesn’t want stressed animals to be cruelly crowded into sheds, ankle-deep in their own crap, because they don’t want any animals to die — ever — and basically think chickens should, in time, gain the right to vote. I don’t want animals stressed or crowded or treated cruelly or inhumanely because that makes them probably less delicious.” From Medium Raw.

Pass me a pancake, Mandrake? Email me at