Watch Obama Discuss Fatherhood Over Noodles With Anthony Bourdain
And the US President shares what he makes when he's at home.
BY Kate Storey | Sep 17, 2016 | Food & Drink
Over some Bún chả in Hanoi, Vietnam, earlier this year, Anthony Bourdain admitted to President Barack Obama, "My daughter is eight, and she put ketchup on eggs the other day, and I didn't know what to do."
Obama laughed and responded, "I think you just gotta say, You know what? That's not acceptable."
Bourdain admits, however, the cuisine he serves up with his family in his New York home is far less exotic than what we see him eat on TV; his mainstays are mac and cheese, Carbonara, meatballs.
Bourdain is releasing his first cookbook in 10 years, Appetites, on October 25, and it's packed with surprisingly practical meals and cooking advice. "It's a reflection of the way I've been cooking for the last nine years or so," he says.
Ahead of his book launch and the new season of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which premieres Sept 25 with the Obama episode, Esquire talked to Bourdain about the President, comfort food, and his daughter's ace knife skills.
ESQUIRE: Was there a lot of pressure picking a place to take President Obama to eat?
Anthony Bourdain: I think the pressure was on the Secret Service more than me. I mean, this was a tight, not particularly clean, family-run restaurant with low plastic stools on the second floor. It was a real leap of faith on the part of the people around the President—pretty heroic of the Secret Service, who I'm sure would've been happier in a secure banquet room, you know?
The President was very loose, very unconcerned. We didn't receive any briefing or guidance or anything like that from the network or the White House as far as what we'd talk about or what we should or shouldn't do. He really put everyone at ease. He turned to the camera crew at one point, and he said, "Do you guys eat? Do you get some of this? Does this guy feed you?" Nobody ever asks that of the camera crew.
ESQ: Were you pretty set on taking him somewhere authentic?
AB: I said, "That's what we do, that's what we should do." I'm the wrong person to be conducting a sit-down interview in a secure location that's outside of what I ordinarily do. That would be weird—I'm not qualified to do it, it wouldn't be interesting. And I thought he'd enjoy it, and he did.
ESQ: What was the atmosphere like? Were people excited to have him there?
AB: No one knew he was coming. Outside of a small circle of people, nobody knew this was going to happen. It was a closely held secret at the White House; CNN didn't know, the camera people didn't know, no one knew until the last possible minute. Afterwards, all of the people in the background kinda freaked and made sure they got pictures and talked to the President, and he was very generous with his time.
What happened the next day was really unanticipated. I'm not recognised in the street by the Vietnamese, but there were photos in the paper, so I was recognised the following week a lot. They'd see the tattoos on my arms and look at me and say, "Mr Bún chả !" They would come up to me absolutely in tears, thrilled that the President had chosen to eat Bún chả, which is a specifically Hanoian thing, that he wasn't eating at a formal banquet. Someone said to me [they] would've expected spring rolls or pho. But to see him eat Bún chả—they were enormously proud and moved.
ESQ: How long did you have to keep it a secret?
AB: A year. The White House reached out to us, and when we heard about the Southeast Asia wing [of the President's trip], they told us in confidence that Vietnam would be one of the stops, and the matter was settled as far as I was concerned.
Low plastic stool, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer. pic.twitter.com/KgC3VIEPQr— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) May 23, 2016
ESQ: Were you surprised by the President's answer when you asked, "As a Chicagoan, is ketchup on a hot dog ever acceptable?"
AB: His answer is reflective of a guy who is no longer running for office. I think that before his first term he would have had to consider the demographics. You know, a lot of people put ketchup on hot dogs. But as a Chicagoan, I thought maybe he'd be ready for a definitive answer, and he didn't think about it for a second. He was like, "No. Never."
ESQ: His response to you daughter putting ketchup on her eggs was great. Is your daughter adventurous with food?
AB: Yes! And I'm really proud of it because it's not something I ever tried to do. The last thing you should ever try to do is to make your child a foodie. Nothing could be more annoying or futile. I always ordered her whatever she wanted, so if she wanted grilled cheese or pasta with butter, I was happy to give it to her. But I never dared say, "Honey, you should try this, it's good," because if my parents did that to me, of course I'd be like, "Oh God, no." But she'd reach out for stuff and over time would surprise me by showing a real liking to things like raw oysters. She loves foie gras and demands it for her birthday. She likes spicy food, salty little fish, stinky cheese. But, you know, she's an Italian kid, so she comes with an advantage.
ESQ: What's your daughter's favourite dish that you make at home?
AB: She likes very much when I make a good pasta dish like pasta Carbonara or spaghetti and meatballs. She loves making ratatouille, I suspect because she likes to dazzle me and terrify me with her knife work.
The last thing you should ever try to do is to make your child a foodie. Nothing could be more annoying or futile.
ESQ: Is she good?
AB: She is very good, very determined. She likes to make sure that her dice is exactly right. Good knife work with a little girl is a must. Of course, I'm just in mortal terror to see her wielding a big, razor-sharp chef's knife. But she's very precise and, more than anything else, she's just determined to get it right. She wouldn't like it if I was to step in and say, "Let me do it, honey." That would really piss her off.
ESQ: Do you have a go-to dish for having guests over?
AB: No, I try to change it up there.
ESQ: Does your wife, Ottavia, have a favourite dish of yours?
AB: She's always in [Jiu-Jitsu] training, so she doesn't eat carbs. I take a giant rib steak on the bone, a côte de boeuf or a fiorentina, salt, no pepper, no sides, no sauce—just a big hunk of rare meat. You know, she's actually pretty easy—it's like feeding a wolf or Chuck Norris.
ESQ: How often do you have a meal during your travels and then try to recreate it at home?
AB: Almost never. The few meals that I've encountered on the road that I felt like I could and should recreate in the cookbook are really accessible and really easy. The Korean army stew is something anyone can make in a college dorm room. Other than that, I try to stay within a cooking tradition I'm comfortable with.
ESQ: Why now for a cookbook?
AB: It's a reflection of the way I've been cooking for the last nine years or so. I've been out of the restaurant business for 15, 16 years. This is what I cook lately.
From: Esquire US.