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Bourdain and His Impact on Me


Like so many people across the world, I am still processing Anthony Bourdain’s untimely death. Honestly, I feel a little strange to be mourning someone I never met. It bothers me that I am so sad about a celebrity’s passing. Bourdain was not just a celebrity, but a kind of ambassador to all nations, reaching out and breaking bread to make a deeper human connection with all cultures and ethnicities. A role that he never initially intended to play, and quite possibly took its toll on him.

I was much more a follower of Anthony Bourdain long before Parts Unknown. Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the show that much because I thought it got too serious. I preferred the lighter, more food-centric shows like No Reservations and The Layover. But I first became an AB fan when I saw his first TV show on Food Network called A Cook’s Tour. The book of the same name was a follow up of Bourdain’s wildly successful Kitchen ConfidentialThe A Cook’s Tour TV show was born when in addition to an advance from his publisher, Food Network execs threw money into the ring for permission to follow Bourdain around with a camera crew and film his travels. Bourdain reluctantly agreed to allow Food Network do their thing. The first time I saw the show I was hooked. I also bought the book A Cook’s Tour, then I quickly circled back to pick up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. I wanted to read everything Anthony Bourdain wrote, including his first two novels Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. Never before had I read an author’s work that made me chuckle out loud so many times, while opening my eyes to faraway places and different cultures.

Anthony Bourdain made such an impression on me and made me excited to see the world outside of the small town of Franklin, Ohio (my hometown). Even though he was no longer working at Les Halles, I traveled to New York in 2002 to dine at the restaurant. I also tried Dim Sum for the first time in Chinatown (though I skipped the chicken feet that time). I went to Jacques Torres Chocolate. I was all of a sudden a developing (though I loathe the word) “foodie.” I was ready to open my mind to go beyond American staples. I wanted to experience different cuisines and regional specialties, and try dishes you can only get if you go to THAT particular restaurant. Like Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn. BEFORE you could order the Devils Food Cheesecake online. 🙂

The New York trip was not just because of Bourdain, but a big thanks to a long-time friend of mine who had moved to New York much earlier and was able to curate the perfect culinary tour for me during my visit. But Bourdain definitely influenced me to try things I would not know if I liked or not.

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”
-Anthony Bourdain

After the excitement of the New York trip I was ready to leave Ohio. Or at least travel more, but pretty much that was the beginning of the end for me in Franklin. In 2003, I went to Boston, Washington D.C., and to Honolulu, as well as San Francisco, the Napa Valley, and to the city I would eventually call home: Sacramento.

Sacramento? Hey, it is close to San Francisco and to Napa Valley, two cities I love but could not afford to live in at the time. Not to worry, there would be several jaunts to the City and to Napa or Yountville after I started this blog (formerly at cakegrrl.blogspot.com). There were also restaurants of all cuisines to be found right in Sacramento. I was beyond excited. Right away I found a dim sum place, a Persian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean… I was hungry for it all. I also fell in love with wine around the same time and frequently visited regions like Amador and El Dorado in addition to my beloved Napa to try all the wines I could and then report back on my blog. My life would never be the same again.

And all the while I lived vicariously through THE travel guru, Anthony Bourdain, eventually tuning in to No Reservations in 2005 and sometimes downloading the episodes to watch on my computer in patches when I did not have a TV or cable. I remember thinking, “God this guy is so cool and so funny, down to Earth and no BS–of all celebrities, he’s the one I would like to meet someday.”

In September of 2010, Anthony Bourdain came to Sacramento and I was lucky enough to see his show as a media guest with pretty decent seats. During the show (towards the end) there was a small audience Q & A session, but I felt like I would not even be close to coming up with an interesting (or original) enough question for AB, so I sat cringing and embarrassed for others as they asked some really dumb stuff. I decided that yes, it would be cool to meet him (but not be cool to act like almost everyone else in this auditorium), so I decided I would see him again on TV, and my guest and I left after the show instead of creeping outside the venue. Can you imagine how many people did this to him? Awkward for everyone involved, so no thanks. 🙂

In 2013, local (Sacramento) chef Adam Pechal appeared with Bourdain on The Taste. I’m slightly jealous not only because he has a picture together with him, but because he got to cook for AB. Via Facebook, Pechal is in the process of planning an event to honor Bourdain that will take place closer to the end of summer/beginning of fall and the proceeds will be donated to a charity (most likely a suicide prevention organization). I will definitely share with readers here when I find out full details.

The first time I saw Parts Unknown, I happened to also be traveling. My husband and I were in Carlsbad, California for a race, and I tuned into the show when were came back from dinner that Sunday evening. It was the first episode, and I was eager to see the new show. I didn’t fully understand the concept and I was surprised the show was different and a little darker, as AB began traveling to places that had been/still are going through poverty, war, and overall turbulent times. I confess I had never really given Myanmar a second thought, and never considered Libya on my bucket list of travel destinations. I would occasionally tune in to some episodes that featured places I did want to visit such as Spain and Las Vegas (which is one of my favorite places in the world). I missed a great deal of Parts Unknown throughout its 11 season run, and now thanks to Netflix deciding to keep the show on its roster for the foreseeable future, I can go back and enjoy each one from the beginning (LINK HERE).

I thought Anthony Bourdain would be around forever, and I guess that’s why I am so sad. Half asleep on the morning of June 8th, waking up to turn off my alarm on my iPhone and then peering into it for the latest news. This time it was “RIP Anthony Bourdain.” What? How did this even happen!? How could he do this? What a nightmare. Why? I can’t imagine where he was in his mind at the time, I can only say I am sorry he was feeling insurmountable pain. I am sorry he felt so alone.

Details are still emerging on his death and the toxicology report has come out, but none of the TMZ stories have made me feel any better or more resolved. My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, his coworkers, and anyone who had the pleasure of meeting Bourdain. The world has lost an iconic storyteller, but those close to him have lost a son, a father, a brother, a spouse, a comrade.

The time we have on Earth is so precious and finite. Hug the ones you love tightly and remind them how much they mean to you. Make people feel like they matter, even if it’s your server or your barista. If you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents alive, call him/her/them, you’re probably overdue for a hello. Tonight, Andy and I get to meet some friends for drinks/dinner at a place I haven’t been to in ages, and that makes me so happy. I’m also buying this Zamir Vodka Tshirt for myself so that I too, can spread peace through the message of vodka!

Now I am gonna go watch some more Parts Unknown episodes. I am looking forward to the future and traveling with my husband as much as possible. Besides our annual trip to Mexico, Greece and Spain are definitely getting closer to happening, and thinking about Spanish pintxos makes me giddy. This Tony’s 13 Things I Won’t Leave Home Without made me smile.

Anthony Bourdain, thank you for your contribution to the world. May we all be a little less ignorant about/afraid of people who don’t look or live the same as us.

Photo credit: Travel Channel website, Mozambique journal.

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My Audition for Cupcake Wars… and things that were edited out of my audition… ;)

In February of this year, I applied to a television show on Food Network called Cupcake Wars. I was unemployed at the time and was supplementing my income by baking treats on the side. I figured an appearance on Cupcake Wars would be just what I needed to launch my career and perhaps even buy a food truck (or at least invest the money in my baking business). I had big plans. Paint the sucker pink and drive around to all the sugar fiends in Sacramento just as addicted to buttercream as I was!

Then there was my little weight problem. By March of this year, I was tipping the scales at 150ish. (I am 5’1″). Though this is not an obese number by any means, this was heavier than I had ever been since my early twenties. The tipping point is when I got in my Smart car and the tires went flat. JUST KIDDING! It was when I couldn’t FIT into anything but TWO dresses in my closet… Things had to change and fast.

I decided I should stop baking completely. I needed to break up with sugar. It was fun while it lasted. I turned down at least 40-50 people requesting cakes or wanting me to make food for their event or fundraiser. I have to tell you it was really hard for me to say no, but I just didn’t want the temptation to distract me from my path–The path to looking RIDICULOUS!! (see Urban Dictionary definition #2).

I began a style of eating called Paleo, the Paleo diet encourages taking in meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts and eating to satiety. I cut out all refined foods, and mostly anything that comes from a box.
I combined this with an exercise routine I kind of just formed myself. I call it ghetto crossfit. The exercise routine involves hard cardio for short intervals, followed by resistance training that incorporates the entire body in the movements, followed by more hard cardio. In the fitness world, this is also referred to as HIIT or high intensity interval training. I listened to several podcasts to learn as much as I could about nutrition and really, to get my head right. To get me thinking positively about myself. I really love Jillian Michaels, Latest in Paleo with Angelo Coppola, Mark Sisson’s website, and more recently there is an Everyday Paleo Podcast (Sarah Fragoso and Chrissy Gower) and Being Primal TV (Dean Dwyer).

I feel like I have only just begun to live!! I can’t believe I did it all over again and lost the weight and kicked the sugar! I am in the best shape of my life thanks to the Paleo diet and proper nutrition combined with the right amount of exercise at the right intensity and frequency.

So, last week, I got a call from Food Network. And when Food Network calls, you pick up! It was a casting agent from Cupcake Wars. He said he received my application from a few months ago, and they wanted to invite me to submit a video application. Wow. But I didn’t really bake anymore. Hmmm… what to do? I wanted this chance to prove myself, to represent Sacramento, a city I love so much… If I was going to bake again, I wanted to do it my way. 

Everything I made for the audition was Paleo. Gluten-free, no refined sugars. All organic ingredients, down to the coconut oil and the small amount of (clarified) butter I used for fat.
I made Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Avocado and Honey Frosting, a Chocolate Cabernet Cupcake with Chocolate Date Filling and Chocolate Ganache Frosting, and a Vanilla Almond Cake with Chocolate Almond Butter Frosting. All the cakes were sweetened with honey or stevia, or even just the dates and their natural sweetness. The “flour” in the cakes was either almond or coconut or a combo of both. And they all turned out really well, as this was my first attempt at gluten-free baking without a gluten-free mix. I love that. I didn’t put ANYTHING in those treats that was a chemical or had a preservative. There were no food colorings or dyes used. There were no trans fats. Just all REAL food. When you eat REAL food with real fats, it gives you genuine energy and not a sugar high. You stay fuller longer. 

I recruited someone to work with me that I had worked with before, Moriah Piper, of Moriah’s Marvelous Cakes. I felt she would make a great team member if I were selected for the show.
Together we devised a few cupcakes that stuck to my organic, local theme, even though they contained sugar. People should have a choice, even though I feel really strongly about not wanting to sell a treat I would not eat myself. 😉

Here are some pictures from the audition taken by Debbie Cunningham:
  Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Avocado and Honey Frosting
Chocolate Cabernet Cake “Kettlebells” with Date Filling and Chocolate Ganache Frosting

And now the audition itself! It was shot and edited by Marsh Wildman. There is a cameo at the end by the wonderful Scott Fenner, a local chef recently profiled in the Sacramento Bee. The video was shot at House Kitchen & Bar (thank you Chris Nestor). And all of the ingredients I used to make the cupcakes came from Nugget Market in Roseville.

If you could watch this and “like” the video on You Tube, share it with your friends, leave a comment, etc… I would be so very happy!

UPDATE!! Here is the new video!!

Thank you to Donahue Photography 😀