The Anatomical Theater Of Anthony Bourdain

A pulling back of skin and forceps on flesh reveal an inner world of the human body in Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.  Anatomy lessons entertained curious spectators throughout Europe from the sixteenth into the nineteenth century.  Such spectacles danced the edge of the sacred and profane as worlds under the skin appeared under light of scientific investigation.  Worlds as fascinating as the “New World” of the Americas and the new world of circumnavigating the globe.  Consider two lovers in John Donne’s poem “The Good Morrow” discovering a world not across an ocean, but close by, “Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone, / Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown, / Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.”  And in this one world, many parts.  Many.


The many cuts into a Medieval “Wound Man” from a late 15th century manuscript begin our journey into a human being, a human body  which lives and dies as a world of heart and stomach; a world created out of dust in Christianity, Islam and Judaism; in the words of Rene Descartes “that assemblage of limbs we call the human body;” in the Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens, a world of the body rolls in well-fed flesh, happy with its plumpness;


fMRIs map the brain in blue, orange and yellow; a man’s forearm or a woman’s ankle may become a fetish, an erotic talisman.  And yet with all this specificity with human brains and legs, let’s remember pigs, sheep, cows and many other animals share similar anatomical structures.  As for eating, consider for several hundred years Europeans ingested human bones, blood and fat as remedies for illnesses.


Consider how the world of the human body is dissected and put back together through the stories we tell about ourselves and others. The human body is not what it seems, and it seems to be everything. How do art and science help create the human body we perceive and live with, while at the same time allowing us to analyze and query that very making?  Yes.  A question worth asking, but I’m veering off in this maze through an already mentioned corridor where humans and animals resemble each other in their inner worlds.


Look inside to view the “pluck” of heart, liver and lungs.  Look inside the sheep before preparing haggis.


A pudding of heart, lungs, liver, and kidney fat cooked in the stomach.  Words bear similarity between a human anatomical illustration and a recipe for a sheep; or for that matter, other animals as well.  In celebration of the life and work of Anthony Bourdain, let’s travel a bit further down this part of this maze of body parts and conduct a tour of The Anatomical Theater of Anthony Bourdain.

Grilled pig tail, sausage, brain, and raw blood soup.  Bourdain’s appetite takes in many parts without a thought, but brain, raw blood and shit has him pause; and yet, . . . “utterly delicious.”  Cooking with all the inner organs of animals appears throughout the world with offal dishes in England, Germany, Russia, China, Peru, Mexico, the States, and many others, really all culinary regions have their use of inner organs; even though, the Great Western Diet has diminished our awareness and enjoyment of these dishes.  Time for more head, more liver.

Relish the glory of “hot, sizzling pig face” served with cold beer and a table-full of happy people.  Cheeks, snout, ears, liver and belly simmered, chopped and fried with chili peppers, limes, eggs, onion and mayo.  Oh my, tasty.  Let’s jump across the world and continue to survey the outer and inner worlds of the pig.

Smoked pig ears, slaw, mustard, hot sauce and bun.  The parts no one wants mean cheap, good, sustainable, whole animal cooking and eating.  These dishes round the world focusing on what’s shunned or thrown away often become the revered meal of a country or region–feijoada, haggis, oxtail stew, morcilla.

Back alleys of Beijing offer the good stuff–rendered sheep fat eaten with chopsticks–food for pigs and humans; followed by cow and sheep stomachs cut up, boiling salted water, then plated and eaten with in a sesame pepper sauce.  Delicious.  Note especially the similar anatomical structure of human and pig, the eating of pig by humans, the eating of pig by humans and pigs.  Round and round we go.

Parts, especially chicken parts as in chicken wings with Bourdain means discussing the world.  He travels for food, sure, but he loves food and politics and philosophy in countries challenged by civil strife, poverty and war.  Many of these countries are meeting points for various cultures and their cuisines.  And yes, he dishes out on Putin and the glory of Spicy Chicken Wings.

Returning to the Mississippi Delta for classic Soul Food, again with an emphasis on the “throw away” with pig feet, ears, tail, bones and on and on.  Mixing greens, veg and the stock and sauce enriched by calcium.  Bourdain’s meals round the world demonstrate all shared, how we all sit down with pig feet, how we all may talk with each other over such dishes.  And then, there’s Quebec with David McMillan and Frédéric Morin of Joe Beef.

The ultimate cut from inside on the ultimate location, seared foie gras perched on top of potato puree and wine, lots of wine, and cheese, lots of cheese, cuban cigars and Gateau Magellan over a frozen lake in Quebec.  Throughout the various animal organs and parts, throughout discussions of oppression in the world, playfulness and delight in taste grounds Anthony Bourdain’s life; a jubilance with storytelling and the tactile pleasures of hands wringing lemon grass in pig’s blood and fine dining plates set on a small wood table.   Bourdain’s unrestrained joy meeting fellow travelers in the lands of pluck. Bon Appétit!



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