The late Anthony Bourdain set great store by authenticity. Not in the fussy, no-fun sense of demanding that every ingredient be somehow pure but rather the accuracy of the whole, the overall credibility that unites great fine-dining restaurants with the tastiest stalls at the night market. In Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, Bourdain the French chef delivers a secular sermon on classic bistro cooking that expresses his deepest convictions about what makes food authentic.
Bourdain’s advice on food prep — the various peeling, slicing, and organizational tasks that must be accomplished before one fires up the stove — is titled “The Three Stages of Wisdom.” Throughout the book there is the implicit message that cooking responsibly and eating well serve the ultimate goal of inner peace and happiness. The route to success in life begins with a properly arranged mise en place, one in which, as Bourdain puts it, “You know where everything is. You know how much you have. (The right amount, of course.) As a result, your mind is similarly arranged, rested, and ready to cook — a perfect mirror of your work area.”
The fact that this simple chef’s credo was not always borne out by experience shouldn’t put us off the pursuit of excellence and authenticity in all things, not just cooking. As we organize the world around us, so we hope that our minds will come to reflect that order. Rest in peace, Anthony; you have prepped us well.