September 21, 2018

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A cook's tour

Take a culinary journey through Winnipeg spots that would have caught the eye of a curious Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, who died by suicide on June 8, not only changed the way we eat. He changed the way we talk, write and think about eating.

The American chef, writer and much-travelled TV host championed the democratization of food, with his celebration of cheap eats and street food. He also asked diners to think about what might be happening behind restaurants’ kitchen doors, where the hard, hot work of cooking was done, often by the labour of immigrants. “If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down,” Bourdain said in 2017.

While Bourdain often hobnobbed with famous chefs, rhapsodizing over a luxurious, multi-course meal prepared by Michelin-starred Paul Bocuse, for example, he was also interested in “la cuisine de maman,” the simple, straight-up food that (mostly) women cook every day for their families.

Bourdain understood that food is connected — intimately — with culture, with history, with politics. “I like delicious food,” he said.

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Anthony Bourdain, who died by suicide on June 8, not only changed the way we eat. He changed the way we talk, write and think about eating.

Anthony Bourdain championed the democratization of food, with his celebration of cheap eats and street food. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Anthony Bourdain championed the democratization of food, with his celebration of cheap eats and street food. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

The American chef, writer and much-travelled TV host championed the democratization of food, with his celebration of cheap eats and street food. He also asked diners to think about what might be happening behind restaurants’ kitchen doors, where the hard, hot work of cooking was done, often by the labour of immigrants. "If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down," Bourdain said in 2017.

While Bourdain often hobnobbed with famous chefs, rhapsodizing over a luxurious, multi-course meal prepared by Michelin-starred Paul Bocuse, for example, he was also interested in "la cuisine de maman," the simple, straight-up food that (mostly) women cook every day for their families.

Bourdain understood that food is connected — intimately — with culture, with history, with politics. "I like delicious food," he said.

Local chefs announce mental-health fundraising dinner in Bourdain's honour

On Wednesday, Winnipeg chefs Mandel Hitzer (Deer + Almond) and Adam Donnelly (Segovia) announced a culinary fundraiser, Remembering Anthony Bourdain, to honour the late chef/writer/TV personality.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg chefs Mandel Hitzer (Deer + Almond) and Adam Donnelly (Segovia) announced a culinary fundraiser, Remembering Anthony Bourdain, to honour the late chef/writer/TV personality.

The six-course dinner at The Forks (exact location TBA) on July 3 at 6:30 p.m. will feature a menu inspired by Bourdain, the host of CNN culinary travel show Parts Unknown.

Speakers will include the founder of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, Michael Redhead Champagne, as well as others to be announced. All proceeds will go to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

"I read Kitchen Confidential before I became a chef and it made me think, 'Hey, maybe there's something there for me," Donnelly said, referring to Bourdain's 2000 gritty, behind-the-scenes look at restaurant work.

Though Bourdain had been open about his alcohol use and past drug abuse — common vices in the restaurant industry — he also struggled with depression, about which he was not as forthcoming.

"His death was so sudden and unexpected; it still doesn't feel real," Donnelly said after announcing the fundraiser at Deer + Almond in the Exchange District.

"It shows that anybody can be suffering. We just trying to show awareness that if you're feeling like that, you might not reach out all the time. So look around you, with the people that you care about or who work for you, to see the signs and ask if they're OK."

Dr. Peter Smith, national CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, agreed.

"What's amazing about these tragedies of loss is sometimes it's an opportunity for people to reflect and connect to the issue," he said. "You hear a lot of people saying, 'That person had it all; how could this happen?'

"And I think that it's a reminder to us that depression and despair, they don't discriminate by postal code or class. No one is immune."

Smith stressed that while celebrity deaths elicit a strong response, it's important to remember people are facing similar mental-health challenges across Canada.

"We have to pay attention to the kids we're losing every day in northern communities," he said.

Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association provides a range of services and programs tailored to specific communities. There are more than 5,000 staff members aided by more than 11,000 volunteers at 330 locations in every Canadian province.

In Manitoba, programs include Bounce Back, which teaches effective skills to overcome depression or anxiety, and consulting services to help employers create and sustain a psychologically healthy workplace.

"There are industries where it's definitely not OK to reach out for help," said Smith, who is a clinical psychologist.

"The important thing about what Mandel and Adam are doing is that it's a call to action. They want to raise awareness — and they want to raise funds; we're grateful to be the recipient — but they're raising awareness about their own work culture and the need to shift it.

"That's where we're seeing societal change, when leaders are standing up and saying, 'We acknowledge there's an issue and we want to make a change.' Demonstrating that leadership can have a huge impact on their own teams, but also the culinary scene in Canada."

Tickets for Remembering Anthony Bourdain are $100 (plus tax) at raw-almond.com.

"But I’m just as interested in who’s cooking it and why." He travelled to hot spots like Myanmar, Congo and Iraq, wanting viewers to see beyond news headlines of conflict and war. In North American cities like New Orleans and Houston, he went beyond the usual picturesque tourist narratives to explore issues of racial division and urban renewal.

He liked genuine food but was wary about the idea of "authenticity," realizing that it can easily slip into hipster fetishization. He was skeptical about the craft beer craze, for instance, saying he refused to walk 10 blocks to a microbrewery for "some f—ing Mumford and Sons IPA."

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Where would you have taken Anthony Bourdain to dine in Manitoba? Email us at arts@freepress.mb.ca. We'll share your picks in a future article.

He made his name with the 2000 tell-all book Kitchen Confidential, which exposed the seamy, steamy underworld of restaurants. Romanticizing a life of drugs, burn scars, machismo and masochism, he kick-started the 21st-century bad-boy celebrity-chef phenomenon. "Food is good when it’s the expression of a chef’s sociopathic, monomaniacal personal vision," he once wrote.

But as the #MeToo movement challenged entrenched power structures and toxic workplaces, Bourdain reckoned publicly with his contribution to what he called "meathead" kitchen culture.

I’m sure food-loving Winnipeggers all have an idea of a meal they would have liked to share with Bourdain, whose approach to food was endlessly open and curious. Here are a few possibilities — not the fanciest joints in town but a cook’s tour of honest, modest food:

BMC Market’s Mexican taqueria has branched out to a second location.</p></p>

BMC Market’s Mexican taqueria has branched out to a second location.

BMC Market (722 Osborne St.): This small, family-run Mexican taqueria does just a few things but does them well, with crazy-cheap tacos made with house-made corn tortillas. Now with a second location at 1113 Henderson Hwy.

Pho Hoang (794 Sargent Ave., with a Portage Avenue location due to open soon): Bourdain loved Vietnam — he once considered settling in the Da Nang area — and he loved Vietnamese cooking, with its clear, fresh flavours and complex, contrasting textures.

Here in Winnipeg, some of the best Vietnamese food is at Pho Hoang. Try the brisket pho, with its long-and-slow-simmered broth.

Les Saj, Middle Eastern on St. James features the Mezza platter is an appetizer platter. It can include homemade humus, falafel balls as well as dips, fries and veggies. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Les Saj, Middle Eastern on St. James features the Mezza platter is an appetizer platter. It can include homemade humus, falafel balls as well as dips, fries and veggies. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Les Saj (1038 St. James St.): This casual café specializes in dishes made from saj bread, in which dough is stretched paper-thin and cooked over a heated dome, a simple technology that goes back thousands of years.

With a menu drawing on Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian influences, Les Saj is part of a recent wave of Middle Eastern restos in Winnipeg, many staffed by new Canadians and refugees.

Cho Ichi Ramen (1151 Pembina Hwy.): Bourdain admired singular concentration on one thing, and this recently opened Fort Garry spot is all about Tampopo-like devotion to ramen — with rich broth, springy noodles and a few key add-ins.

Feast's bison burger and stuffed green pepper with bison soup. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Feast's bison burger and stuffed green pepper with bison soup. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Feast Café Bistro (587 Ellice Ave.): Bourdain was interested in food traditions rooted in local history.

It doesn’t get much more rooted than this West End neighbourhood hub, which serves modern dishes based on First Nations ingredients, like a tasty bison and bannock burger.

The North End Special at The New Alycia’s. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

The North End Special at The New Alycia’s. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Alycia’s (48 Albert St.): After a recent Winnipeg re-opening, you can now get a North End Special (a heaping plate of Ukrainian comfort food with perogies, cabbage rolls and kielbasa) at the old Royal Albert. That’s a double dose of Winnipeg nostalgia.

Sam Po Dim Sum (277 Rupert Ave.): A Chinatown favourite for hot, fresh, made-to-order dim sum. Taste the scallop and shrimp dumpling with coriander.

The deluxe double burger at VJ's Drive Inn. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

The deluxe double burger at VJ's Drive Inn. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

VJ’s Drive Inn (170 Main St.): Bourdain once dissed California chef and farm-to-table food activist Alice Waters, comparing her purist rejection of junk food to the ideological fanaticism of the Khmer Rouge. (A bit harsh, maybe.)

He often championed diners and dives, and this iconic Winnipeg drive-in would have made him happy. The Fatboy-style Special hamburgers are magnificently messy with chili sauce and sour pickle, the fries are great, and the lemon-lime shake is back. Remember, cash only!

-Alison Gillmor

No reservations about these drink spots

A bottle of Tolaini Al Passo, Italian wine from the Tuscany region, at 529 Wellington. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

A bottle of Tolaini Al Passo, Italian wine from the Tuscany region, at 529 Wellington. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

When it comes to finding a great glass of wine in Winnipeg, you could do 529 Wellington and pore through its impressive, Biblical-sized list of treats and treasures while hobnobbing with Winnipeg’s social elite, but for a more focused, killer selection of vino, those in the know go to Segovia (484 Stradbrook Ave.).

The Spanish-heavy wine list in an intimate setting brings all manner of fizzy cavas, fresh whites, rustic reds and a great selection of sherry — that often-overlooked drink often thought of as grandma’s sweet-toothed favourite but when made in a dry style brings flavours of the salty sea air of the Mediterranean.

The Yellow Dog on Donald Street features beer from the best of local producers.</p>

The Yellow Dog on Donald Street features beer from the best of local producers.

There’s nothing like a cold beer to cut through a long day of exploring the city’s best eats. And while some prefer the live music, darts and two floors of countless taps at the King’s Head Pub (120 King St.), I like my beer served up at the Yellow Dog (386 Donald St.).

Sure, they don’t have 500 taps featuring dozens of cloudy IPAs, but what they are pouring brings together the best of local producers — and you’re less likely to be punctured by sharp, flying pointy things.

It’s also right around the corner from the historic Burton Cummings Theatre, and has seen its fair share of singers of all stripes stop in for a cold one.

Prohibition (1011 Pembina Hwy.) is the latest in the speakeasy-style lounge to join Winnipeg’s burgeoning craft cocktail scene. Go through an unassuming door, down some stairs, and it’s a cocktail lover’s delight. But for a real throwback at cocktail hour, there’s only one place to go: Rae & Jerry’s (1405 Portage Ave.).

Rae & Jerry’s on Portage Avenue is the place to go for a real throwback to cocktail hour.</p>

Rae & Jerry’s on Portage Avenue is the place to go for a real throwback to cocktail hour.

Since 1957, this Winnipeg institution has been serving up old-school steaks and other large hunks of meat, and it still looks the same as it always has (you’ll be forgiven if you scan the room for signs of Don Draper and company).

But get comfy in the red leather and mirror-clad lounge for the real fun. Their martinis are strong, properly made and dangerously inexpensive, and their selection of cocktails is probably as old as the place itself, but they know what they do and they do it right.

-Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

Read full biography

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

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