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The Globe and Mail

Anthony Bourdain on his new cookbook and his unorthodox family

Anthony Bourdain is bringing it all back home in his new cookbook, Appetites, his first in a decade. "These are the dishes I like to eat and that I like to feed my family and friends," he writes in the book's introduction. The Globe and Mail sat down with the chef, author, former bad boy and TV star to discuss how fatherhood has changed his attitude toward brunch.

What were your parents like as cooks when you were growing up?

My mom was a decent cook, particularly for the time. Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking was on top of the refrigerator. When company came over she would refer to that. I remember well that the smell of Coquilles St.-Jacques, scallops and mushrooms with white wine meant company were coming.

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Your co-author has described Appetites as a "dysfunctional family cookbook." Could you explain that?

It's not a normal family. My wife is a martial artist who trains eight, nine hours a day. I travel 250 days a year. It's not a Norman Rockwell family. It kind of never was. But compared to the rest of my life, it's as normal as I've ever had.

How has fatherhood changed your relationship to cooking?

When you're cooking for customers it's a profession. You need to have an understanding of what makes people happy, but it's a cold-blooded enterprise. Whereas when you're cooking for a little girl and her friends, it really matters if she's happy. That's a soft, impressionable young mind. You want her to feel loved and you want to be loved in return for everything that you cook.

It sounds like you never much loved brunch as a pro but that's changed now that you're a father.

I hated brunch. No matter how badly I screwed up in my life or how unemployable I was, I could always get a job as a brunch cook because nobody wants to do brunch. Few people are good at it. I would find myself cooking these massive brunches on weekends, often for cash off the books, often under another name. So for me the smell of eggs cooking and French toast and home fries in the oven was always the smell of shame and defeat and humiliation.

That's changed now that I've become a dad. My daughter likes it when I make her pancakes. It's a great daddy-daughter moment. When she has friends stay over for a sleepover party, I'm doing a whole pancake buffet. "Your choice, kids, I'm the world's best dad!"

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If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would you say?

If I went back in time to talk to myself at age 22 or age 30 and I laid out exactly, this is what is going to happen, dude, I don't think I would have listened. I would have given myself a stiff middle finger.

Is there that one thing that you haven't done yet that if you don't get around to doing it you'll never forgive yourself?

I've been trying to do a show with Keith Richards for some time. We've almost managed to pull it off on at least one occasion. He's really into British naval history. Big reader. Very literate guy, very thoughtful, very smart. Very fun guy to be around, and not for the reasons that you'd think.

What do you look for when you go out for dinner?

I just want to connect with food in an emotional way. I don't want to think critically at all. I think that's true of all chefs when they go out to eat.

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Do you have any favourite restaurants in Canada?

I have eaten at Au Pied de Cochon and think the world of it. He's [chef Martin Picard] a titanic figure in Canadian cuisine and in world gastronomy. I think Fred [Morin] and Dave [McMillan] at Joe Beef are amazing. The Black Hoof here in Toronto. I like the food, I like the restaurant and I like what she [owner Jen Agg] has to say. I like [her] as an observer of the scene, as a social critic, as a leader. I think what she has to say is really terrific.

What's the worst decision you've ever made?

Making The Layover. I hated that series. It really made me unhappy. It almost killed me. If you look at me in the footage – I've never watched an entire episode – I'm puffy, bloated, filled with self-loathing, miserable, hungover, drunk, sick. If you're going to do something as undignified as making television it should be fun, and that was not fun.

What was the best decision you've ever made?

Having a child. That's worked out okay so far.

What is success to you now?

Look, I can only judge having lived on the verge of failure most of my life. Success is freedom of movement. Success is whatever amount of time you find yourself with. In my case, I guess it means the ability to go where I want and tell stories any way I want to tell them. It's a rather extraordinary thing. In a larger way, I guess the more time you find yourself without feeling it necessary to wear shoes, that would probably be success. I haven't quite reached that point yet. If I never had to wear pants I think that would probably be the height of success.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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