PLAYBOY: How would you convert kids to eat healthier when McDonald’s is a normal dinner for many families?
BOURDAIN: I’d scare the living shit out of a kid.
PLAYBOY: How would you scare them?
BOURDAIN: Come on, Ronald McDonald’s a clown! He’s already scary. You don’t tell your kids to read Michael Pollan. They won’t. Instead you lie. I’m not suggesting that one do this, because that could cause liability problems, but what if, hypothetically speaking, one were to suggest that Ronald was implicated in the disappearance and dismemberment of a number of small children?
PLAYBOY: Do you acknowledge that many people like McDonald’s?
BOURDAIN: I understand why people eat at McDonald’s. It’s convenient, it’s fast and it’s relatively cheap. Snobbery is not the way to convince people to stay away. It’s the food you need right now when you want it. You may hate yourself afterward, but you feel that way about crack, too.
PLAYBOY: Will you ever eat a quick burger on the run?
BOURDAIN: I’ll go to In-N-Out. They’re much better. Eric Schlosser writes about it in Fast Food Nation. I’m all for cheap burgers but not so cheap that you use outer parts of the carcass that have potentially been exposed to feces and other contaminants. No extremities.
PLAYBOY: But you’re famous for eating extremities—testicles and tails, for example.
BOURDAIN: Not these. The New York Times said that some of these big meat producers use ammonia. I don’t want ammonia in my burgers. They use it because they are now using outer-exposed areas of the carcass that used to go to make cat food.
PLAYBOY: And yet you’ll eat sheep testicles?
BOURDAIN: Sheep testicles are good, though I don’t like beef testicles that much.
PLAYBOY: Apparently you have also eaten seal eyeballs.
BOURDAIN: Yeah, who wouldn’t?
PLAYBOY: Many of us. It sounds creepy, even the texture.
BOURDAIN: Compared to what, cottage cheese? What do you think cottage cheese looks like to a Thai?
PLAYBOY: How’s iguana? You’ve said that when it isn’t skinned it’s like “gnawing on foreskin.”
BOURDAIN: I’ve had really bad iguana, and I’ve had really pretty good iguana.
PLAYBOY: Where do you the draw the line? What won’t you eat?
BOURDAIN: The only thing I won’t eat is something that’s rotten. But sometimes you’ve got to take one for the chief. If someone’s serving you something and they’re proud and they’ve worked to prepare it, to decline would be a worse offense.
PLAYBOY: Do you get sick sometimes—versions of turista?
BOURDAIN: Two times on this show. That’s seven years.
PLAYBOY: What made you ill?
BOURDAIN: I was eating rotten, unhygienic food with people for whom sanitation was not a priority, or even something imaginable, but they were nice. Both times it was a tribal situation. I’m not going to disrespect my host. It happened in Liberia and Namibia.
PLAYBOY: On the other extreme, the upper classes in the Western world are eating finer and finer food—organic, local, sustainable. Do you support these trends?
BOURDAIN: Those who can afford to make those decisions, great, but I’m definitely not going to get down on anybody who’s taking their family to the Colonel. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have good food. But sure, it’s great. The food can taste better. If something I didn’t care much about before, like a carrot, tastes particularly good, I tend to notice that and appreciate it, but it’s not giving me a boner.
PLAYBOY: What do you remember as the best meals you’ve ever had—high end on one hand and street food on the other?
BOURDAIN: The sushi dinner I had at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo was breathtaking. Sushi at Masa in New York. The difference between high-end sushi—really good sushi—and just good sushi is interplanetary. For street food, pho in Saigon.
PLAYBOY: Are you appalled by the trend toward packaged premade sushi in grocery stores?
BOURDAIN: I’m not against it. When I grew up, a grilled slice of canned ham with a pineapple ring and a maraschino cherry was state of the art, so all this new stuff is good. The more people who eat sushi, even utility sushi, the better.
PLAYBOY: Let’s go back to hamburgers. What’s the best way to make them?
BOURDAIN: I’d go to a butcher and tell him to grind up the shit I want.
PLAYBOY: What cuts?
BOURDAIN: A mix of maybe short rib, neck and maybe some aged rib. Then salt, pepper, that’s it. Grill it rare to medium rare, pull it off and let it rest a little bit, throw it on a damn bun, ketchup—done.
PLAYBOY: Does grass-fed beef taste better than traditional corn fed?
BOURDAIN: No. I’m glad we have the option, though. It’s a positive thing that you’re seeing these people raising free-range, hormone-free, entirely grass-fed beef. I’m glad they’re out there, but I prefer an animal that is free-range, grass-fed and then finished with some healthy feed without drugs. I like a fatty fucking animal.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any barbecuing secrets?
BOURDAIN: I wouldn’t make you barbecue. Or sushi. Those are disciplines in which I would never presume to be an expert. It took me my whole life to get French bistro food right, and I enjoy making Italian food. I’m not so arrogant as to ever do barbecue, sushi or pho.
PLAYBOY: What’s the best barbeque you’ve ever had?
BOURDAIN: If I was looking for brisket, ribs, the burnt ends, I’d go to Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City. If I wanted a whole hog, I’d go to Mitchell’s in North Carolina.