The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 10, No. 3

Ready for My Close-Up

by Anthony Bourdain

The morning news anchor is choking. Her cohost, the guy with the perfect hair, is covering his mouth, trying not to cough. The camera people, director, and even the weather-wuss are dabbing their eyes, tearing up from the acrid cloud of brandy-and-black-pepper-fueled smoke that's billowing through the studio. Yet the anchor perseveres, soldiers on, a tight rictus of early morning cheer stretched across her face as she leans forward with her fork and spears a hunk of steak au poivre from the daisy-patterned plate. The fork goes in her face—to suitably orgasmic accompanying sounds—and then she hits a whole peppercorn, cracking it between her teeth. The smile evaporates.
     "Oh my God!" she screams, waving a palm furiously in front of her mouth. "That's so spicy! Oh, my God!! My mouth is burning!"
     It is not a successful cooking segment for me. Eight cities into a long book tour, I'd thought I was being smart: I changed up my menu selection. I'd already done mussels, Normandy-style, for one television station across town, and frisée salad with lardoons for another. Both items were sensible choices in that they are fast, uncomplicated, and easy to put together in my allotted three minutes while exchanging banter with a hyperactive host and promoting the virtues of my cookbook.
     But for this gig, I chose another dish. You don't want people turning on yet another local news show to find you doing the same damn thing in the same market. Steak au poivre seemed like such an obvious answer. I've made it a million times. It too is fast, easy to prepare—and has the added virtue of significant razzle-dazzle as I deglaze the pan, igniting a brief but impressive column of flame when the brandy hits hot fat.
     I gracefully encrusted my filet mignon with crushed black peppercorns and attractively seared both sides of the steak in butter and oil in the preheated pan. I removed the cooked steak and artfully nestled it atop a cloud of pre-mashed potatoes. Two gaufrette potato chips and a festive sprig of rosemary awaited completion of the sauce. They would tower like an angel's outstretched wings over my steak—a monument of enticingly edible verticality. And though steak au poivre is not, admittedly, a common breakfast item, experience has taught me that free steak is popular in television studios. I fully expected the staff to fall on my steak like starved remoras as soon as we went to commercial.
     The only thing I didn't consider was ventilation.

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