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Q&A: Bourdain and Vaughn Talk Books and Barbecue

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L to R: Daniel Vaughn, Ecco Editor Dan Halpern, Anthony Bourdain
L to R: Daniel Vaughn, Ecco Editor Dan Halpern, Anthony Bourdain
Photo: Helen Cho

Last night, Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain joined Texas Monthly's barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn in a talk at a Barnes & Noble in New York City. The event celebrated the release of Vaughn's The Prophets of Smoked Meat, the first book from Bourdain's Ecco imprint. Their conversation stayed true to the barbecue theme of Vaughn's book, winding its way from cooking techniques to regional style differences in Texas.

Vaughn and Bourdain both spent a significant amount of time praising Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, Texas) and Franklin Barbecue (Austin), so do keep an eye out for those two restaurants to fare well in the updated Top 50 Barbecue rankings in Texas Monthly's June issue. (Vaughn told Eater the rankings will be trickled out via @TMBBQ, starting today). Eater caught up with the two food aficionados in the greenroom at Barnes & Noble, here's what they had to say:

How would you describe your role in publishing The Prophets of Smoked Meat and your other Ecco titles?
Anthony Bourdain: I find them, I rope them, I drag them back to the base camp. Then I bludgeon Dan [Halpern at Ecco] into signing them up. And I do whatever I can to shape the thing, to either a greater extant or lesser extent depending on the project. You know what? I'm like chief fanboy, actually ... I really want people to read this person and do whatever it takes to make that happen. Fortunately, Dan has allowed me a lot of latitude to be able to do that.

We know you've got books from Marilyn Hagerty, Roy Choi, and Mark Miller coming out. Anything else in the queue?
AB: There's Danny [Bowien]'s book, from Mission Chinese... Mike Ruffino [bass player and founding member of The Unband] is writing the greatest rock n' roll memoir of all time, including all of the greats ... it's easily the funniest rock memoir ever ... and a book by Bruce Elliot, the proprietor of the Old Town Ale House in Chicago ... Roger Ebert turned me on [to his blog] via Twitter and I'm obsessed with it ... he covers the history of Chicago, the history of journalism in Chicago and, more interestingly, the intimate history of his entirely alcoholic clientele. It's very funny.

What qualities does an author need to have to be a potential Anthony Bourdain/Ecco author?
AB: Authority on their subject, meaning they speak with authority and a distinctive voice about whatever their subject matter might be. Looks, too ... We are not a cookbook imprint, we are not a food imprint ... If Joan Didion is looking for a new publisher I would be really really happy. Putting that out there.

What's it like working with Bourdain?
Daniel Vaughn: From my perspective, it was helpful guidance and not intrusive meddling ... by no means [was he] trying to change the message or make wholesale changes.

You tasted a ton of barbecue in the course of publishing this book (and of course writing your blog). What are the key elements you look for when you evaluate a new or unfamiliar barbecue restaurant?
DV: When you arrive, smelling smoke is always a good thing ... Then when you go in, it's always helpful that they have the meat out there on a cutting board, displayed as something they're proud of, something they want to show off.

Do you think people will be surprised by your top 50 barbecue rankings for Texas Monthly?:
DV: Yeah. There are a lot of places that carry over from list to list, but there's going to be a lot of new faces too. A huge amount of the list is going to be places that weren't even open for the last list ... You're also going to notice a few places that, well, that I think everybody would expect to see there that just are not going to be there. We really paid a lot of attention to the here and now. This isn't a greatest hits or hall of fame.

After your barbecue crawl with NYC critics Pete Wells and Robert Sietsema, has your opinion about NYC barbecue changed?
DV: It has ... One of the reasons I wanted to do this crawl was because three of the places we went weren't open when I was last here [in July] ... Places like Mighty Quinn's and BrisketTown are taking it to a level I didn't see last time.

· All Anthony Bourdain Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Daniel Vaughn Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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