An Anthony Bourdain tribute dinner brings together St. Burch Tavern’s chef and IWP writers

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Dinner: A Tribute to Parts Unknown

St. Burch Tavern — Saturday, Oct. 13 at 5 p.m.
Ticket must be purchased separately from Witching Hour festival pass — SOLD OUT

Witching Hour festival includes a dinner honoring late chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain. — Witching Hour/courtesy photo

Early in his public career as a writer, Anthony Bourdain celebrated the hedonism of the restaurant industry with decadent yet mischievous eroticism; his earlier prose is sumptuously spiked with booze, drugs, food, sex and the punchy, manic exhaustion of 70-hour work weeks.

As he matured, he pivoted to television and turned his words toward parts unknown, illuminating the inextricable connection between people, place, culture and food; on a favorite, early episode of Parts Unknown, we watch him sit with an Inuit family around a freshly eviscerated seal on their dining room floor, reverently passing the best bits to family elders, joking, making music and vocally appreciating the specific deliciousness of this new-to-him delicacy. With each year that Parts Unknown aired, Bourdain grew more political and outspoken, using his platform to advocate for his former restaurant brethren, for women and for the far-flung communities he visited with his camera crews.

Bourdain died by suicide on June 8 of this year, leaving us — his restaurant kin, writers, travelers, chefs and eaters — to celebrate him, and to continue to celebrate other cultures, with our own meals, travels and words.

It is in this celebratory vein that Gabe Branch, chef de cuisine at St. Burch Tavern, will collaborate with four writers from the University of Iowa International Writing Program for a Parts Unknown tribute dinner, part of the lineup for this year’s Witching Hour festival. The four-course dinner and reading will take place at the cozy Den at St. Burch Tavern on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 5 p.m.; tickets are $60 per person, which includes taxes, fees and gratuity. Tickets for the dinner are not included in Witching Hour festival passes and must be purchased separately. In the spirit of conviviality and community, dinner will be served family-style and will use local-when-possible product.

Working closely with writers from the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Venezuela and Lithuania, Branch hopes to make food that’s not only delicious, but important and evocative for the readers. In some cases, the writers have offered their own family recipes or suggested dishes that are new to Branch, who is excited to learn from his collaborators and offer to the public delicious material artifacts of their individual heritage.

“I want to make food that’s important to these people,” Branch said. “I hope to do justice to their cuisine, while doing my personal favorite thing in the world to have people do: to share food. This is called a Bourdain dinner, but it’s more about asking, ‘What value do you get out of sharing your food, and how does that connect with your ideas and your culture?’”

The four female writers — Eman Al Yousuf, Gina Cole, Jacqueline Goldberg and Aušra Kaziliūnaitė — have been asked to write about anything they want, as it relates to their culture, food and experience. Ranging in genre from journalism to performance art, readings will accompany each course.

“Is there a more universally intelligible cultural expression than food?” said Saunia Powell, fall residency coordinator for the International Writing Program. “Eating together is what makes us human. Our writers are excited to share themselves with the community through their words and recipes over a meal at St. Burch.”

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 251.

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