Paleo Retiree writes:
Thanks to UR contributor epiminondas for calling my attention to this inspired episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” celebrating the Catalan restaurant El Bulli and its genius chef Ferran Adrià. It was made in 2011, on the occasion of the restaurant’s last meal:
Tears came to my eyes at least a half a dozen times as I gawped in amazement and delight at the insanely brilliant creations of Adrià. (During its lifetime, El Bulli was often said to be the best restaurant in the world.) And hats off to Bourdain for making a show so visually rich and quick-witted that it nearly keeps pace with the food. (If possible, watch the episode in full-screen mode, or on your TV.) It’s nice to see Bourdain put his trademark macho sarcasm aside too — he clearly feels he’s in the presence of a much-superior chef, and the humility and admiration he lets himself express are as eloquent as anything else in the show.
Some stray reflections:
- Is there any current art form that can compare to today’s food scene? The Question Lady, an excellent home cook, and I lead a first-class, if modestly-budgeted, food life, and we’re regularly knocked-out by how splendid our food options and food experiences are, from Mexican taco trucks to of-the-moment Greenwich Village locavore boîtes. (Always wanted to use the word “boîte” …) Meanwhile, many of the other arts seem to be treading water, or to have have lost their way completely. If we’re right, how to explain this phenomenon?
- Two of the best meals the Question Lady and I have ever eaten were served up by David Bouley’s flagship restaurant in New York City’s Tribeca. Each time the tab came to over $300 for the two of us. (We were celebrating anniversaries, and on our anniversary the sky’s the limit.) Despite the damage, both of us wound up marveling at what bargains the meals were. Given how sumptuous and intricate the food was, we couldn’t imagine how the place could be making any money at all.
- “We’re all in the pleasure business,” says Bourdain at one point during the show. He’s talking about chefs specifically … But wouldn’t it be lovely if all culture-creators described their fields in such terms?
- Bourdain’s schtick is roguish, streetwise sophistication, and half the time I’m annoyed by it. Enough with the devil-may-care, bad-boy, wearily-humoring-everyone-else bemusement, you know? The other half of the time, though, I’ve been amazed by how great his show can be. It’s informative, playful and rambunctious; it moves like the wind; Bourdain’s displays of irony and disdain are often a tangy combo of funky and sophisticated; there’s a real vision informing everything … Even when it doesn’t work, the show is a pretty dazzling media-thing — an ambitious, balls-out blend of reality TV, travelogue, food show and personal expression. It may not be the poetic, brain-and-imagination-opening thing that Chris Marker’s best film essays have been. But I’d be happy to argue that “No Reservations” is often more exciting and innovative than most movies are.
- Bourdain can come across as a tiresome prick, god knows, but his Alpha status is never in doubt. He’s got the tall, slim, weatherbeaten good looks of a battered ex-dreamboat; he moves at his own pace yet responds fully to the moment; he’s cockily amused by the spectacle of life, in an attractively been-there-done-that way, yet he has his own deeply-felt passions and pleasures … When I catch myself acting like a twerp, what I often ask myself in an effort to get myself back on track is, “What would Steve McQueen do at a moment like this?” But now, having watched some more episodes of “No Reservations,” I think I’ll also be growling to myself, “How would Anthony Bourdain handle this moment?”
- I dig Bourdain’s style of dress too. He may not be quite the style icon Steve McQueen was, but his outfits have an understated, lowdown elegance that seems to me to be worth copying.
- À propos of not much … “Inner Game” is one of the Game concepts I’ve found most valid as well as most handy. “Pull some Inner Game together, wouldya, dude?” is something I confess I’ve muttered to myself more than once. The other key Game concept, at least for me: “Shit testing.” Women — even the nice ones — really do shit test all the time, don’t they? It’s good to learn how to i.d. those moments, it’s good to be able to put a name to them, and it’s great to learn how to deal with them for what they are.
- The blow-the-lid-off-the-restaurant-business book that made Bourdain’s name with the general public.
- Bourdain himself chooses the best and worst episodes of “No Reservations.” Notice how Bourdain makes easy reference to movies like “The Comfort of Strangers” and “Don’t Look Now” — despite his streetwise sass, the man’s got some real culture in his background.
- A one-hour-talk with Bourdain.
- Wikipedia on El Bulli. Great passage: “It accommodated only 8,000 diners a season, but got more than two million requests.”
- Here’s a collection of other episodes of “No Reservations.” Don’t miss Bourdain’s encounter with durian, notorious as the world’s stinkiest fruit. (The durian bit starts at about 5:45.)