Bourdain on El Bulli

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.

Bonus links:

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Food and health, Television and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Bourdain on El Bulli

  1. The Question Lady says:

    Adria’s food is so far beyond what I ever dream of cooking, but that’s what I loved about our anniversary meals at Bouley, which is that I wouldn’t even want to cook it. I’m happy to pay good money to virtuosos so they’ll show off what they can do.

    Maybe this is me, but Bourdain’s shtick annoyed me even with this episode. I do agree that it’s beautifully shot and put together, though.


  2. Unlike most art forms, food isn’t about anything but itself, so it can get away with being sincere. Also, an unpleasant movie or painting may give you something to think about, but if dinner’s unpleasant, you’ve just ruined dinner. Food is something we experience on a much more immediate, unmediated level. Like smell. A bad view doesn’t drive you away like a bad smell (then again, there are ripened cheeses).

    Consumer electronics haven’t gone ironic and decadent either.


    • Shrewd hunch, or at least close to what my own hunch would be. (More or less: you can force people to kowtow before a pretentious, unreadable book but it’s really hard to get them eat meals they really don’t like.) Fab point about consumer electronics too, hadn’t thought of that.


  3. ironrailsironweights says:

    Bourdain certainly does present a super-cool Alpha status on TV, but I wouldn’t assume that he’s necessarily like that in real life. In fact I’ve heard that’s often true for celebrities in general.



  4. chucho says:

    All the other arts are exhausted due to politicization. The food scene will suffer the same fate as veganism, localism, etc. eventually triumph. Maybe the elite will eat compost to prove their worth someday.


  5. Fenster says:

    Food isn’t just about being pleasant. It’s not just the Carpenters 24/7. The point about stinky cheese is well taken but it has real depth: the variety of the food experience is not just about the interplay of salty, sweet, bitter, umami, etc. It’s also about the interplay between the pleasant and the unpleasant, the living and the dead, the fresh with the rotting.

    I recall an appetizer in Rome’s Jewish ghetto. A crisp and bland piece of toasted bread was covered by mozzarella, fresh from the buffalo, warm and runny. Atop that a kind of anchovy sauce: strong, fishy, salty, very dead. The dead, the stinky, the unpleasant all play a role: smelly cheese in France, rotting shark in Iceland, lamb and lamb fat left in the sun to putrify in Morocco, stinky tofu in Taiwan.

    Bourdain is a smart alec to be sure. You gotta give him points for making cooking macho. Heck, he started his cooking career in of all places Provincetown. You go, guy!


  6. chris says:

    While Bourdain can be an obnoxious ahole, he and the show are unapologetically masculine.That’s the secret to its success, really high end gastronomy is a throughly manly endevour and because Bourdain is a guy who really loves food and is a jerk, he doesn’t care about not letting girls into the clubhouse.


  7. agnostic says:

    Seems like food isn’t as social as the other art & entertainment forms, both on the production and consumption sides. Think of how much trust and team-mindedness you need to pull off a great movie or pop song. The musicians, sound engineers, actors, and film crew seem to go way far out there in opening up and giving more to one another.

    Food isn’t as collaborative, so when social cohesion begins to loosen, it isn’t struck as hard as movies and music are. There’s the lone mad genius thinking up / experimenting with the recipes, and a more rigidly hierarchical pyramid of workers to carry out his vision. That operates more on authority than collaboration.

    Same thing on the audience’s side. Hearing great music in a social setting (live performance or in a dance club), or seeing a great movie in a crowded theater, makes it a thousand times better than if you’re alone. Everyone is feeding off of everyone else’s energy, and you feel more closely bound together.

    Eating the same meal at a popular restaurant makes it more enjoyable than eating it at home — but not by a thousand times. Restaurants aren’t as interactive or group-gluing as dance clubs or movie theaters. When you see a fellow patron tear into something and close their eyes in ecstasy, does that pump you up even a little bit? Not really. You’re not sharing the same gustatory and olfactory experience as your fellow patrons. Even if you coincidentally order the same meal as someone else, your actions and reactions are not synchronized. You’re each eating at your own separate rhythms.

    At the dance club, everyone’s moving their bodies to the same rhythm, or split their sides laughing at the same scene in the movie theater.

    So, when the society starts getting more anti-social, restaurants won’t be hit as hard as dance clubs, concerts, and movie theaters. You don’t need to be *that* sociable when you eat out.


  8. Pingback: “El Bulli” | Uncouth Reflections

  9. Pingback: Noma Two Ways | Uncouth Reflections

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