Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tony Returns.

For those who know Spicy, you know I'm a big Anthony Bourdain fan. I say this gleefully clutching two signed books, a signed chef coat (gifted to Chef Double in 2001) and memories of working with him when he was nothing but a blip on the Times best-seller list. Even lately his words of advice ring like carillon bells in my ears. "Cook. Write." He pronounced to me over a quick cigarette.

Last night, I christened a carbon steel seasoned-it-myself wok with some tofu-chard stir-fry and whipped up some buffalo tacos in Bourdain's honor. Then, I sat down to the season premiere of No Reservations, the show where Tony (he insisted I call him that!) travels the world seeking the soul of his very global palate. He went to Mexico to bond with Carlos, his Pueblan successor at Les Halles where Bourdain used to be the Executive Chef. Carlos was last seen in "Into the Fire" where he harshed on Tony's performance on the hot line. (Gotta love it! You know AB does.)

I loved this episode. Not only does it give props to Latin restaurant staff whose hard work and skill have their hand in more fine dining than you think in the U.S., but it hammers home the point that NR's fanatical about: It doesn't take white tablecloths, Micheline stars or impossible-to-make reservations for a meal to be worth traveling halfway around the globe. Tasting a variety of street vendor tacos (bull! blossoms! tongue!) were the thread of this episode to illustrate his point. Cameras easily document an absolute truth: Gritty, romantic shots of succulent exotic meats and veggies glistening and sizzling on a streetside flat grill, stuffed into handmade tortillas, into Tony and his compadres eager paws and straight into their rapidly filling bellies.

I know I'm not the only one who over the past ten years has witnessed her haute cuisine lifestyle go from caviar to crackers for the purposes of economic practicalities. So, when I asked myself, Why did they shoot in Mexico? I think NR producers are smart enough to kick-off the season with an inside look at a popularized and democratized travel destination. In other words, a majority of us can actually splurge and fly off in search of a taco bender. Not that they aren't scheduled to air a 'Venice, Italy' episode next week. But, they do hang in DC the following week (Gee, I wonder why?). Within this variety programming, NR has discovered a fine balance of gustatory swooning and marked social commentary.

For all of the above, the show producers deserve a big fat pat on the back. Anyone who works in television and loves food should be dying to work on this show. My one question for them: Does Tony write his own copy? For those of you who haven't read his books, he is talented in his own right. (He's not a celebrity chef cut-out well-oiled by a network agenda). The writing for Season 4's New Orleans episode was, in my mind, either James Beard Award or Emmy-worthy or both. Click here for an insightful essay (graphs 2, 3, 4) on Bourdain and co's work on a Beirut special.

See you next week in Venice! And, stay tuned for Spicy's Best of 2008.
If you watch NR, read Bourdain or have a comment... Please leave one!

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