by Anthony Bourdain
Generally speaking, there are two distinct audiences for this show: people who like to look at images of food and are interested in where it comes from and how it got to the plate—and people who like to travel—or like the idea of travel—and enjoy watching images of faraway places and cultures. Oh—and there’s also a smaller group who apparently enjoy watching me get falling down drunk and stupid. But that’s another matter.
This week’s episode is about food. More specifically, it’s about the creative process that leads up to the food that will eventually be served in some of the world’s finest restaurants.
COOK IT RAW is an amazingly low key gathering of some of the best and most creative chefs in the world. For the last few years, people like Rene Redzepi of Denmark’s NOMA (recently named best restaurant in the world for the second year in a row), Alex Atala of Sao Paulo’s DOM, Albert Adria (El BULLI, TICKETS), Mauro Collagreco, Massimo Bottura, Daniel Patterson, David Chang, Magnus Nilsson and others have been getting together in various remote and fairly off the main grid locations where they challenge each other to forage, improvise, figure out what’s good in each location—then, using non-traditional methods—make the most seriously ****ed up creative single plate their fevered imaginations can muster. The result does not have to be usable in a restaurant setting. It is not supposed to be a fully realized dish. It is definitely not something that any of the chefs have ever served or even tried before. It should be something so wild, so out there, so purely creative and exploratory that the other chefs will suck wind and issue a collective “wooaaahhhh.”
For a few days each year, COOK IT RAW serves as a combination workshop, field trip, summer camp for culinary hotshots. And it’s a lot of fun.
This year, COOK IT RAW was held in Ishikawa prefecture in Japan—and NO RESERVATIONS decided to look at the area—-and at the event largely through the eyes of first time invitee to the gathering—and first time visitor to Japan, Charleston South Carolina’s Sean Brock. Sean is a young chef from coal country who in a remarkably short period of time has become a big name in the culinary firmament. At his restaurant HUSK, he’s been trying to rediscover traditional American heritage foods, source ingredients entirely and exclusively from below the Mason Dixon line—and redefine what “real” Southern cooking is—or could-be. He’s a very serious guy (except when he’s not) with impeccable taste in bourbon. Watching him discover Japan for the first time was a true joy.
COOK IT RAW is, unlike any food and wine festival I can think of, about the pure spirit of creativity. There are no public events. No free tastings. After days of exploring local culture and food sourcing methods and techniques—and doing a hell of a lot of eating and drinking, the visiting chefs (along with some local ones), gather (by any means necessary) their ingredients—many of them unfamiliar—and cook. The plates or service “platforms” they put their food on, are created by local craftsmen. The chefs have no say in choice of “plate” and have to accommodate some occasionally very freaky designs. The results of their labors are served to a small group of local and visiting journalists.
There are no winners or losers or grading or official evaluating of the meal. Each chef presents their dish, then retires to the kitchen. Presumably, at some point later—probably over many sakes, or while marinating in the onsen, the chefs discuss among themselves what they’ve learned from the experience.
Anyway, it should be fascinating TV .
I want to thank the organizers of COOK IT RAW, and of course, the chefs. They had not previously had to live with an invading television crew during their adventures. They were—across the board—friendly, inviting, generous with their time, and fun to be around.
I wish I could say the same for one of the “lions” of the food writing community—someone who (until this trip) I had always liked and looked up to. Over the course of a few days, he revealed himself to be the most vicious, abusive, misogynistic, back-biting piece of shit I have ever met in my life. (and after 30 years in the restaurant business, that’s saying something). I’m hardly the nicest or most polite guy in the world. But even I was shocked. When not shouting profanities at the chefs, bursting into noisy and prolonged bouts of flatulence during the traditional tea ceremony, insulting and belligerently interfering with my crew by petulantly flashing his cell phone camera directly into their eyes while they were working (“I’m a journalist! I’m allowed!”), this guy was drinking himself stupid. It was only through their infinite mercy—and perhaps no small amount of pity for this elderly and shambolic creature, that my crew did not punch his face in. They were sorely tempted. Anyone who attended the event will surely recognize which particular steaming dribble of ordure I’m talking about.
Lesson is? **** with my crew, you **** with me.
On that cheery note, be sure to tune in Monday!