Past Imperfect/Future Shock
There\’s usually a moment when we\’re shooting, most often near the end of a long meal. The crew has all the shots they need: plenty of \”content\” (meaning me, babbling about the food–and someone local, who presumably knows what we\’re eating, describing it), lots of long, lingering \”food porn\” close-ups, plenty of footage of kitchen prep (which Todd arrived hours earlier to get) and final assembly. As an exhausted silence settles over the table, well into my cups, I\’ll look straight at camera and sarcastically say, in my most unctuous, television \”host-sums-up\” voice, \” So….What have we learned today?\” This is a cue to producer and shooters that I\’m fucking DONE. That it\’s time to \”get some wides\”, meaning, the crew steps way back and shoots some generic \”wide shots\” from a distance. Audio is no longer a factor in these , so the mikes come off and those of us at the table can pretty much forget about the cameras, and act naturally, secure in the knowledge that the presumed \”working\” part of the day is almost over.So … as we approach the last episode of this first half of Season 4, one might well ask of us, the No Reservations crew–and our mammoth post production staff back in New York, the exec producers, editors, sound mixers, and wolverine wranglers at ZPZ: \”What have we learned this season?\”
We\’ve learned some lessons. Some of them, painfully. Among them:
A mediocre food related scene is almost always better than a well-shot bungee jumping scene (or movie extra scene, zip-line trekking, alligator wrestling or trapeze scene).
If you piss off an entire country, you\’ll get a lot of really wacky posts on your blog–and possibly even incite renewed hostilities with Hungary.
Apparently, I work for the KGB.( I\’d forgotten!)
There is a finite appetite for hunting scenes.
When you are advised by official entities that any scene depicting ( insert ethnic or indigenous group constituting 10% or more of the population) will result in a total withdrawal of any and all assistance–including permits and permissions–it\’s a warning sign.
Ditto when they tell you that you can\’t shoot any restaurants during business hours–and that you may not show the faces of the cooks. Only hands. Maybe.
Caving scenes are funny. For people who hate you.
Dante, however, is not funny.
So … what\’s next? When the machine cranks up again this summer? Where will we be putting into practice all that painstakingly acquired wisdom? Well … rest assured; just cause they stop showing new episodes doesn\’t mean we get a break from making them. Oh, no. Already, we\’ve got four in the can, currently being edited–and we\’re about to leave for Spain for another. With more immediately to follow. And while the order in which we shoot these things is not necessarily the order in which they\’ll be shown, I can tell you a little about what we\’ve got so far–and what we\’re planning to get. I also thought I\’d provide a few helpful advance reviews–to save food nerds time when the shows actually air.
LAOS: Do I smell … Emmy? Probably not. But the camera people on this show, (Todd and Zach) are well within reason to hope. Zach had a blissed out expression on his face the entire time in the country. This is a country MADE for cinematographers. Laos was absolutely magical. Everywhere you pointed a camera, enchanted looking mountains loomed out of the mists. Great food. Amazing people with a dramatic, hugely tragic and complicated history. A visually striking, heartfelt journey across a hauntingly beautiful and largely unfamiliar landscape. It had all the elements to be one of the best shows we\’ve ever done.
The verdict? \” …..history, schmistory…… I wanted more food information…\”
TOKYO/KYOTO: Pure crack for Foodies ! Ultra-Hot, ultra-fetishistic, hardcore food porn! No foreplay–just straight to the good stuff!! Sizzling Yakitori Action! Sultry Sobalicious Goodness, Kooky Cocktails and Kaiseki Kapers — Sandwiched Between Pounding Steel and without a doubt, the Best Sushi Ever Seen on American Television! Bouncing around Japan with Morimoto in search of Perfection.
The verdict? \”…OMG!! Best. Show.. Ever…That scene at Jiro? Made me cream!\”
URUGUAY: The Bourdain brothers journey to Montevideo, Punta del Este and the surrounding countryside in search of traces of their mysterious, Uruguayan great, great grandfather. Conclusions? Among other things–that Uruguay makes Argentina look like a vegan suburb of Berkeley. That they like to cook stuff over flame. LOTS of flame. That Montevideo is probably the Next Big Thing–or should be. And that the \”civito\” is the Greatest Sandwich in the History of Civilization.
The verdict?: \”…I found the civitos at San Marco, a tiny place next to the mercado, far superior to the place Bourdain went. And the morcillas he ate are nowhere near as good as the ones at…….\”
COLOMBIA: It stands to reason that Cartagena is fantastic. But Medellin? Who knew? Among other adventures, The crew heads into neighborhoods where–only a few short years ago–even the police dared not go. And finds one of the most vibrant, welcoming, hospitable and food crazy destinations yet. The surprise of the entire series. All of us on the crew were absolutely shocked and smitten by Colombia. Rarely–if ever–have we been treated so well or had so much fun making television. (And no drug jokes PLEASE. Really.). I think we\’re among the very first travel shows to go where we went and show who and what we\’re going to show–and I think people will be blown away by how things have changed from their Miami Vice era perceptions of Colombia (and Medellin in particular). This episode was a perfect example of the principle that it\’s far, far better for the Tourism Board people to let us do whatever the hell we want (even if they\’re uncomfortable with some of our destinations) than trying to stage manage or paint over the reality. Colombia Tourism were cool (if occasionally concerned); helpful when needed and hands-off when asked. And the result is one long love letter to a fantastic country, exhuberantly emerging from a long nightmare.
The verdict? \” Where can I find arepas like that in Queens? And does anyone have a recipe for Sancocho?\”
After an haute-heavy Spain show, Egypt, San Francisco, an investigation of the Azores/New England, Portugese nexus and Papua New Guinea follow. And a couple of Specials. Currently, wading through the submissions for the Travel With Tony thing–an often terrifying task. Just started in–but so far it\’s like choosing between John Wayne Gacy, Linda Kasabian or Robyn Miller. So many people seem to be videoing themselves from a cellar apartment–a suspicious-looking chest freezer in the background. Posters of Taxi Driver and multiple copies of Catcher In The Rye. Empty tubes of airplane glue. A plastic tarpaulin rolled up against wood panelling … So many candidates seem to want to take me to rural areas in the Pacific Northwest. The words \”drainage culvert\” and \”wooded area\” keep coming up. And I\’m supposed to TRAVEL with one of these people? I\’m demanding a full background check, polygraph…and a Minneasota Multi-Phasic Personality test–along with the usual Rorsach. Scary!