Snarkology, The Sweet Science
As far back as the early days of A COOK\’S TOUR, that earlier, less good show on that other, crummier network, when it was just me, Chris Collins, Lydia Tenaglia and Diane Schutz travelling around the world together, shooting and scouting, they started calling me \”Vic\” – short for \”Vic Chanko,\” whenever I\’d get testy. The name emanated from a prolonged, alcohol and fatigue, fueled fit of the giggles after an enormous meal of \”chanko-nabe,\” a less-than-light hotpot dish favored by sumo wrestlers. We found ourselves in late night Tokyo, riffing on the word \”chanko,\” conjuring the national film career of the imaginary star of spaghetti westerns, Yugoslavian-Italian co-productions, bad Filipino-Rambo knock-offs, \”Vic Chanko\”. It seemed funny at the time.
Somehow, they started calling me \”Vic,\”anytime I refused, for instance, to ride an elephant around a town square or eat breakfast with an orangutan for a scene (Both real examples). I well recall Lydia – after I said, \”I ain\’t eating no breakfast with a monkey\” – saying, \”It\’s not a monkey, Vic, it\’s an APE!!\” Over time, \”Vic\” became my alter-ego, what they called me whenever they felt I was being \”difficult,\” or standing in the way of quality TV-friendly yuks-or when I began to balk at 14-hour flights in economy class. There was \”good\” Tony-who\’d obligingly stick with the program and \”bad\” Vic, who (often speaking of himself in the third person) would make his unhappiness known-usually in pungent terms — as with \”Vic,\” who doesn\’t want to go to the Halloween party at Motel Dracula. Vic wants to run away and have tiki drinks in his room.
I\’m a pretty happy guy these days and in no hurry to live up to any reputation as a snarkologist. I don\’t see myself as being in the business of travelling around the world pissing on people who are just trying to be nice. I don\’t go to Iceland or Romania, for instance, looking to make fun of anybody. That\’s no way and no good motivation to travel. A happy and successful show for me (honestly) is one where everything goes right, where everything is delicious, everyone I meet engaging and everything I see, genuinely interesting to me.
The Azores were a destination I\’d long been thinking about. I\’d been meaning to make a show there for a long time, largely because of my heavy exposure to Azorean-Americans in Cape Cod early in my cooking career. I was fascinated by the food (so different from mainland Portugal) and curious about the close connection between the populations of New England Portuguese communities and these mysterious islands in the middle of the Atlantic, about which so little seems known.
Now, ordinarily, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to see and do when we arrive at a destination. There\’s been a lot of back and forth between me and the pre-production team about what, exactly, we\’re going to do by the time we hit the ground. And during the planning phase of the Azores show, when I saw a \”water scene\” at the site of some beloved geothermal blowholes in the lovely town of Furnas, I knew immediately that this was not a scene I was likely to be enthusiastic about.
Water scenes – minutes of air time spent looking at me tasting water, or water dribbling out of a faucet or even water emerging from a hole in the ground as steam does not strike me as riveting entertainment. \”Know thyself,\” the saying goes, and I just KNEW that this proposed scene was not going to hold my interest. I swiftly sent off a memo saying \”KILL the water scene.\” Yet, weeks later, arriving in the Azores, I look down and there it was on the schedule. \”Sacred Water Scene. Blowholes. Furnas.\”
Like I said, I try to be nice. I don\’t want \”Vic\” emerging from his dark trailer in the deep, ugly – recesses of my subconscious. I loved the Azores and Azoreans. It\’s beautiful there. The people are great. I have a vested interest, a history if you will, with the Azorean community here. But the combination of having to stand in front of a sulfurous blowhole and find something to say – the fact that I find the word \”blowhole\” irresistible for purposes of low comedy and my general displeasure with my producers at having ignored Vic\’s insistent memo to avoid this scene altogether …well …You will see the result Monday. Minute-after-minute of sheer snark and bile, the rotten egg smelling clouds issuing from the earth behind me, not the only source of steam. It\’s clearly visible coming out of my ears.
Same thing happened this past week. I\’m happily playing tea party with my daughter, contemplating future good works, thinking about sending a fruit basket to my producers (who I\’d abused so badly after the blowhole incident), generally in the kind of mood that makes me want cuddle stray dogs, adopt a kitten, sing Cumbaya with the homeless crackhead who hangs outside my neighborhood supermarket – when the text of Alice Waters\’ open letter to the President hit my Inbox.
The new guy in the White House has a lot on his plate – as a recent trip through America\’s Rust Belt had just brought rather poignantly home. So I found the allegedly chronic non-voter Waters\’ offer to head up a \”kitchen cabinet\” – an advisory board guiding the new administration to a new, organic, locavorean foodie Valhalla – well …presumptuous. Particularly in light of the Normandy invasion of chefs, logistics and ingredients for the series of benefit meals which followed. I had a hard time visualizing all these guys foraging for vegetables in D.C. in January. The combined carbon imprints of these talented interlopers – alone …seemed at odds with the high minded sentiments in the letter.
Out pops Vic and next thing you know, my comments are all over the blogosphere, attacking the Mother Theresa of the food world, viciously sinking my snaggled teeth into the shanks of St. Alice of Berkeley – possibly the most beloved and revered figure in the world of food.
This is made only more awkward by the fact that we\’ll soon be appearing together in a panel discussion in Connecticut. I cringe, imagining myself in the green room, sheepishly extending a hand over the tuna wraps, Fiji water and complimentary spanokopita, mumbling something like, \”Wow …like, sorry I compared you to Pol Pot. Perhaps that was a bit …excessive.\” Next, I\’ll be accusing Tom Hanks of cannibalism.
All I can say is: It wasn\’t me. It was Vic.