Hanging Out With Anthony Bourdain
By Louisa Chu
Tony\’s driving our big black Caddy, skimming the Ike, just south of downtown Chicago. I\’m lying down in the backseat, deliberately in hiding. Trying to act like it\’s cool. Like it\’s totally not uncomfortable. In every sense of the word. You must know, faithful Bourdain Crew Blog Reader, how Tony doesn\’t like doing the walking shots? Well apparently he doesn\’t like repetitious driving shots either, as evidenced by his increasingly road-rage-alicious maneuvers. Oh, and the occasional explosive swearing was a little hint, too. As I\’m trying to multitask on my new iPhone, navigating prone and linked with the crew van, I\’m so glad they\’re yukking it up over there. I can hear Chris, Diane, Alex, Kira, Erik and even my brother William, whom I recruited to drive, practically singing \”99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.\” By the way, Chris, when you told me to duck down to get out of the shot and I dropped down to the right, I heard you say, \”I wish she would have leaned the other way!\” Ha. Ha. Meanwhile I desperately cling to the fine leather upholstery, trying not to get flung hard to the floor. At least I\’m grateful for all the time I spent on a Deadliest Catch-esque fishing boat this summer curing myself of motion sickness.
And at that moment my skin felt electrified. It was a position you would have killed to be in – as weird as it was. I didn\’t want to be anywhere else. Doing anything else. With anyone else. Thanks to Tony, Chris, Lydia, Diane and the entire \”No Reservations\” crew – my dear, extended, endlessly entertaining dysfunctional family – I have been allowed to live an adventurous food life far beyond what I deserve.
Three weeks ago, as of this blogging, we wrapped the long-awaited Chicago shoot. Tony mentions it briefly in his recent blog post about the upcoming Season 5. He writes, \”Our Chicago show was filmed in a state of full-on hero worship, as I\’ve been long besotted by Michael Mann\’s Chicago-based film, \’Thief.\’\” By the way, that film is beyond noir – the story is black-hole black – and to play amateur forensic psychologist, wow an insight into Tony\’s psyche, I think – but incredibly beautiful to watch.
I again worked as a fixer. I hold the distinction of being the first ever \”No Reservations\” fixer. Remember me in the meat market scene in Paris? And what is a fixer, you ask? In the job description it\’s a local translator and guide. For Tony fans, you\’ll understand when I say I was the Zamir.
So this summer I was cooking away for the Alaskan fishing boat and lodge and I got the call from Lydia. Chicago\’s on. In a month. And to paraphrase another film – film nerds that we are – it was an offer I could not refuse. Chicago is my hometown, and I have been waiting for nearly four years for the show to come to my town. Yes, of course we went to Hot Doug\’s, home to the infamous, once-illegal foie gras hot dog and duck-fat-fried fries – still served Fridays and Saturdays only.
And yes, we had pizza, but probably not anywhere you would think. We went to my beloved Burt\’s in the occasionally Twin Peaks-ish suburb of Morton Grove. The inimitable Burt and his gorgeous caramelized crust were featured on the cover of Saveur\’s Chicago issue last year.
But no beef. Yes, fellow Chicagoans, you heard me. No Italian beef. Why? Because as you know, we have an embarrassment of food riches. And we did the Mother-in-Law instead. You\’ve never had the South Side specialty of a Chicago-style tamale smothered in chili, garnished with onions and sport peppers, wrapped in a warm poppy-seed bun? Well ya see, there\’s more to Chicago than just dogs, pizza and beef.
But we did have beef. And as my hair stylist Daniel dubbed them, Beef Daddies: Tony and Very Special Guest, Eric Ripert. I found myself with Tony and Eric (Freakin\’) Ripert at L20 nestled into our own private tatami room. I fully expect to be cut out of that scene, like the end person in a wedding party pic.
And speaking of beef, I called it at the Wagyu. L20\’s Chef/Partner Laurent Gras, an old friend of both Tony and Eric\’s, even had the audacity to send out the muzzle-printed certificate of authenticity. I mean come on now, Laurent – did you really need to flop that out? It was more than enough that each bite of that beef was like the crispy charred bit of fat that you steal off a steak even when it\’s too hot because it\’s that good. Every single bite of that entire deathbed-memorable meal was all that good. But I could only take two bites of the Wagyu- one wocka-wocka food porn one for the camera and the other one purely for my own gratuitous pleasure. As for the rest, when our kimono-clad server came to take our plates, I asked her to take mine over to producers Alex and Diane in the tatami room next door. Camerapeople Kira and Erik would have to wait until our conversation wandered into Not Safe For the New York Food Media Mafia territory and Tony told them point blank, \”Don\’t shoot this.\” Poor Exec Producer Chris was shooting in the kitchen, Steak Outta Luck.
At the end of the night I drove the Caddy home. Tony slurred, \”How is it that you\’re in better shape than we are?\” Silly boy. Raiders of the Lost Ark? The shot glass scene? I switched from the endless rare, vintage bottles of sake to H20 early in the night.
With the Beef Daddies comfortably slumped in their seats, I knew again, I didn\’t want to be anywhere else.