This new episode of No Reservations
diverged from the successful formula of previous episodes. We've all become accustomed to Tony's travels to exotic destinations eating his way through the cities and towns he visits. We've seen him and his hosts slaughter a pig in a bevy of locales, seen different preparations of the poor doomed swine, and learned of the multitude of uses for the Offal. This episode gave us something different, it gave us a view into the former life of Tony Bourdain, his life as a line cook in Brasserie Les Halles
. If you're familiar with Bourdain's iconic pseudo-memoir, Kitchen Confidential
, it might have been a thrill to be able to see first-hand the proving ground that produced the Bourdain of today. Would the old man be able to still sling meals out that kitchen as he used to, or would he get so far into the weeds, he'd be pulled off the line and endure untold degrees of humiliation at the hands of his old cronies? Let's find out.
The premise of the episode is that Tony has accepted a dare, apparently proposed to him many times, to try and work his old double shift through lunch and dinner, a shift that he hasn't done in 8 years. There's been a lot of miles put on Tony's odometer since his reign as the executive chef at Les Halles, his old pals are skeptical at best if their old boss can hack it anymore. We're introduced to some of the old Vatos that Tony wrote about in his book, including Omar, who was the basis for more than a few anecdotes included in the book. They generally seem to be a good bunch of guys and do seem welcome Tony back into the fold, but the current Executive Chef and Expediter, Carlos is worried, and so is Tony, the guy is visibly shaken by what he knows is in store for.
Interspersed throughout the episode, we're treated to a few kitchen basics about the line and how a restaurant kitchen functions during the rush. We're invited to the depths of the restaurant; the locker room, the walk-ins, and the charcuterie with its brigade of butchers. I rather enjoyed this, admittedly, I'm familiar with the terms used and some of the characters from reading the book, but it was great to actually see what used to be Bourdain's house of horrors.
As lunch service begins, we learn a few things right away. Tony is 1) not as fast as he used to be 2) not as limber as he used to be 3) can't see as well as he used to be able to, which all spells disaster for him and his boys on the line. He does, however, manage to fight his way through the lunch rush by the skin of his teeth. Carlos does have to do some yelling as Tony falls behind in some places, but it looks like he still has some chops and is able to sling steaks and sauces out of his sauté station. But lunch rush is a picnic compared to dinner, which he remembers all too well. When faced with the prospect of his diminished capabilities and dinner rush looming, Tony does what he always did, he heads out for a beer.
As Tony cools his jets in one of his old watering holes, we're introduced to a waiter, who is not as cool as he thinks he is, although I'm sure he is an excellent waiter. Chris is a lifer at Les Halles and is thrilled to see Tony back on the line, I'm sure the two of them had some good times but we're not treated to any, I'm sure they can be found somewhere.
When we return to Les Halles for dinner we're given an unexpected treat of Eric Ripert also arriving for a shift at the grill station. For those who don't know, Ripert is the executive chef at Le Bernardin, one of the best restaurants in NYC. Ripert is universally lauded for his innovation and skill in the preparation of seafood. So, not only do we get to see another guy who hasn't been on the line in years, back there, we get one of the foremost innovators in seafood, grilling steaks and chops. To Tony's dismay though, Ripert seems like a natural at the grill station. I'm sure Tony asked him to come so there would be someone else screwing up the line.
The expected catastrophe does not come to pass though. After almost passing out because of an order of Mussels and a Casoulet, Tony recovers himself enough to hit his stride and manages to wrap up the service without passing out or cutting off a finger. Ripert has also distinguished himself and Carlos would be happy to hire him. The two pals make their way down to the dungeon and share a celebratory cocktail, undoubtedly toasting to the fact that neither of them will ever find themselves on a line ever again, as they both concede line cooking is a job for the young.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. We got to see the always suave Bourdain struggle and see how a top NYC restaurant functions.
Here's to you Tony!
Story by Larry Grodsky
Starpulse contributing writer