Kitchen Confidential juggled with foodies’ fascinations in new and unusual ways, and since then reality television seems to be the appropriate new home for that side show. Oddly, it began in 1999 with an article in the New Yorker. So it is only fitting that the magazine has been balancing those dynamics with the work of less celebrity-oriented writers ever since. None better than Bill Buford, who gets out there, and in there, like a citizen scientist for the story (though he is not shy of carny, either). Here what catches my attention is the collaboration, but plenty on the ethos of an artisan, the farm as the garden of eden, and last but not least the role of food in heritage and heritage in food (click the image above to go to the article):
Two years ago, during the summer of 2011, Daniel Boulud, the New York-based French chef, told me he had been thinking about a project that we might do together. We were both in France at the time. I was living in Lyons—I had moved there in order to learn French cooking—and Boulud was visiting his family in Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu, a nearby village on a wooded ridge in the open countryside.
It is where Boulud grew up, on a working farm. For Boulud, the farm childhood was idyllic and not so idyllic. He was allergic to hay. (“How can you be allergic to hay and live on a farm?” his mother, Marie, asked me.) He seemed to be allergic to just about everything else as well. He remembers Easter vacation from school as the time when he couldn’t play soccer with his friends, because he had to weed the garlic field. Shortly before his fourteenth birthday, when he was doing badly in school and had become a worry to his parents, a neighbor intervened, a flamboyant figure known as the Countess. She arrived bearing a no-nonsense, let’s-settle-this-thing-now resolve and asked the boy what he wanted to do in his life. “I want to be a chef,” he said. Then he reflected. “Or maybe a jockey.”
In fact, he couldn’t have known much about what a chef actually did. He had never been inside a restaurant. He had never eaten store-bought food. On the farm, everything that was put out on the long wooden Boulud kitchen table—two benches running alongside, picnic style—had been produced by his family: milk, wine, cheese, vinegar, vegetables, the salads in the summer, the jars of pickled harvests or conserved fruit the rest of the year, the chicken and the duck and the fatty bacon served cold with breakfast. (Salt and olive oil were got by barter from relatives in the South.) But the Countess—she called herself Countess de Volpi—knew what a chef did. The best restaurants in and around Lyons were then regarded as among the best in France. She had eaten at all of them. Several had three Michelin stars and a reputation for making the best food on the planet. The Countess was rich, single, brazenly modern. (In the Boulud family’s telling, she was “decadent bourgeoise.” They were paysan.) She had long platinum hair. She owned an American car, a Mustang convertible. Her lover was a wealthy surgeon. She was used to getting her way. She phoned the restaurants—Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, La Mère Blanc, La Pyramide, La Mère Brazier—and asked them to take on an apprentice. The places were filled. She started in on the two-stars. She scored. Two months after his fourteenth birthday, Daniel Boulud entered a restaurant for the first time, and took, in effect, his first step in the direction of New York…
As we have said more than enough times by now, the subscription to this magazine is one of the few worth every penny for a wide range of interests. That will allow full access to this gem. And for the record, so that Kitchen Confidential does not get more than its fair share of credit for anything, the gravitational pull towards carny for foodies had already been affecting Japan since 1993 with the Iron Chef television series, which mysteriously ended in Japan just as Bourdain’s New Yorker article was published.