Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Anthony Bourdain has dinner with Obama, picks up the $6 check

The New Yorker has a portrait of Anthony Bourdain, the peripatetic foodie. Here he is having dinner with Obama in Hanoi:
As a White House advance team planned the logistics for Obama’s visit, an advance team from Zero Point Zero, the company that produces the show, scoured the city for the perfect place to eat. They selected Bún chả Hương Liên, a narrow establishment across from a karaoke joint on a busy street in the Old Quarter. The restaurant’s specialty is bún chả: springy white noodles, smoky sausage, and charred pork belly served in a sweet and pungent broth.

At the appointed hour, Obama exited the Beast and walked into the restaurant behind a pair of Secret Service agents, who cleared a path for him, like linemen blocking for a running back. In a rear dining room on the second floor, Bourdain was waiting at a stainless-steel table, surrounded by other diners, who had been coached to ignore the cameras and Obama, and to focus on their bún chả. Like many restaurants in Vietnam, the facility was casual in the extreme: diners and servers alike swept discarded refuse onto the floor, and the tiles had acquired a grimy sheen that squeaked beneath your feet. Obama was wearing a white button-down, open at the collar, and he greeted Bourdain, took a seat on a plastic stool, and happily accepted a bottle of Vietnamese beer.

“How often do you get to sneak out for a beer?” Bourdain asked.

“I don’t get to sneak out, period,” Obama replied. He occasionally took the First Lady to a restaurant, he said, but “part of enjoying a restaurant is sitting with other patrons and enjoying the atmosphere, and too often we end up getting shunted into one of those private rooms.”

As a young waitress in a gray polo shirt set down bowls of broth, a plate of greens, and a platter of shuddering noodles, Bourdain fished chopsticks from a plastic container on the table. Obama, surveying the constituent parts of the meal, evinced trepidation. He said, “All right, you’re gonna have to—”

“I’ll walk you through it,” Bourdain assured him, advising him to grab a clump of noodles with chopsticks and dunk them into the broth.

“I’m just gonna do what you do,” Obama said.

“Dip and stir,” Bourdain counselled. “And get ready for the awesomeness.”

Eying a large sausage that was floating in the broth, Obama asked, “Is it generally appropriate to just pop one of these whole suckers in your mouth, or do you think you should be a little more—”

“Slurping is totally acceptable in this part of the world,” Bourdain declared.

Obama took a bite and let out a low murmur. “That’s good stuff” he said, and the two of them—lanky, conspicuously cool guys in late middle age—slurped away as three cameras, which Bourdain had once likened to “drunken hummingbirds,” hovered around them. Noting the unaffected rusticity of the scene, Obama was reminded of a memorable meal that he had eaten as a child, in the mountains outside Jakarta. “You’d have these roadside restaurants overlooking the tea fields,” he recalled. “There’d be a river running through the restaurant itself, and there’d be these fish, these carp, that would be running through. You’d pick the fish. They’d grab it for you and fry it up, and the skin would be real crispy. They just served it with a bed of rice.” Obama was singing Bourdain’s song: earthy, fresh, free of pretense. “It was the simplest meal possible, and nothing tasted so good.”

But the world is getting smaller, Obama said. “The surprises, the serendipity of travel, where you see something and it’s off the beaten track, there aren’t that many places like that left.” He added, wistfully, “I don’t know if that place will still be there when my daughters are ready to travel. But I hope it is.” The next day, Bourdain posted a photograph of the meeting online. “Total cost of Bun cha dinner with the President: $6.00,” he tweeted. “I picked up the check.”
And then there's this, much later in the article:
In 1998, Les Halles opened a Tokyo branch, and one of the owners, Philippe Lajaunie, asked Bourdain to spend a week there, mentoring the staff. Bourdain fretted over how he’d survive the thirteen-hour flight without a cigarette, but once he landed in Tokyo he was exhilarated. “This place is like ‘Blade Runner,’ ” he wrote to Joel Rose, in an e-mail. “I’m speaking French, hearing Japanese, and thinking English all while still horribly jet-lagged, crazed on iced sushi, jacked up on fugu, and just fucking dazzled by it all.” He described the thrill of walking into the most uninviting, foreign-seeming, crowded restaurant he could find, pointing at a diner who appeared to have ordered something good, and saying, “Gimme that!”

1 comment:

  1. We went to see Bourdain when he did a presentation/lecture in Nashville a couple of years ago. The best parts were his story telling and when in took questions. He was very entertaining.