I had just sat down at the table. Our waitress immediately advised us to order the veal chop.
I met an old friend for lunch at one of the more venerable restaurants in the Northtowns. We hadn't really spoken to each other for years and wanted to catch up. So, at his suggestion, we went to a hugely popular place that my mother loved, among other things – as well as her two sisters, my aunts. Everything has been gone for decades. That's how long it was since I ate there.
I wasn't hungry enough for the whole veal entree, so I thought it would be a good idea to just take a veal sandwich.
You have to understand that I am a lifelong fan of waiters and waitresses. I have known many in my life. It is a tough task that they do and they often take a lot of abuse without good reason. That's why I always tip generously. I always try to avoid the furious whim that some of the older members of my family used to give them when I was a kid. (They usually gave minute, detailed instructions on how to prepare and serve their food. You would be amazed at how long it sometimes took to order a bagel and cream cheese.)
In his book & # 39; Kitchen Confidant & # 39 ;, Anthony Bourdain finally advised: & # 39; Be polite to your waiter, he can save your life with a raised eyebrow or sigh & # 39 ;.
I wondered when my sandwich came, what Bourdain would have said. I suspect that the great chef, food writer and cable TV traveler would have been strict to say the least. I didn't have the courage to make a scene in a place that has always had such a great reputation.
I only ate half. Every bite was a struggle. I only did it on the basis that somewhere in what I was eating was a little protein. I took the other half home and sealed his lamentable fate. I tipped the waitress. My old friend seemed to enjoy his lunch, although the food was not really why we were there. We just wanted to hang out and have a great time, which we did.
But I kept thinking about Bourdain. No doubt a thorough investigation by "Kitchen Confidential" would have saved me from the sandwich with veal schnitzel from hell.
Bourdain, you remember, committed suicide in June. It was even more a shocking death than that of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
What I have felt more and more in the past year is how much I have missed Bourdain as an influence in American life. Remember that Bourdain's musician Nelson Starr brought him to Buffalo to boast in the life and kitchen of Rust Belt. Bourdain had good things about Starr & # 39; s music and the liver-dumpling soup at Ulrich & # 39; s. When it was time to eat a steak, the national television viewers were treated to a delicious close-up of roast beef that was cut exactly that way.
"Walk in other people's shoes" was his cardinal ethics. "Or at least eat their food." He seemed to have the inside track to be a dedicated populist and fully civilized at the same time.
His CNN travel series "Parts Unknown" was absolutely fantastic. Even in an era full of new travel and food series on television, the CNN series from Bourdain welcomed the enormous variety in the way people around the world lived and ate.
That was the miracle of him that he would eventually appear on CNN in prime time. They realized that he was not only a food commentator, he was also a social and moral force. He was everywhere. Publishers published new books under his imprint. His message was to search and discover, and to enjoy what you find. He was devoted to the joy of life, no matter how widespread or modest.
It was also impossible for some of us to forget how he became famous by telling all the nasty secrets about the restaurants we loved so much.
That, for example, the best day to eat in a restaurant is Tuesday. The staff is back after the weekend and the food is probably fresh – unlike Monday, where the food is probably hanging out.
He was a ruthless truth teller, along with an explorer dedicated to great underdogs. I don't know about anyone else, but for me the news – and depressing news – was that the "bacteria love Hollandaise" sauce. "Hollandaise is a true petri dish of bio-hazards."
How deeply have I missed the voice and moral power of Bourdain. In our new 21st century, lying seems to be common to millions of people from all sides, and so does absurd exaggeration. It seems to be respectable in some circles to punish people just because they are poor and have no privilege in a "(empty) -holland". For Bourdain, by far the most civilized thing you had to do was to extend the privilege and appreciate how wonderfully creative life can be for those who completely lack wealth and privileges.
Yes, I know we will soon find someone to take the place of Bourdain, but I can't think of another American moment here where we need desperate people to try.